Hawk jets have served the Finnish Air Force for four decades
Text: Tuomas Lehtonen Photos: Tommi Anttonen
In the early 1970s, the Finnish Air Force looked for a successor to the French Fouga Magister. In 1975, the Air Force performed test flights of five plane candidates. The Hawk, a single-engine, two-seater jet made by the British company BAE Systems, proved to be the best in terms of its operational envelope. A couple of years later, Finland signed a procurement agreement for 50 Hawks. Four of them were assembled in England, and the rest at the Valmet (now Patria) plant in Kuorevesi (now the Jämsä Hall). The first Hawk Mk 51 jet trainer arrived in Finland on 19 December 1980.
The Air Force acquired more Hawks in 1993 – seven new Mk 51A jets replaced old Hawks that had suffered fuselage damage. Finland made its latest Hawk deal in 2007 with the Swiss Air Force – the 18 little-flown Mk 66 Hawks cost only as much as two new planes. After modifications and modernisation, these planes were put into training use in 2011–2013.
Hawks are basic tools in the Air Force’s advanced and tactical pilot training. They are used to teach the basics of jet flight and air combat skills. In flight instructor teaching at the National Defence University, the Hawk is employed in type-specific, orientation, instrument, aerobatic, formation and night flight training. In tactical training for fighter pilots, Hawks are used to practise the basics of air combat and air-to-ground operations before the trainees move on to fighters.
Hawks boast good performance and are excellent opponents for fighter jets – and have enhanced the tactical use of fighters. Training flights on fighters have been partially replaced with exercises flown with Hawks.
Hawks are armed with a 30 mm Aden cannon pod bolted under the fuselage. In addition, the planes can be equipped with heat-seeking missiles and bombs. The ability to use missiles significantly expands the interception range of Hawks in air combat.
In addition to weaponry, Hawks can be equipped with air sample collection tanks or smoke pods. Hawks have been used to collect air samples after the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster in 1986 and during the volcano ash crisis of 2010.
The Hawks were subjected to heavy stress during the first decade, as the manufacturer assured that they would easily withstand 8G. However, fractures were found in the fuselages during their first factory maintenance and the load limits of the aircraft had to be restricted in the 90s. The waists of the Hawks were strengthened in an extensive structural reinforcement programme. In addition, wings and tails were replaced. These extensive modifications were carried out by Valmet and were valued at around FIM 400 million. However, the cost was much lower than the FIM 2 billion estimate given by BAE Systems.
High G-forces also put the physical endurance of the pilots to the test. With the introduction of the high-performance Hawks, the Air Force stepped up its focus on muscular fitness and maintenance. Physical fitness was also assigned greater weight in the instructor selection criteria.
During the first decades, the Hawks were scattered in the Training Air Wing and the air commands, but in 2005 the Air Force decided to centralise the Hawks at the Training Air Wing in Kauhava. This solved the shortage of flight instructors that had caught the Air Force by surprise when around 70 instructors transferred into the employ of civilian airlines. In 2014, the operations of the Kauhava Training Air Wing ended and the Hawks were reassigned to Fighter Squadron 41 at the Tikkakoski Air Force Academy.
Patria and its predecessor Valmet have played an important role in the history of the Hawks. Patria has been responsible for Hawk maintenance, upkeep, repair and modernisation. The company is also an important partner to the Air Force in flight instructor training.
The cockpit modifications were very important, as they updated the Hawks to the requirements of air combat training in the new millennium. The modernisations were started up in the early 2000s and continued until recent years – the traditional instrument panels of the Hawks were replaced with digital glass cockpits. A HUD and LCD displays with a dynamic navigation map and a digital mission planning and debriefing system were installed in the cockpits.
The most recently modernised planes also introduced the Hawk Link system, which transmits location data between the Hawks. Location data is shown on the plane displays and HUD. Hawk Link also makes it possible to engage in air combat training in conditions that simulate an actual combat environment.
The glass cockpit can also simulate the working conditions of Hornets, thanks to which student pilots can practice cockpit work in a fighter before sitting behind the controls of a Hornet. The key strengths of the Hawks are their structure and system, which enable modifications and changes in how information is presented.
At present, the Air Force has 32 state-of-the-art modernised Hawks, which will serve for at least the next 10–15 years. The Hawk is the longest-serving jet in the Air Force.
Veli-Antti Huotarinen, Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.), Finnish Air Force
Martti Wallin, President, Aviation, Patria