February 21, 1999 marks the death at age 85 of Eino Ilmari Juutilainen, the greatest ace of the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat). By the end of the Finnish wars with Russia (1939–40 and 1941–44), Juutilainen had 94 confirmed kills to his credit in 437 sorties, making him the leading non-German ace of WWII (Juutilainen claimed 126 victories). Thirty-four of those victories came flying the Brewster Buffalo, a plane that the US considered obsolete at the outbreak of the war, though other countries found success with the type against early, inferior Soviet designs. Before the Buffalo, Juutilainen flew the Fokker D.XXI, and finished his career flying the Messerschmitt Bf 109, in which he scored 58 confirmed victories. Juutilainen finished the war without a single enemy hit to his airplane (he was once forced to ground by friendly antiaircraft fire), and like Japanese ace Saburo Sakai, he never lost a wingman in combat. He also scored the first kill by a Finnish fighter directed by radar when he destroyed a Soviet Pe-2 after being guided to the target by a German radar operator. Juutilainen was twice awarded the Mannerheim Cross, the highest Finnish military decoration. His last flight was in 1997 in a two-seat F-18 Hornet of the Finnish Air Force.
Juutilainen poses beside his Brewster Buffalo
Fokker D.XXI of the Finnish Air Force
Brewster Buffalo with Finnish Air Force markings
Finnish Messershmitt Bf 109 during the Continuation War (1941-1944)