Midnight Hawks – Precision Flying At Its Best

The Finnish Air Force Hawk Display Team will be at RIAT at Fairford in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hawk. Perttu Karivalo offers an insight into how the team operates.

THE MIDNIGHT Hawks, the Finnish Air Force (Ilmavoimat) display team, is the biggest name in the Finnish airshow season, and a familiar sight to domestic audiences every summer. The tight and beautiful diamond formation of the four BAe Hawk Mk 51 advanced jet trainers against the ‘midnight sun’ in a clear blue sky is an unforgettable sight.

The Finnish Air Force was founded on March 6, 1918, and formation flying became part of the regular pilot training as the quantity of aircraft increased. As early as the 1920s, its pilots were performing formation flybys in airshows and public events with Hansa Brandenburgs, changing to Blackburn Ripons and Junkers K.43s some ten years later. As its structure developed, and with the establishment of the Finnish Air Force Academy at Kauhava in 1929, basic formation flying skills were taught as part of flight training courses.

During World War Two, the Finnish Air Force’s formation flying skills stood it in good stead in developing the ‘yo-yo’ tactics (manoeuvring to improve the pilot’s offensive position) with its Brewster 239s used so successfully against Soviet aircraft. After the war, formation flying remained on the syllabus, and both Folland Gnat Mk 50s and MiG-21F-13 were flown in formation. Part of the MiG-21F-13 training syllabus was flying in four-aircraft formations. All its pilots learned to fly in diamond formation and four-ship MiG-21F-13 formations gave many displays at their home base of Rissala. However, there have been some losses. Before World War Two, two Junkers K.43s collided while flying in formation, and a MiG-21F-13 was lost when it hit the ground when formation break was performed too low. Today the Finnish Air Force performs mass formations on special occasions: Saab Drakens flew a 22-aircraft formation in August 1998, and when the last Finnish-built F-18C Hornet was delivered, 18 Hornets performed a flyby.

The Midnight Hawks’ own history began in 1945 when the Finnish Air Force Academy organised its first midsummer airshow, which attracted 6,267 spectators. Instructors from the Academy displayed formation flying and a new tradition was born. Even in the days before World War Two, the Academy had used Gloster Gamecocks to carry out formations involving more than ten aircraft, but these had been for training purposes rather than spectators.

Over the years, the Academy’s midsummer airshow grew, eventually evolving into the Midnight Summer Airshow and Festival. Held each June, it now attracts a number of foreign participants and some 20,000 spectators annually. The programme begins at 7pm and lasts until midnight, when the last display is flown by the Midnight Hawks team. Visiting aircrews find displaying at night in the northern phenomenon of the ‘midnight sun’ an exhilarating experience.

Because the Academy’s flight instructors have always performed formation flying in the Midnight Summer Airshow, the impression was has been formed that the Academy operates display teams. This was not the case when the Airshow began – they simply showed off their skills and their aircraft before a watching crowd. Saab 91D Safir and Fouga Magisters were the first aircraft they used, these being replaced by Valmet Vinkas and BAe Hawk MK 51s at the beginning of 1980s. Over the past 40 years, the Academy had two teams – one flying with the basic propeller trainer, and the second with the jet trainer — performing almost solely at the Midnight Summer Airshow.

The Fouga Magister was the aircraft which really made formation flying possible — the Patrouille de France also used it. Every Finnish fighter squadron flew regular Fouga formations and displayed at local open days and airshows. It might be said that the Finnish Air Force had a jet display team in every base which flew Fougas, though it would be truer to say that this was really just formation flying based on the flight training syllabus.

After the BAe Hawk was introduced into Finnish Air Force service, formation flying with four aircraft was left to the Academy’s instructors at the annual Midnight Summer Airshow. The Academy’s Hawk team also displayed at open days, but in reality these displays were basically training flights for the Midnight Summer Airshow — they were simply flown at another location where there happened to be an open day. The team began increasingly to take on the aspect of a ‘real’ display team — even though in 1990 it still lacked a name. At Finland’s biggest-ever airshow, the Oulu International Airshow, in 1997, the Academy’s jet display team became the Midnight Hawks — a name which instantly flashed around world. The Finnish Air Force Official Display Team — the Midnight Hawks — had been born.

The mission

The team’s mission is to display the skill and high level of training of the Finnish Air Force, and to attract new recruits: for this reason it does not often perform outside Finland. The Finnish Air Force is renowned for its highly-experienced pilots, who in the last century fought valiantly against a far stronger enemy. This tradition of pride and excellence continues and the force continues to train outstanding pilots. The Midnight Hawks are an excellent example.

Every year the team receives many invitations to foreign airshows. As previously explained, its foreign trips are rare and its’ appearance at RIAT 2004 is very much a special occasion.

The Midnight Summer Airshow at Kauhava is still the team’s most important airshow, Kauhava being their home base. Because of the ‘midnight sun’, the Midnight Hawks can truly say that it has flown more night-time jet displays than any other team in the world.

Selection and training

Some pre-selection of the Midnight Hawks’ members will be made during the airshow season, but when it ends the team leader and the Commander of the Training Squadron will sit down to select new members. The decision is always difficult as so many flight instructors in the Finnish Air Force Academy are more than capable of flying in the team. The Academy primarily exists, of course, to train highly-capable fighter pilots so operational commitments and transfers always come first, and only after this will the display team’s requirements be met. All pilots selected for the team continue to fly as full-time flight instructors.

Every year, five flight instructors have the honour of joining the Midnight Hawks. In 2004, they are Team Leader Captain Timo Rauhala; left wing, Senior Lieutenant Pasi Kolanen; right wing, Senior Lieutenant Mika Koskinen; slot Captain Antti Mononen; and supervisor Senior Lieutenant Seppo Tuovinen. Captain Rauhala flew as right wing from 2001-2003 before becoming team leader for the 2004 season. Left wing (No.2) Pasi Kolanen joined the team in 2003, right wing (No.3) Mika Koskinen in 2004 and slot (No.4) Antti Mononen in 2002.

As flight instruction is still their main job, the pilots select the manoeuvres based on the amount of practice they are able to fly. Due to the amount of formation flying in the normal flight training syllabus, the Midnight Hawks’ team members practise surprisingly little in relation to their excellent and tight display flying. When the airshow season really starts, the pilots have some 20 display training flights each. First-year pilots have only 15 training flights before the approval flight before the season, made in view of the Academy’s Commander. This is only possible because of the very demanding and versatile training all Finnish Air Force pilots receive.

The training season for the coming summer starts every March, when the team leader flies a solo planned display programme. Before long, the rest of the team will join him and four-ship formation flying will begin. If there are new pilots in the team, the team leader normally begins by flying with them as a pair. To ease the training at the start of practice, new pilots will get back-seaters, the previous Midnight Hawks members being called from their current duties to pass on their knowledge and experience to new pilots.

The airspace around Kauhava is one of the biggest overland military training areas in Europe. The training area has no altitude restrictions, is 155 x 218 miles (250 x 350km) in size, and can be extended if need be, so the Midnight Hawks get plenty of practice in flying over this area before starting to train over the runway. If Kauhava AB is selected as one of the Advanced European Jet Pilot Training (AEJPT) bases, future cadets will be able to follow closely the way in which a professional display team trains and works — a useful advantage for Kauhava AB in the AEJPT training base competition.


The team flies the standard Finnish Air Force Academy BAe Hawk Mk 51 or MK 51A. There are no special markings on these aircraft as they are always borrowed from the Training Squadron. Because of this the team has no aircraft assigned, though naturally each pilot tries to select his own favourite for the season. For each major display, 15in (40cm)-high yellow numbers from 1 to 4 and 7 are added to the tails. The spare aircraft is always No.7. Pilots also wear gold-coloured team numbers (1 to 4) on the back of their helmets and the official Midnight Hawk patch on their flight suits. Aircraft are flown in clean configuration, but with inner pylons attached as this supports the wing on high-G manoeuvres. Many Finnish Air Force Hawks have been through re-winging as the force uses its Hawk fleet in an operational environment harder than the one for which the aircraft were designed. The stress of high-G flying begins to show first in the wing.


The Midnight Hawks fly with four aircraft and their display can best be described as ‘classic’ formation flying, with all four aircraft staying together throughout the display. All their manoeuvres are designed to allow spectators an unlimited view of the team during the display. The team’s left and right wing fly on the same level as the team leader rather than slightly below, as with other display teams. Only slot position flies lower than the team leader as he cannot enter the team leader’s jet stream. The most challenging manoeuvre is line-abreast loop and the team’s favourite manoeuvre is ‘Twist’, in which the aircraft fly in diamond formation and make a 90° bank flyby. Smoke pods are top of the pilots’ wish list. The team has heard many times that their display would really come into its own if these were added. This is true enough, but even without smoke pods, its display is formation flying as its best. As the team borrows aircraft from the Training Squadron, and as all 52 Finnish Hawks rotate between different units, the installation of smoke systems is currently not viable. However, this may change after 2005 when all the Finnish Air Force Hawks will be based at Kauhava. The team is based at the Academy at Kauhava, under the organisation of the Training Squadron. However, Finnish Air Force Headquarters retains control and decides where it will display.


One very important member of the team is Midnight Hawk 7, its supervisor and flight safety officer, who flies its spare aircraft. He is always an experienced pilot and flight instructor who will have previously served the team as a display pilot. Senior Lieutenant Seppo Tuovinen flew as No.2, left wing, from 1998 to 2000, then becoming the current supervisor. The Midnight Hawks are not allowed to fly without a supervisor on the ground in constant two-way radio contact with the team leader and the team. However, the supervisor does not only deal with flight safety — he is also the coach with an important role to play during the training season.


Without excellent ground crew, a display team cannot perform. Lieutenant Juha Paukku has been with the Midnight Hawks for many years and is No.10, its technical chief. He has a wealth of experience from different types of aircraft, such as the MiG-21bis, Saab J35 Draken, Fouga Magister, and BAe Hawk, to name but a few. Lt Paukku has a crew of seven technicians to take care of the team’s aircraft.

The Midnight Hawks use two support aircraft. When it is displaying in Finland at an air force base with full support for the BAe Hawk, the team travels without ground crew and a spare Hawk is made available. The team’s supervisor and commentator use a Valmet L-90TP Redigo for ferry flights. For displays outside Finland or at airports where there is no Finnish Air Force support, a ground crew travels on board Fokker F.27-400M, FF-3, from the Support Squadron.

There are, of course, many other people who work with the team, in addition to their normal duties. Their work is very valuable and makes successful displays possible.

Royal International Air Tattoo 2004

The Midnight Hawks are looking forward to their first-ever display in the UK at RIAT on July 17 and 18, particularly in view of the fact that it is the Red Arrows’ 40th anniversary year and the Hawk’s 30th. The team had hoped to visit RIAT in previous years but operational commitments and other reasons ruled it out. Their last display outside Finland was at Air Power 2000 in Zeltweg, Austria. Following the confirmation in February of their appearance at RIAT 2004, all their activities have been concentrated on making the trip as successful as possible.


The Midnight Hawks play an important role in the Finnish Air Force and the team’s future is secure as long as the BAe Hawk remains in service until 2015. After 2005, once all the Finnish BAe Hawks are based at Kauhava, the team will be able to have its own aircraft, which will make special markings and smoke pods possible.

Even though the Midnight Hawks seldom display outside Finland, they are a highly professional team which displays the high level of skill and training demanded by the Finnish Air Force.


Midnight Hawk 1, Team Leader Captain Timo Rauhala

«My career with the Midnight Hawks began following the 2000 season. I was accepted and was supposed to become slot pilot, Midnight Hawk 4. However, a few training flight plans got changed and I found myself as right wing, Midnight Hawk 3. To help me train to that position, the previous No.3, Captain Joni Mahonen, was my back-seater on the first few training flights, though not for long as he was the new team leader and himself had to train as No.1. I flew as No.3 from 2001 to 2003, so I was already fairly familiar with the post of team leader when I was selected to succeed Captain Mahonen for the 2004 season. Still, it was a totally different world and I had to change my whole way of thinking. Before I had just flown as a wingman and my biggest — and almost my only – concern had been to maintain my position. As team leader, I had to start thinking about the team as a whole, with responsibility for three other aircraft and their pilots. Safety is the main concern.

«Before this interview I talked to Captain Mahonen about becoming No.1 and our experiences were almost identical. In the spring, when we began to plan the new display programme, we both flew separate manoeuvres at first and then started to connect them to each other. It sounds easy, but when you fly the same manoeuvres with more aircraft, it makes a difference — in many cases you need to change or adapt manoeuvres, and the transitions between manoeuvres, to be able to fly them in tight formation. So you can say that flying them solo is only to familiarise yourself with them, nothing else. Practice has to be flown with at least a pair. Operational commitments meant that Captain Mahonen was not available at the start of this year’s training season and not able to fly back-seat with me — however, we were able to talk a lot on the phone. «As team leader, I have to concentrate on instruments as well as the manoeuvres themselves. We need to have optimal speed for the formation of each manoeuvre. In formation flying, speed is critical when entering vertical manoeuvres in the BAe Hawk. The speed must be at least 400mph (650km/h), but less than 440mph (700km/h). When the speed approaches 700km/h, the longitudinal stability of the Hawk is so sensitive that aircraft starts nodding very easily. If the speed is less than 650km/h, it is difficult to maintain the formation on the top of the loop, because the speed margin is almost nil above the stall. It is always the team leader’s responsibility to fly in the speed range at which the rest of the formation can complete each manoeuvre and transition to the next one with no problems.

«One of the most important aspects of formation flying is to maintain correct surface separation and position relevant to the display line. These are my jobs and it is up to me and our supervisor on the ground to secure correct and safe altitudes in the right place for each manoeuvre.

«On the radio I only call some change of throttle settings and all control stick pull-back movements when entering manoeuvres. These calls can make things easier for the rest of the formation, but we have learned our display programme by heart — all the pilots have to memorise it, and have it off pat at all times, even if they’re asked in the middle of the night — and for this reason it can basically be flown in total radio silence. I’m not saying that we fly in radio silence, but in some cases — if a wingman should have a radio failure — it is safer to stay in formation (without radio contact) and carry on, rather than leave the formation to the surprise of the rest.

«Other display teams use lots of airbrake when flying in formation, but we use almost none. In our Hawks the airbrake has only two positions — on or off — so it is impossible to adapt one’s speed using only two airbrake positions.

«There is one extra issue we have to check before every training flight. The Finnish Air Force has three types of Hawks — the original Hawk Mk 51, the Hawk Mk 51A and the Hawk 51 with the new wing (the same wing as in Mk 51A). The new wing is heavier and has less fuel capacity and its flight characteristics are a little different to the old wing. As we use the aircraft from the Training Squadron during our training season — that is, those aircraft available on a given day — we often get some with old wings and some with new wings. We have tried out all combinations, and those aircraft fitted with the new wing have to fly as Nos.2 and 3. Things don’t work out at all if the team leader has a ‘new wing’ aircraft and the rest of the team have the ‘old wing’ — the reverse has to be the case. So the team leader is the last one to get an aircraft with the new wing! For normal display flights, I fill up with 2,204lb (1,000kg) of fuel and the rest of the team with 1,543lb (700kg). This way I am a little bit heavier and the rest of the guys have more throttle margin to play around me.

«All the Hawks are individual aircraft and the roll rate in aileron roll varies between aircraft. In planning manoeuvres with aileron roll, we first have to find four aircraft with a roll rate close to each other. This can present a major challenge, but we just have to adjust the differences ourselves.

«Being the team leader is different from just flying as wingman in formation. You have to set aside some time to plan and think out your team’s operations, but thanks to the good support team backing me up, I still find it a ‘fun job’. Hopefully, I’ll have many more years as Midnight Hawk No.1 — it’s the best job in the Finnish Air Force!»

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