Finnish Air Force display team The Midnight Hawks has become a familiar sight to the Finnish airshow audience. Each summer the team performs in various airshows around Finland. The tight and beautiful formation of four camouflaged BAe Hawk Mk 51 fighter trainers in the clear blue sky is a sight one will never forget.
Formation flying has always been part of the flight syllabus in the Finnish Air Force. Each pilot will have already practiced formation flying in the Finnish Air Force Academy. In operational squadrons the training continues and every pilot learns the art of formation flying. Nowadays in operational flying, formation display flying is quite rare, as it has been part of the training syllabus earlier. When the Finnish Air Force operated MiG-21F-13 fighters, all pilots learned to fly in the diamond formation, as it was an important part of the flight-training syllabus. August 1998 saw the biggest ever jet formation in Finland when 22 Saab 35 Drakens performed a flypast, displaying in a tight formation their squadron number 11 in the sky.
The history of the Midnight Hawks began before the war, when the Finnish Air Force Academy used Gloster Gamecocks to perform over ten plane formations. The tradition of formation flying continued and it became a trademark of the Finnish Air Force Academy's annual Midnight Summer Airshow. Midnight Summer Day is normally the third Saturday of June. Originally it was just Air Force Academy's Midnight Summer party for the families, relatives and the people of the Kauhava village where the Academy is located. Over the years, this event has become The Midnight Summer Airshow, with many foreign participants and over 20, 000 spectators. Because of the midnight sun, the airshow starts around 7 p.m. and lasts until midnight when the last display is flown.
The Finnish Air Force Academy's flight instructors have always performed formation flying in the Midnight Summer Airshow. Because formation flying has been a part of the normal training syllabus, no special team names or aircraft have been used. There have been several nicknames for the teams, often based of the name of the team leader, but no official team name has been used until 1997. The flight instructors have simply showed their skills and aircraft to the spectators. The aircraft used have been Academy's standard trainer aircraft. During the 1960's to 1980's, Saab Safir and Fouga Magister aircraft were used, and from the beginning of the 80's, Valmet Vinka and BAe Hawk Mk 51 have been used. So, for the last forty or so years, the Finnish Air Force Academy has had two formation display teams; one flying with the basic prop trainer, and the second with the jet fighter trainer. Both teams have performed almost solely at the Midnight Summer Airshow once each summer.
During the 90's, the Finnish Air Force Academy's jet display team also started to perform in airshows other than just the Academy's own Midnight Summer Airshow. The sight of four BAe Hawks in a tight formation became familiar to thousands of airshow spectators around the country. The jet display team started to operate more and more like an official display team, even it was still without name. 1997 saw the change. In the biggest ever airshow in Finland, Oulu International Airshow, June 7, the Finnish Air Force Academy's jet display team had become the Midnight Hawks. Immediately, the name spread around the country and world - Finnish Air Force Display Team Midnight Hawks were born !
Midnight Hawks current mission is to display the skills and high level of training of the Finnish Air Force for the Finnish people. The Finnish Air Force is well known for its very experienced pilots, which once fought evenly against a much stronger and bigger enemy. The tradition continues and still the Finnish Air Forces trains very professional and skilled pilots. Midnight Hawks is an excellent example of this. It's not the quantity - it's the quality.
The most important display for the team is still the Midnight Summer Airshow at Kauhava AB, the home of Finnish Air Force Academy and Midnight Hawks. Midnight Hawks and its predecessors have always had their display slot close to the midnight. Therefore, the team can honestly say that it has flown more night jet formation displays than any other team or group in the world.
Selection and Training
Every New Year, the next team leader and the Commander of the Training Squadron will together select the next team members. The selection is always very hard because any of the instructors in the Finnish Air Force Academy are very capable to fly in the team. The main purpose of the Academy is naturally to train very capable fighter pilots, so operational commitments and transfers come always first and only after this come the display team's requirements. All pilots selected to the team will continue to fly as full-time flight instructors, which is still their main job. The display flying comes after it.
Every year four flight instructors from the Finnish Air Force Academy will get the honour to be the member of the Midnight Hawks. In summer season 1998, the privileged pilots were Team Leader Capt Jari "Pålle" Paljakka, 31, left wing Ltn Seppo "Stuka" Tuovinen, 29, right wing 1st Ltn Joni "Mac" Mahonen, 27, and slot Ltn Tero "Teukka" Saario, 30. Both Capt Paljakka and Ltn Saario had their third year in the team and Ltn Tuovinen and 1st Ltn Mahonen their first. Capt Paljakka and Ltn Saario have flown the Saab Draken and Ltn Tuovinen and 1st Ltn Mahonen, the MiG-21BIS before assignment to Finnish Air Force Academy and Midnight Hawks. Ltn Saario has always flown in the slot position, but Capt Paljakka was left wing until becoming team leader for 1998 season.
When the 1998 team was selected at the beginning of the year, Capt Paljakka started to practise the possible display alone. After he had flown and trained all the manoeuvres, he flew them again with Ltn Saario, the slot pilot. As both had already been with the team for two seasons, together they made changes and modified the program to be smooth and precise. Capt Paljakka was selected to the team leader for 1998 season when the previous team leader Capt Seppo Linden was transferred to Fighter Squadron 21 after the 1997 season.
After Capt Paljakka and Ltn Saario were satisfied with the manoeuvres, both left and right wing joined the flight training in the beginning of May. Capt Paljakka first flew with one at a time in a pair. When new pilots, Ltn Tuovinen and 1st Ltn Mahonen had learned the manoeuvres, they all started to fly in a four aircraft formation.
For the 1999 season, only the team leader was changed, so it was much more easier to start the display practise with four aircraft. As the new team leader had previously flown with the team, the new display program came together smoothly.
The 1999 team consisted of Team Leader - Capt Jarmo "Jamo" Majapuro; left wing - Ltn Seppo "Stuka" Tuovinen; right wing - 1st Ltn Joni "Mac" Mahonen; slot - Ltn Tero "Teukka" Saario.
Capt Majapuro flew with the team in the 1997 season and came back for the 1999 season as a Team Leader. Ltn Saario has flown slot position for four years in the team and Ltn Tuovinen and 1st Ltn Mahonen have their second year in the team . Capt Majapuro and Ltn Saario have flown Saab Drakens and Ltn Tuovinen and 1st Ltn Mahonen MiG-21BISs before assignment to Finnish Air Force Academy and Midnight Hawks. Ltn Saario has always flown as a slot, but Majapuro was right wing until the 1997 season and after one year came back to become team leader for the 1999 season. Capt Paljakka, who was the 1998 team leader, is now flying for Finnair as an airline pilot.
Finnish weather conditions are very challenging and therefore low-displays are very much practised and often flown. At Arctic Airshow ´98, the team could not even fly the low display, but still got airborne and performed low level flypasts for the crowd in a tight diamond formation, in weather which would have grounded most other display teams.
Because flight instructing is the main job for all the pilots, they select the manoeuvres based on the amount of practise they have time to fly. Due to the amount of formation flying received in the normal flight training, Midnight Hawks practise surprisingly little compared to their excellent and tight display flying. When the airshow season starts, the pilots have only 10 to 15 display training flights each. This is only possible due to the very demanding and versatile training all Finnish Air Force pilots receive.
Before the team starts the airshow season they have to perform in front of the Commander of the Finnish Air Force Academy, who will approve it. Even though the team is based at the Air Force Academy, it is the Finnish Air Force Headquarters who controls the team and approves its displays in various locations.
The team flies standard Finnish Air Force Academy BAe Hawk Mk 51s. Because the teams display aircraft are "borrowed" from the Training Squadron, they have no special markings. However, for each display, 40 cm tall yellow numbers from 1 to 4 are added to the tail fins, with the spare aircraft always numbered 7. Each of the pilots has a gold team number (1 to 4) on the back of their helmets. Each pilot selects their own "favourite" Hawk for the season. For 1998 season the team used most of the time HW-337/P, HW-322/S, HW-312/F and HW-329/G. At Lappeenranta International Airshow 1999, the individual aircraft numbers were #1: HW-339/J, #2: HW-330/I, #3: HW-309/E and #4: HW-310/Y, the spare a/c was #7: HW-322/S.
Planes are flown in the clean configuration, but inner pylons are attached because they support the wing in high-G manoeuvres. It seems that all Finnish Air Force Hawks have to go through re-winging. Finnish Air Force uses its Hawk fleet in a much harder operational environment than originally designed for, so the stress of high-G flying starts to show in the wing.
Midnight Hawks are becoming a more and more professional display team, even though it is a part time job for its highly skilled pilots. The team has an official web site at http://www.midnighthawks.com, and has their own T-shirts, patches, stickers and caps for sale at every airshow they display. However, smoke generators for the team aircraft are number one on the wish list !
On 30th June & 1st July 2000, the team performed at Airpower 2000 at Zeltweg, Austria. This marks the first time in the teams history, that they have performed outside Finland. So Midnight Hawks are steadily taking steps to become one of the main jet display teams in the world.
information on these pages © The Aerobatic Display Teams S.I.G. of
IPMS(UK), 1998 - 2000.