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A stone near the runway is actually a piece of the airport's history

Published
4.1.2016 at 07:00
If you look carefully at the ground between runways 1 and 3, you can see a stone that is as tall as a man. We call it Hellman's stone, and it tells the story of Helsinki Airport's history.

When Helsinki-Malmi Airport started to become too small and a new airport was needed for the capital, the chosen location was a wooded area some twenty kilometres outside the city.

In the spring of 1949, the design job was assigned to civil engineer Bertel Hellman (1911–2003), originally from Turku and working for the Swedish Royal Civil Aviation Administration at the time.

Hellman started by exploring the terrain to map its topography, with the aim of finding the best direction for the runway.

After skiing for a while, he stopped at a tall stone, climbed on it, lit his pipe, and stayed there for a while, examining the area covered by a blanket of snow glimmering under the spring sunshine. From the top of the stone he saw that the ski track he had just made would be ideal for a runway, going from the south-west to north-east.

'Today, runway 1, Helsinki Airport's main runway, is still located exactly in the same place', says Finavia VP Hannu Salomaa.

In the same spot for nearly 65 years

The clearing and building work at the airport site was done by prisoners sentenced to terms of up to a year, many of them for drunk driving.

When it was time to start smoothing and compacting the runway, the big stone was in the way. Hellman wanted to blast it, but the prisoners wouldn't let him, pleading they had developed a strong emotional connection with it.

In 1951 the stone was moved to stand next to the runway, and it is still in the same spot today, between runways 1 and 3, marking the boundary of the airport's airside area. It has become known as Hellman's stone.

'According to current plans, it doesn't need to be moved any time soon', confirms Salomaa. 

International aviation career    

Even before Helsinki Airport was completed, Hellman took a position at the civil aviation organisation ICAO, and continued to work as ICAO's international airport expert up to 1979.

During his career, Hellman worked in airport-related roles in all of 45 countries, and was, in fact, one of the best-known Finns in the aviation world.

In 1985, the Finnish Civil Aviation Administration installed a memorial plaque on Hellman's stone. Bertel Hellman and his family came to see the memorial plaque before his death.

Read more

A brief history of Helsinki Airport

Building Helsinki Airport's future

Bertel Hellman and the construction of Helsinki Airport

People & Aviation