Interview – Midnight Hawks Team Leader

My name is Captain Marc Fuss and I work at the Finnish Air Force as a Flight Commander in the Finnish Air Force Academy Fighter Squadron 41 based in the Tikkakoski Air Base in Central Finland. My main task is to train young pilots in military jet aviation. Our task is to teach the students first how to fly the Hawk advanced jet trainer and further how to fly in the combat environment. With each student we spend roughly 1,5 years teaching the principles of flying with the Hawk and also teaching them to operate as a member of the Finnish Air Force in today’s environment. I am also the team leader of Midnight Hawks which is our official Air Force’s display team. This is my second year as the team leader and before that I flew the in the position of the right wing in the team for three years.

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Tell us a bit of the Midnight Hawks, it’s history.

Midnight Hawks is a military display team whose pilots are all experienced instructors of the Finnish Air Force Academy Fighter Squadron 41. We fly displays with four BAE Systems Hawk Mk 51 advanced jet trainers. We also bring with us a fifth spare plane to the air show events. Midnight Hawks received its name 20 years ago after a national air show event in Tampere, so this year we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the team operating under this name. Before that the Air Force used to have jet trainer displays with Hawk and also Fouga aircraft but the team performing with them appeared under several names. Midnight Hawks and its precedessors have performed mainly in air shows in Finland but during the Midnight Hawks era we have also visited many international air shows across Europe from Bodø (Norway) to Rivolto (Italy) and from RIAT (UK) to Moscow (Russia).

How many people are in the team?

The team has six members: there are four flying members, one supervisor (usually a former team leader or experienced former team pilot who instructs the team from the ground) and one rookie who will be a flying member in the future. We also have a maintenance crew consisting of eight persons including their leader.COPYRIGHT © Finnish Air Force

If you would ask, to tell in a few words why the Midnight Hawks is special, what would you say?

The Midnight Hawks show their audience a tight formation of fast jets flying close to each other. The distance between our planes in the tight diamond formation is only about 1,5–2,5 meters. We have also designed our program so that the planes can be seen practically all the time during the display. Our low cloud base program also allows us to fly a display in weather conditions that usually don’t enable formation display flying.

Tell us a bit of the Hawk the team flies.

We fly the BAE Systems Hawk Mk 51 and 51A, the latter one being the model upgraded with a glass cockpit. Finnish Air Force has been operating the Hawk from the 1980s and we have currently modernized our fleet consisting of Mk 51, Mk 51A and Mk 66 aircraft. With the modernization we are able to give our students state-of-the-art flight training. The Hawk has good maneuverability in low altitudes and it is also very capable in higher altitudes. We fly in our shows with airspeeds ranging from 120KIAS to 450KIAS (220-830 km/h – the editor). For our day-to-day training with our students the Hawk is a very good platform. As far as the instructor’s task of teaching the basics of modern air warfare is concerned, a modern glass cockpit gives us many advantages and flying the Hawk requires you to learn well the classic skills of a combat pilot.

How can someone become a Midnight Hawks pilot?

To become a Midnight Hawks pilot one needs to be a flight instructor at the Fighter Squadron 41 in the Air Force Academy. We accept pilots who volunteer for the team and have enough flying experience with the Hawk. The average team pilot has flown ca. 1000 flight hours with the aircfrat. The team reviews the applications with our squadron commander and then we select our pilots. We take into consideration many different aspects of flying and team work. Usually we accept a new member every 1–2 years.

When the team does not fly as the Midnight Hawks, what do you do? How does for example a week looks like for you?

Our display season is roughly the summer season in Finland and mostly our team members spend their time training the new pilots in Fighter Squadron 41. During a typical working week I fly 1–2 sorties daily with students. After that I usually need to do some administrative duties mostly related to our flight training. Training sorties vary from basic flight instructing (navigation, instrument flying, formation flying etc.) to teaching advanced fighter tactics (air combat maneuvering, A/G operations etc.).

What can you tell us about the 2017 season? What can we expect? Any program outside of Finland?

The upcoming season is going to be exciting. Our 2017 air show schedule will be published on the Finnish Air Force website at http://ilmavoimat.fi/en/ soon. This year we have three different programs for different weather types. We have introduced some new maneuvers in our program and are also reintroducing the Swan formation which symbolizes our national bird.

Who decides on which shows the Midnight Hawks fly?

The decision is made by the Commander of the Finnish Air Force.

2017 will be the 100th anniversary of Finnlands independence, and also the Midnight Hawks will be 20 “years old”. This year must be exciting for the team!

Yes, this is a very exciting time and I’m proud to be the team leader. The 100th Anniversary brings us some more shows and we are happy to perform in those. Next year will also be quite exciting as the Finnish Air Force is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2018.COPYRIGHT © Finnish Air Force

The Midnight Hawks represent the Air Force in some way in the air, and also can be seen as an ambassador of Finnland when performing in another country. You feel that?

I agree, that is how the team sees its role,too. Anywhere we go we try to give our best and show our Air Force pilots’ professionalism. In Finland we also want to inspire young people and tell them about the career opportunities in the Air Force and the Finnish Defence Forces.

During your career as a Midnight Hawks pilot, what was your best feedback? Favourite airshow?

My best feedback has been when the spectators came to tell us how they liked our show – especially because our jets could be seen by the audience all the time during the display. My favorite air show in Finland was the one in Lappeeranta in 2013 because it was my first air show as a flying team member. As far as shows abroad are concerned, it is hard to say because we have been in many events and met great people in every one of tthem. Every air show is different and unique. We enjoy every opportunity to represent the Air Force and Defence Forces.COPYRIGHT © Finnish Air Force

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

This of course is my personal view, but the air show I would like to participate in would be RIAT as it is very traditional and Midnight Hawks has been there only once.

Any favourite demo team from Europe or around the World?

We have had some cooperation with Patrouille Suisse and Frecce Tricolori when attending air shows with them but I would say I don’t have a single favorite team. I think every display team is a show of the high level of professionalism of its nation’s air force and military pilots. it is always exciting to see all of them performing.

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

I look forward to seeing you in the air shows we attend and Finland is definitely worth a visit. Have a great summer and fly safe!