The Swedish Navy takes to the air!

Swedish military designations

In respect of helicopters, the Swedish Defence Forces have consistently designated theirs in the numerical order that they have been acquired. It is usual, for example, to apply the designation Hkp 16 instead of the internationally recognised name of ”Blackhawk”. Some think this shows a lack of imagination, and is even boring when compared to how vehicles are otherwise often referred to by familiar names. However this is normal practice within the Swedish Defence Forces. For example, instead of ”Leopard 2” soldiers often refer to ”Stridsvagn 122” (Tank type 122).

So it is perhaps not so strange, when it comes to helicopters that were not made in Sweden but in another country, they have been consistently called Hkp 1, 2, 3 and so on. But there was one helicopter which due to its configuration was given its own nickname that caught the Swedish public’s imagination. This was the first military helicopter in Swedish service, the Hkp 1, commonly called ”the flying Banana”.

One of the two preserved HKP 1 is displayed at the Swedish Air Force Museum in Linköping. Photo Peter Langsdale.

Sweden follows developments

Sweden was keeping track of developments in the rest of the world, not least in the fact that the Swedish Navy recognised the great advantages of using helicopters. Before 1926 the Swedish Navy had its own flying branch, but starting in that year the Swedish Army and Navy combined their aviation assets to form the Swedish Air Force. Helicopters offered the capability of flying men and material to and from ships at sea, which aircraft were less capable of. Helicopters were also well suited for detecting submarines, and since the Navy was responsible for coastal artillery and the military units defending the Swedish coastline and archipelagos, the ability of helicopters to transport personnel and equipment to places where aircraft could not land was of great interest.

An investigation by the Swedish Air Force in 1955 made it clear that it was not interested in helicopters, so plans to set up a new Naval air arm were laid. It was assessed that there was a need for two types of helicopter, light and heavy. A decision was taken in 1957 that the Swedish Navy would introduce helicopter operations. Two Squadrons were formed, the 1st Helicopter Squadron in the Stockholm area at Bromma (moved later to Berga) and the 2nd Helicopter Squadron at Torslanda (moved in 1969 to Säve) near Gothenburg.

The advent of the ”Banana”

It was March 1958 when two large helicopters appeared in the sky above Gothenburg on their way to Torslanda. These were numbers 01 and 02 arriving in their new country, welcomed by expectant air and ground crews. The helicopters brought with them their nickname, and ”Flying Banana” very quickly became a common saying among the Swedish people and also appeared on newspaper posters. The question is why did this name make such a powerful impression, far more than in the case of any subsequent helicopter.

Perhaps it was due to the well-known sense of humour of Gothenburg residents, who love to play on words, which made them appreciate such a playful nickname, to form the Swedish expression ”Bananen”. This name achived instant popularity and would in fact survive its application to the Hkp 1 helicopter to continue in later use,

The first helicopters were based at Bromma, Stockholm to form the Navy’s No. 1 Helicopter Squadron. Soon more Hkp 1s arrived and so No. 2 Helicopter Squadron at Torslanda, Gothenburg had its own ”Bananas”. Gothenburg became in fact the main Swedish city to be associated with this type of helicopter.