Akaflieg Helsinki has a glorious past but – unfortunately – dark future in designing world-class sailplane


Many gliding enthusiasts, especially vintage glider lovers, have heard the three-letter acronym PIK.  There were times when gliders like PIK-16 Vasama and PIK-20 were known all over the world. Not so many know the origins of these three letters.

PIK comes from two Finnish words, Polyteknikkojen Ilmailukerho. It is the flying club of the students in the Helsinki University of Technology. PIK is the Finnish equivalent for Akafliegs in German technical universities.

Helsinki University of Technology, as such, does not exist any more.  The name was changed to Aalto University (don’t ask where the name came from, aalto is the Finnish word for wave) after the original techical college was combined with the Helsinki business university.

The new entity has been a hostile environment for aviation. This discipline has been run down and the technical college in Tampere is taking over the training of Finnish aviation engineers.

PIK, however, is still very much in existence, right here in Räyskälä. It is one of the most active gliding clubs in Finland. One thing, though, is sadly missing. There are no plans to develop new PIK-gliders. The last was and probably remains PIK-20 from the 1970s.

PIK is an old club. It was originally formed on March 26 1931 by 47 students who had an active interest in aviation. Their first goal was to get flight training and build a powerplane.

This project failed and in 1932 PIK started to build a glider, German Stamer-Lippisch Zögling. It flew for the first time in 1934. That very same year PIK ordered the drawings of Polish Wrona and another German glider, Grunau Baby II.

The first PIK-glider was, obviously, PIK-1 from 1938. This high-performance glider was never built. Neither was PIK-2, a further development of Polish primary glider Wrona.

No new PIKs were built during the war years, but a couple of members started preliminary designs that were awarded the PIK-designation by the club’s board after the war. A number of those were not built. PIK-4, another Wrona-development, stayed on the drawing board as did PIK-6, a high-performance, ”Weihe-beater”.

PIK-3 was a 13-meter, very light (empty weight was 135 kg) medium-performance glider, meant to be built in Finnish clubs. Six were built.

Much more popular was the further development PIK-3c Kajava. It flew for the first time in 1958, just in time to participate in the World Championships in Leszno Poland. There the Kajava was flown by Juhani ”Janne” Horma, the great gliding pioneer of Finland and the father of Räyskälä gliding center. He won two contest days and finished 4th.

Kajava was meant to be a challenger to Schleichers popular and very good K-6. This challenge succeeded only in Finland where 20 Kajavas were built. A number of those are still flying.

In many Finnish clubs Kajava was a dream for new pilots. Their reality right after basic training was another PIK, PIK-5. It was designed by another Finnish aviation pioneer K.J. Temmes, who ended his career decades later as the director general of the Finnish office of civil aviation.

Temmes based his design on Polish Salamandra. PIK-5 was relatively easy and cheap to build and easy to fly even though the ergonomics of the cockpit were poor especially for longer pilots and the performance was not spectacular. The best L/D was 18. But it was popular, almost 40 were built. A couple of PIK-5s are still flying.

PIK-13 was a very ambitious project in the 1950s. This challenger to Weihe was built in great haste to participate in Camphill (or Damp Hill as it was called, based on weather conditions) World Championships in the UK in 1954. The performance of this 17,6 meter ship was somewhat better than Weihe’s but the prototype was destroyed in 1956 and it was the only PIK-13 ever built.

In the 1950s PIK also designed and built a two-seater, PIK-12. It was meant to be the standard type for the upcoming two-seater training in the Finnish clubs but only four were built. Bergfalke, Ka-2b and Bocian were more popular than the indigenous alternative. PIK-12 was, however, fun to fly. The students had to learn serious sideslipping in the finals because the airbrakes were very inefficient.

The next big success for Akaflieg Helsinki was PIK-16 Vasama. Its preliminary design got under way in the late 1950s but not within PIK but another club called Vasama (Arrow). PIK-designation was awarded at later stage.

Vasama was designed to Ostiv’s new standard class requirements. The span was 15 m. Three different versions were built, the first one with a V-tail.

PIK-16 was an unprecedented success for Finnish gliding. Ostiv awarded it the coveted prize of the best Standard Class glider in the World Championships in Argentina in 1963. More than 50 were built commercially and Vasama was exported all over the world.  One can perhaps say that Vasama was the last great wooden Standard Class glider.

It was, however, doomed when the glassfibre ships arrived. PIK achieved its greatest success in this class with PIK-20. More than 400 were built and sold all over the world. In the World Championships at Räyskälä 1976 all three medals in the Standard Class were won by pilots flying PIK-20s.

Jukka Raunio lists in his excellent book PIK-sarjan lentokoneet (The airplanes of the PIK-series) – which is the main source of this article – altogether 10 different PIK-glider types.

The club designed and built a series of small powerplanes, as well. For instance PIK-15 Hinu from the early 1960s was and still is an excellent towplane. One PIK-15, OH-YHB from 1968, has towed a glider aloft more than 100 000 times at Nummela gliding center close to Räyskälä.

But this is all history. PIK-gliders and powerplanes are a glorious part of the past of Finnish aviation. Very few people dare believe, that another new PIK-type will ever take to the Finnish skies.

Author: Jyri Raivio

VGC 2016