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.
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.
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.
The Midnight Hawks
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.
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.
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 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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