Having serviced and repaired helicopters around the
world for more than a decade, Technician Matti Väänänen is now building
airships in Joensuu and is excited to see that an old invention has been given
a new life.
In his teens, Matti Väänänen, 37, was an avid car
tinkerer. He and his friends would gather in the garage of one of their homes
to dismantle, inspect, fix and reassemble rides. It was interesting to see what
was hidden under the metal body and try to pinpoint the parts that might need
fixing. The experience was most rewarding when they managed to make a broken
car burst awake and start running.
“It felt great
to be able to fix a car with your own hands,” says Matti with a smile.
“Although it didn't always go according to plan,” he adds.
Over the years,
the boys learned a lot about how machines work and which parts affect the
different functions of a car. They grew more and more ambitious and took on
more demanding projects. But when his other friends applied to study auto
mechanics in vocational school, Matti hesitated. He wanted to do something
different, and cars did not provide enough of a challenge anymore. He decided
study to become a helicopter mechanic instead.
excitement and challenges in my life,” Matti says.
turned out to be the right one, because working as a helicopter mechanic has brought
him face-to-face not only with ever more complex equipment, but also situations
he could only have dreamed of otherwise. Matti has, for instance, admired the
Milky Way stretching over sand dunes in Oman and gone hiking high in the
mountains of Norway. He has lived in five different countries, with addresses
ranging from modest temp job apartments to some of the finest hotels in Central
Europe. He has gathered incredible experiences, cherished friends and valuable
contacts from every corner of the world.
travelling job has always felt like my thing, and luckily I’ve had the
opportunity to work this way,” says Matti gratefully.
splits his time in half between Joensuu, as an airship technician for Kelluu,
and the Norwegian company Helitrans, where he works as a helicopter mechanic.
Matti, his wife and their two Jack Russell terriers have a permanent home in
Joensuu. In Norway, Matti stays wherever he is needed at the time.
Choppers and stars in the Arabian desert
job after earning his qualification as a helicopter mechanic was at Patria
Helicopters Oy. He
worked for a few years on the manufacturing line, building NH90 transport
helicopters. After this, he moved on to the flight test line. The job was
versatile, interesting and involved a lot of responsibility – the team was,
after all, working with fairly important pieces of equipment.
At Patria, Matti
became familiar with composite work as he glued carbon fibre components
together for the body. He immediately felt at home doing something where he
could apply his manual skills in a new way.
“Things in the
aviation industry are obviously highly regulated, so there’s no room for
improvisation at work, but doing things by hand and delivering a uniform result
felt like my thing,” says Matti.
Thanks to the
cutting-edge tools he worked with, his skills also improved quickly. Along with
this came a desire to learn more.
When, after a
few years at Patria, Matti was offered the opportunity to work abroad, he took
the offer without hesitation. Airbus Helicopters, which operates
internationally, was looking for a mechanic, and Matti was sent on commission to
Oman to service the NH90 choppers of the royal army. In addition to servicing
choppers, Matti trained the army mechanics to service the fleet.
“The trip was
originally meant to last one year, but it ended up lasting 2.5 years,” he says.
spouse and their dogs were offered a home near Muscat, the capital of Oman,
which is surrounded by volcanic mountains. Lying on the southern shore of the
Gulf of Oman, the historical seaport with its white sugar-loaf houses and grand
mosques was the young helicopter mechanic’s first step on the path to becoming a
citizen of the world.
Matti's place of
work was located an hour’s drive away in the desert where the conditions were
harsh. The sun beat down all day, and temperatures could rise up to 50 degrees.
The wind was also hot and brought no relief in the sweltering heat.
“When the helicopters
returned from a flight, you couldn’t touch them at all for some time, because
they were so hot you would’ve burnt yourself,” says Matti. “That’s not a very
common problem in Finland.”
international team at Airbus formed close bonds and often spent the weekends
travelling. Matti's team included French and Australian members, one American
and another Finn in addition to Matti.
“In the winter
season, we often rented cross-country vehicles or ATVs and camped out in the
desert. It was amazing to gaze at the starry sky of the desert at night,” says
Many of his
colleagues also had a boat or a jet ski, which they used to take out along the
coast of the Gulf of Oman in their spare time.
“The sea and the
beaches in Muscat were stunning. I still miss it sometimes,” Matti admits.
Dream life and office work
When Matti's commission
in Oman ended 2.5 years later, the family moved to Donauwörth in Germany. They
spent the next two years travelling back and forth between Germany and the
Airbus factory in France. Their domestic life was divided between hotels and
“It often felt
like we were on a long holiday, and back then when I was young, that was the
dream life,” Matti recalls.
Germany, Matti also pursued type course studies sponsored by his employer,
which qualified him to work with a wider range of choppers and engines. Matti obtained
an addition to his licence that is not available to everyone, and this has
later opened many doors for him.
“I was able to
learn about equipment that I would never have come across otherwise. This
training was a golden opportunity for me.”
learned in these courses were put to the test in 2016 when the family moved to
Norway for Matti's job, and he started working at Airbus as the technical
support for civil helicopters across all of Scandinavia.
“What this meant
in practice was that I was at the office, answering the phone and trying to
figure out what the problem was and what could be done about it. Sometimes I
would travel around the Nordics to service equipment or provide training on site.”
He spent the
next four years working for Airbus, until the adventurous man started to feel
like he needed a break from his career-oriented lifestyle.
been a person who makes quick decisions and I do things based on intuition. Now,
my intuition was telling me that it’s a good time to see the world.”
The world changes
At the end of
2019, Matti and his wife both resigned from their jobs. They packed their backpacks
and bought one-way tickets to Southeast Asia. The plan was to spend at least
the following year – or perhaps two – travelling.
January 2020 in Thailand, February in Laos, and from there we headed off to
Cambodia in March,” says Matti.
In March, the
couple went on a one-week yoga retreat in Cambodia. Life felt good. Yoga and some
deep breathing on the shores of the Gulf of Siam gave them a new perspective
and a much-needed break from life, which had revolved around work. The couple
turned off their phones and there were no external distractions.
“That was a wonderful
time. The only obligation we had was to take care of ourselves,” says Matti.
But a week later
when the retreat ended and they turned on their phones, the whole world had
changed. The global coronavirus pandemic had hit, and people abroad were told
to return to their home countries. Several countries had closed their borders,
and others were following suit.
“That’s when we
were like, what the heck are we going to do now. We had just quit our jobs and left
our apartment. We had no home to go to and no jobs to return to,” says Matti.
returned to Finland and settled temporarily in Kouvola in Matti's wife’s
father’s home to plan their next move. They decided to continue their gap year
in Finland and bought a van, which they converted into a camper. In the autumn,
they turned the nose of their van towards Lapland where they planned to stay for
as long as they felt like it.
backpacking journey through Asia had suddenly turned into van life in Lapland.
For one month, the family parked their mobile home wherever they liked and
enjoyed the beauty of the wilderness of Lapland.
“We wanted to
see the positive aspects of the situation and we made the most of what we had,”
says Matti, looking back now.
After months of
vagabond life, the family wanted something more permanent so they rented an
apartment in Kouvola, the city where Matti was born. Matti started working at a
local bicycle repair shop.
enjoyed cross-country cycling, so working with bikes felt like a nice change
and a good way to ease back to work.”
Matti realized that he misses working on more demanding projects, and he
started taking on temporary jobs in Norway. He had several contacts and old
partners there, and more work started coming in soon. Matti started a sole
proprietorship and did small inspection jobs all across Norway through his
business is quite big in Norway, and there’s a high demand for skilled
workers,” says Matti.
In autumn 2021,
Matti's wife was accepted to study in Joensuu, and the travel-loving family
moved once more. Matti continued doing his one-off jobs from North Karelia, and
eventually received a permanent, part-time position at the Norwegian company
Helitrans, where he still works a couple weeks a month.
Near the end of
2022, Matti heard from his former friend from school and colleague Valtteri Herrala that Kelluu in Joensuu
was looking for an airship technician. Matti was interested in the position and
contacted Kelluu. The interest was mutual, and the best part for Matti was that
Kelluu had no issues with him working part-time.
so smoothly that I ended up starting the new job quite soon,” says Matti.
Experimenting is the best part
as Matti is as a technician, he had no previous experience in airships.
However, he was confident that the basic principle of the systems is the same,
whether it's an army helicopter or a commercial, unmanned airship.
similarities in the aircraft, but the way in which lift is generated and the
aircraft piloted is naturally different in a helicopter than in an airship.
Kelluu’s airship does not, for instance, have a hydraulic system, but uses
hydrogen fuel cells, which you won’t find in helicopters.”
One of Matti's
strengths is his long, extensive experience in composite work. At Kelluu, his
job consists for the most part of manufacturing composite parts, for which
there is a great need in the company in addition to electronic work.
electrical skills could be an interesting addition to my skill set,” says Matti
and adds that the employees of Kelluu may constantly learn new skills, depending
on what they are interested in.
interesting thing is that I also get to do product development in this
position. When manufacturing parts, I can suggest what material and how much of
it we should use. That's not really possible with helicopters, because the
industry is so heavily regulated.”
Matti enjoys his
job at Kelluu, because it is in some ways free, now that the company is still
“Although we can
experiment to some extent, we obviously aim for the best possible outcome in
everything we do,” he says.
that Kelluu has its sights set firmly on the future, and more projects are
coming up, each more interesting than the next.
“I’m excited to
see what the future will bring. Everything that we’re doing here is in some ways
new, although the airship itself is an old invention,” says Matti.
can reinvent the wheel,” he says with a laugh.
Life should make you feel good
In his free
time, Matti likes to stay active and focus on things he enjoys. Among other
things, he goes cross-country cycling, does yoga and Thai boxing. He also goes
climbing whenever he has the time and the opportunity to do so.
Matti and his
friends also have a punk band that gets together a few times a year to play at random
venues around Finland.
“The band is
still in its infancy, so I don’t even want to tell you its name yet. But we
play punk music and have fun, that's the main thing for us,” says Matti.
being able to live in the moment and make even big decisions quickly. He describes
himself as a person who wants to savour life and do things that make him feel
good. And many things in life at the moment do so.
“Life feels good
right now,” says Matti.
He has come far
from the garages in the suburbs of Kouvola, but has never lost his joy of
discovery. Who knows where this adventure will take him.