Interview – Major Ville Hirvonen

My name is Major Ville Hirvonen, I am the Finnish Air Force F/A-18 Display Pilot for air show season 2016 and the Executive Officer of the Fighter Squadron 31 of the Karelia Air Command. I am 36 years old. I have a wife and three kids, a 10- year old son and 7 and 9 year old daughters. I started flying in the Air Force in 1999 with the Valmet Vinka basic trainer (300 flh) and from 2001 to 2003 I learned to fly the BAE Hawk Mk 51 (350 flh). My F/A-18 training began in 2003 and after that the Hornet (1200 flh) has been the primary aircraft for me.


How did you become the pilot of the Hornet Demo?

In the Finnish Air Force the F/A-18 Display Pilot position rotates every year. The Air Force F/A-18 squadrons choose their candidates for the job and I was lucky to be chosen by my unit! The display pilot must have enough flying experience and he has to be reliable and humble. These characteristics are important because the purpose of the F/A-18 Solo Display is to show what the pilot and the aircraft can do when flying almost on the limits. Display flying needs to be safe, that is the most important thing. During the air show season 2015 I was the deputy F/A-18 display pilot. At that time I had an excellent “mentor” – Capt Ville Uggeldahl who won Paul Bowen trophy (best Solo Jet Demonstration) in RIAT 2015 – introducing me to the world of display flying.

Tell us about a bit of the Hornet you are flying.

The Hornet is great aircraft to fly. It is very easy to handle especially at low speeds, which is its most significant capability. Most of the other fighter jets are not as controllable at a high angle of attack (AOA) and that makes it a very capable dogfighter. By the end of 2016 all of our Hornets will be upgraded to MLU 2 phase (Mid-Life-Upgrade 2). That update gives us air-to-ground capability among other features.

Since you are also part of the air force you do your duty, when can you practice your program and where?

I work now as a squadron XO (Executive Officer) at FSQN 31 so at least half of my duties consist of “admin stuff” but they also include being a fighter weapon instructor. I fly almost daily with students but I try to practice my display show weekly. I train a lot in an F/A-18 simulator because our simulators replicate the real life flying very accurately and obviously simulator flying doesn’t require as much preparation as the real thing.

Who decides on which shows the Hornet fly?

Decisions regarding air show participation of the Finnish Air Force aircraft are made by the Commander of the Air Force.

Any change from the previous program for 2016? What can we expect?

I have changed some maneuvers from last year. My goal is to show the audience Hornet’s maneuverability at low speed and its capability to handle high AOA. I also prefer to show combat-like maneuvering over “pretty” aerobatics.

Will the Hornet fly outside of Finnland?

Yes, we will participate in the Swedish Air Force 90th anniversary air show at Malmen, Linköping on 27th August.

Where can the people see the Hornet fly in 2016?

For season 2016 we have three more air shows to go: before the Linköping show in August there will be the Tour de Sky Air Show in Kuopio on June 18–19 and the 90th Anniversary of the Malmi airport on August 13–14 in Helsinki.

Please tell us how many people are in your team for a demo flight and what they do to help you?

There are technicians who do their magic to keep my F/A-18 flying – and of course I need to have a deputy display pilot with me. This year’s deputy Pilot is Capt Tapio Yli-Nisula of the Fighter Squadron 11, Lapland Air Command.

Please tell us how your day’s works in the air force? Also when you are training for the demo, what do you do before the flying?

As I previously mentioned my primary duty is XO but I try to teach F/A-18 students daily. Before every demo flight, I fly my show (full or flat depending on the weather) with a simulator at least twice. Then just before walking to the jet during an air show I mentally “fly” the show a couple of times.

Any solo display from other country you like?

Fighter jet displays are always close to my heart but in last year’s RIAT the Hellenic Air Force Zeus F-16 did a great show that is worth mentioning.

The Finnish Hornet Demo does not have a special paint scheme like most of the solo demos in Europe. If there would be a chance to have one, what would you see on the Hornet?

I would like to have a paint scheme that somehow showed the Finnish flag and maybe some reference to the Finnish Air Force heritage.

If one day the Air Force would say…you can choose an airshow to participate, which one would it be?

I would say Le Bourget in Paris. We haven’t been there yet so that is my choice.

Thank you for your answers. Any final words to our readers?

I hope your readers would be able to participate in an air show where we are performing. Hope to see you in the audience!