BAE Systems Hawk Mk. 51

BAe Hawk Mk. 51 Suomen Ilmavoimat.
BAe Hawk Mk. 51 Suomen Ilmavoimat.

The BAE Systems Hawk is a British single-engine, jet-powered advanced trainer aircraft. It was first flown at Dunsfold, Surrey, in 1974 as the Hawker Siddeley Hawk, and subsequently produced by its successor companies, British Aerospace and BAE Systems, respectively. It has been used in a training capacity and as a low-cost combat aircraft.

In 1964 the Royal Air Force specified a requirement (Air Staff Target (AST) 362) for a new fast jet trainer to replace the Folland Gnat. The SEPECAT Jaguar was originally intended for this role, but it was soon realised that it would be too complex an aircraft for fast jet training and only a small number of two-seat versions were purchased. Accordingly, in 1968, Hawker Siddeley Aviation (HSA) began studies for a simpler aircraft, initially as special project (SP) 117. The design team was led by Ralph Hooper.

This project was funded by the company as a private venture, in anticipation of possible RAF interest. The design was conceived of as having tandem seating and a combat capability in addition to training, as it was felt the latter would improve export sales potential. By the end of the year HSA had submitted a proposal to the Ministry of Defence based on the design concept, and in early 1970 the RAF issued Air Staff Target (AST) 397 which formalised the requirement for new trainers of this type. The RAF selected the HS.1182 for their requirement on 1 October 1971 and the principal contract, for 175 aircraft, was signed in March 1972.

The prototype aircraft first flew on 21 August 1974. All development aircraft were built on production jigs; the program remained on time and to budget throughout. The Hawk T1 entered RAF service in late 1976. The first export Hawk 50 flew on 17 May 1976. This variant had been specifically designed for the dual-role of lightweight fighter and advanced trainer; it had a greater weapons capacity than the T.1.

Hawk T Mk 50 company demonstrator.
Hawk T Mk 50 company demonstrator.

More variants of the Hawk followed and common improvements to the base design typically include increased range, more powerful engines, redesigned wing and undercarriage, the addition of radar and forward-looking infrared (FLIR), GPS navigation, and night vision compatibility. Later models were manufactured with a great variety in terms of avionics fittings and system compatibility to suit the individual customer nation, cockpit functionality was often rearranged and programmed to be common to an operator’s main fighter fleet to increase the Hawk’s training value.

The Hawk was designed to be manoeuvrable and can reach Mach 0.88 in level flight and Mach 1.15 in a dive, thus allowing trainees to experience transonic flight before advancing to a supersonic trainer. The airframe is very durable and strong, stressed for +9 g, the normal limit in RAF service is +7.5/-4 g. A dual hydraulic system supplies power to operate systems such as the aircraft’s flaps, airbrakes and landing gear, together with the flight controls. A ram air turbine is fitted in front of the single tail fin to provide backup hydraulic power for the flight controls in the event of an engine failure, additionally a gas turbine auxiliary power unit is housed directly above the engine.

The Hawk is designed to carry a centreline gun pod, such as the 30 mm ADEN cannon, two under-wing pylons, and up to four hardpoints for fitting armaments and equipment. In RAF service, Hawks have been equipped to operate the Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. In the early 1990s, British Aerospace investigated the possibility of arming the Hawk with the Sea Eagle anti-ship missile for export customers.

In January 1978, Britain and Finland announced a deal to in which the Finnish Air Force was to receive 50 Hawk Mk. 51s in 1980; these aircraft were built in Finland under licence by Valtion lentokonetehdas. The Finnish Air Force was limited to 60 first-line fighter aircraft by the Paris Peace Treaty of 1947; by acquiring Hawks, which counted as trainers rather than fighters, capacity could be increased while continuing treaty compliance. These conditions were nullified during the 1990s by the break-up of the Soviet Union.

HW-346-O Hawk Mk.51 HavLLv11, Rovaniemi.
HW-346-O Hawk Mk.51 HavLLv11, Rovaniemi.

Seven additional Mk. 51As were delivered in 1993–94 to make up for losses. In June 2007, Finland arranged to purchase 18 used Hawk Mk. 66s from the Swiss Air Force for 41 million euros; they were delivered in 2009–2010. Finnish Hawks have reportedly been armed with Russian Molniya R-60/AA-8 air-to-air missiles. The Finnish Air Force aerobatics team, the Midnight Hawks, also uses the aircraft.

Due to rising levels of metal fatigue, a major structural reinforcement program was carried out to extend the operational life of Finland’s Hawks during the 1990s. Due to lifespan limitations, 41 out of 67 in Finland’s total Hawk fleet were taken out of service between 2012–2016; the remaining aircraft are younger and thus are expected to be flying into the 2030s. In 2011, Finnish Mk. 51s and Mk. 66s underwent a series of upgrades performed by Patria, these included the adoption of a new Cockpit 2000 glass cockpit, new software, and other life-extending modifications. This upgrade program was completed in 2013.

CMC was selected by Patria to supply its integrated glass Cockpit 2000 for the avionics upgrade of Hawk Mk51 trainers for the Finnish Air Force in January 2007. -
CMC was selected by Patria to supply its integrated glass Cockpit 2000 for the avionics upgrade of Hawk Mk.51 trainers for the Finnish Air Force in January 2007. –
Suomen Ilmavoimat Hawk Mk. 51 -
Suomen Ilmavoimat Hawk Mk. 51 –

The Midnight Hawks

9 Midnight Hawks Display Team Patch.

The history of the Midnight Hawks had already begun before World War II, when the Finnish Air Force Academy used Gloster Gamecocks and other aircraft for display flying. The tradition of formation flying continued and it became a trademark of the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wings annual Midnight Summer Airshow. Midnight Summer Day is normally the third Saturday of June. Originally the show was just the Training Air Wing’s Midnight summer party for the families, relatives and the people of the Kauhava village where the Academy was located. Over the years this event has grown to become the Midnight Summer Airshow and Festival with many foreign participants and over 20,000 spectators. Because of the midnight sun the airshow starts at around 7 p.m. and lasts until midnight when the last display is flown.

Midnight Hawks Display Team.
Midnight Hawks Display Team.

Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing’s flight instructors have always performed formation flying in the Midnight Summer Airshow. The formation flying had been part of the normal training syllabus and no special team names or aircraft had been used. There had been several nicknames for the teams, often based on the name of the team leader, but no official team name had been used until 1997. The flight instructors had simply showed their skills and aircraft to the spectators. The aircraft flown have been Training Air Wing’s standard trainer aircraft. During 60′ to 80′ Saab Safir and Fouga Magister were used, and from the beginning of the 1980s Valmet Vinka and BAe Hawk Mk 51. So for the last forty or so years the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing has had two formation display teams; one flying with the basic prop trainer, and the second with the jet fighter trainer. Both teams had performed almost solely at the Midnight Sun Airshow once in a summer.

During the 1990s the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing’s jet display team started to expand their appearances, performing in other airshows than just the ‘Midnight Sun’. 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 though it was still without name or official status. 1997 saw the change. In the biggest ever airshow in Finland, Oulu International Airshow, the Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing’s jet display team appeared as the Midnight Hawks. Immediately the name spread around the country and the wider world – the Finnish Air Force Display Team Midnight Hawks had been born.

Midnight Hawks at Lentäjien Juhannus 2008.

All the members of the team are active flight instructors in the Finnish Air Force Academy, and in active service. They usually hold the rank of Captain or Major.

The Midnight Hawks perform classic formation flying. During the show the team displays in front of the crowd line all the time. The team’s trademark is a very tight diamond formation.

The most important display for the team is still the Midnight Summer Airshow at Kauhava Airport, the home of Finnish Air Force Training Air Wing and the Midnight Hawks. The Midnight Hawks and their predecessors have always had their display slot close to the midnight, and therefore the team can honestly say that it has flown more night jet formation displays than any other team or group in the world. They also are the only display team in the world which actively has trained for formation flying in the night.

HW-340 - Finland - Air Force- Midnight Hawks British Aerospace Hawk 51 -
HW-340 – Finland – Air Force- Midnight Hawks British Aerospace Hawk 51 –

Finnish weather conditions can be very challenging and so the team devotes a lot of practice and preparation to the low level displays that they are often required to perform.

The Midnight Hawks use standard Finnish Air Force BAe Systems Hawk MK 51 and MK 51A aircraft from Fighter Squadron 41. They are not dedicated display team aircraft, but selected within the squadron pool of the operational aircraft which currently are available at the time. During the week team’s aircraft fly advance combat training missions according to training syllabi. The aircraft are painted in the standard Finnish air force camouflage.

Finnish Hawk Mk. 51 - pre-flight check.
Finnish Hawk Mk. 51 – pre-flight check.


  • Finnish Air Force – 75 Hawks (50 Mk.51, 7 Mk.51A, 18 Mk.66)
    • Fighter Squadron 41 (HävLLv 41) at Kauhava
    • Finnish Air Force Display Team Midnight Hawks.


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9 thoughts on “BAE Systems Hawk Mk. 51”

  1. 10/10 for a high quality and detailed report, Richard. The Hawk is a true British success story (an increasingly rare thing in the later half of the 20th century). The designers of the Hawk viewed the aircraft as a possible combat aircraft for many third world countries since as you say it could fill both trainer and light combat roles in a single airframe. They were essentially looking to produce a cheap combat aircraft similiar in role to the Italian MB.326 which was developed in to a single seat attack aircraft by the South Africans called the Impala. BAE would take this idea to the limit in the Hawk with the 100- and 200-series.

    To that end they deliberately designed it to be fast enough to escape the 9K32 Strela-2 (SA-7) shoulder launched SAM at low level. The French did the same when conceiving the Alpha Jet with the Germans.

    Photos have been released of Finnish Hawks armed with R-60s. If you look at the picture below you can see just how diminutive the Hawk is as a combat aircraft when you see how large the R-60 is compared to the airframe.

    1. Thanks for the input Tony. Those R-60/AA-8s really do look big on the Hawk! The Finns have always had a tendency to fit non-standard armament(s) to their aircraft, the same can be said of their ships and armoured vehicles. Ever since the Paris Peace Treaty, and the imposition of heavy war reparations, Finland has been careful to buy hardware from the East and the West, in the event that one or the other would impose an embargo upon them. Despite this no longer being an issue, the trend has continued. Having lived there for three years, I understand the Finnish way of thinking, from the late 12th century, Finland was occupied by Sweden and then in 1809 it was annexed by the Russian Empire. After the Winter War which ended in March 1940, the Finns could not countenance another occupation, which led to Finland turning to Nazi Germany for military aid. The Finns had a very real fear of the Soviets, the Nazi pact was unfortunately a necessary evil. War reparations of Finland to the Soviet Union were originally worth US$300,000,000 at 1938 prices.

      1. I have had this discussions with some fellow history enthusiasts in the past. Finland was in an impossible situation in 1940. Their superlative performance in the war was a combination of excellent tactics by competent forces who knew the terrain compared to the incompetent Soviet army who on paper had every advantage. Stalin’s purges guaranteed the Soviet Army was practically a paper elephant at that time.

        The problem for them was how long would that be the case. The threat from the Soviets persisted after 1940 and the British and French were too busy preparing their own defences. Of course the Finnish would turn to Germany; after all the Germans showed no real interest in Finland except as a base to confront the Soviets from.

        It can be really summed up by the old saying “The enemy of my enemy….”

        That being said does that excuse Finnish forces from operating alongside the Whermacht in the Soviet Union who had no disregard for the lives of the civilian population that fell under their control? Well, that’s one hell of a debate with no right or wrong answer.

        That’s my humble opinion.

      2. It is a valid point that you make Tony. It must be remembered however, that, during the Winter War Finland suffered 66,406 casualties, they lost Lake Ladoga, the Karelian Isthmus and East Karelia to the Soviets. The civilian populations of these regions were forcibly evicted, many ending up in internment camps.

        The Finns halted their offensive 30 km from Leningrad, at the pre-World War II border between the Soviet Union and Finland. Finnish forces did not participate in the siege of Leningrad directly, holding their pre-World War II territory on the Karelian Isthmus for two and a half years instead. This was despite the insistence by the German High Command that the Finnish Forces should attack Leningrad. Marshall Mannerheim flatly refused.

        Finland had a small (approx. 2,300) Jewish population. They had full civil rights and fought with other Finns in the ranks of the Finnish Army. The Germans mentioned the Finnish Jews at the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, wishing to transport them to Majdanek in General Government. SS leader Heinrich Himmler mentioned the Finnish Jews during his visit in Finland in the summer of 1942. Finnish Prime Minister Jukka Rangell replied that Finland had no “Jewish question”. Over 500 Jewish refugees were granted asylum. The field synagogue in Eastern Karelia was one of the very few functioning synagogues on the Axis side during the war. There were even several cases of Jewish officers of Finland’s army being awarded the German Iron Cross, which they declined. German soldiers were treated by Jewish medical officers who sometimes saved the soldiers’ lives.

        The Soviet motivation for the Winter War was that the Soviet’s ostensibly sought to claim parts of Finnish territory, demanding—amongst other concessions—that Finland cede substantial border territories in exchange for land elsewhere, claiming security reasons, primarily the protection of Leningrad, which was only 32 km (20 mi) from the Finnish border. (Though the border that was “only 32 km (20 mi)” from Leningrad was the end of a narrow finger of coastline about 15 km (9.3 mi) long by 5 km (3.1 mi) wide; most of the Finnish border was more than 50 km (31 mi) from Leningrad.Finland refused and the USSR invaded the country. Many sources conclude that the Soviet Union had intended to conquer all of Finland.

  2. A terrific aircraft that has proven itself with a number of airforces across the globe. The fact that it is chosen for many a display team pays testament to its durability and excellent handling capabilities. Another fabulous post Rich!

    1. Thanks Andy. The Hawk is as you say a terrific aircraft that has stood the test of time with its ability to be enhanced, upgraded and modernized, which has kept it competitive and relevant in the modern world.

    1. Finland needed an advanced trainer that could also double as a low-cost combat aircraft. The post WW2 Paris Peace Treaty limited the numbers of combat types that Finland could operate, as Tony pointed out, the Finns armed their Hawks with the R-60 AAM, which in some ways got around the limitations imposed upon them in Paris. The Treaty restrictions ceased to exist once the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Hawk remains a much loved aircraft for the Suomen Ilmavoimat and looks set to remain in service well into the 2030s. Thanks for your comment John.

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