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Hornet Solo 2024 demonstrates the ability to climb from ground level to high altitudes

Karelia Air Command
Publication date 17.4.2024 9.42 | Published in English on 2.5.2024 at 10.05
Press release

Introducing the Air Force’s 2024 F/A-18 Hornet display pilot, Captain Petteri Kairinen from Karelia Air Wing.

Captain Petteri Kairinen from Fighter Squadron 31 of the Karelia Air Wing is the Finnish Air Force's main display pilot in 2024. Kairinen has 10 years of experience of flying the F/A-18 Hornet fighter and 1,000 flight hours. The stand-in display pilot this year is Captain Paulus Kärnä from Lapland Air Wing.

In addition to flying exhibitions, Kairinen serves as Deputy Commander of 1st Flight, with responsibility for flight operations and their planning. In daily flight duty, Kairinen is an aerial combat instructor. His “Loudeater” call sign is linked to a story about unnecessary loud comments made at a meal during a Hornet meeting.

What are your expectations for the air show season?

I have very high expectations. This year, we had exceptionally good luck regarding the number and location of air shows. There are three international performances, one main flight display in Finland and some smaller events. The air shows are well distributed between the summer and autumn. Of course, I’m looking forward to a rather busy but very interesting season. 

What is it like to work in Karelia Air Wing?

The job description is very diverse and I learn something new every day. After a 10-year squadron career, I can’t say that every day is different but it’s still very interesting. We had international cooperation nearly every week even before joining NATO, but membership has clearly increased our participation in international exercises and other events. Despite the interesting work duties, the best part of Karelia Air Wing is the amazing work community and squadron spirit.

You were the stand-in display pilot last season – what kind of planning process was involved in this year's Hornet Solo?

The planning was based on observations made last year, and I included the elements that I particularly liked. 

In practice, I started planning the new sequences right after the season ended last autumn. I added manoeuvres where the nose points either directly or diagonally towards the audience. This makes the plane’s trajectory and ability to manoeuvre more visible to the audience in comparison to when the moves are done in the presentation line.The initial planning mainly took place as brain work. You can do a lot with mental training when you have basic skills needed for display flying and the technique required to perform the manoeuvres. Then I practised the sequences in a simulator for a few months and made adjustments depending on which manoeuvres worked best together. When the whole performance was at a satisfactory level in the simulator, I started practising the new sequences in the plane, initially at a higher minimum altitude. 

The duration of the display is an important factor to take into account during planning. I shortened the length slightly from last year, which makes the plane lighter at the beginning of the routine due to the smaller amount of fuel and subsequently improves performance.

Do you practice the manoeuvres included in the routine here or do pilots learn them during training?

Kairinen harjoittelemassa F/A-18 Hornet-hävittäjällä kotitukikohdassa. All parts of the routine are standard and approved Hornet manoeuvres. All pilots have performed these manoeuvres, but only at higher altitudes and in connection with air combat movements. The difference is that a display flight brings the plane down to a much lower level in order to make the manoeuvres visible to the audience. 


How often do you practise your Hornet solo display and does the weather affect it?

Kairinen nousukaarrossa Hornetin ohjaamossa. The target is three practice flights per week as we get closer to the display season. In addition, I always want to have one practice session just before an air show, preferably at the same airport where the display will take place. Weather has an effect on which of the three sequences I actually perform. A strong crosswind is probably the biggest challenge in terms of performing the routine. Very hot weather also reduces the fighter’s thrust and therefore affects the visual impact of the manoeuvres.

The sequences designed for good weather and intermediate conditions are relatively similar, and only certain manoeuvres change if the cloud ceiling is lower. The poor weather sequence has remained practically the same as the previous year, because there are very few variations in the manoeuvres during bad weather.

You were an active footballer for a long time and you’re very physically active in general. Can you describe the physical abilities a pilot needs for a display flight or what qualities would be especially useful?

The most important thing is to get a variety of physical activity. In other words, there’s no special sport linked to flying. In terms of display flights, a certain level of muscular fitness helps support the body when flying at large G forces.

What is the best part of a Hornet solo – showing off your skills to the audience or the actual flying?

HN-sooloesityksessä käytetään soihtuja. It’s a combination of both. The first 10 display flights were quite amazing, because we don’t get to do those moves at such low altitudes in normal daily flight duty. We also rarely fly with the display flight set-up, which means no external load. I can say that Hornet becomes quite a different plane in that case. The fact that someone else is watching you fly a sequence adds some extra excitement to the event, and of course it also increases the pressure to perform well.

What routines do you have when preparing for your Hornet display flight – are they the same as before any other flight?

It's not exactly the same. If the schedule permits, I always try to warm up before the display flight. That 8-minute performance is surprisingly hard on the body. Along with warming up, I go through the sequence in my mind from start to finish. This makes it much easier in the plane, because once the sequence begins there’s no time to think about what manoeuvre comes next.  

What's the best thing about flying a Hornet?

Compared to many other fourth-generation fighters, the Hornet has exceptional manoeuvring capabilities, especially at low speed and high angles of attack. Its manoeuvrability remains good regardless of the speed range, and the thrust is enough to make changes at high speeds or altitude.

You already had a double degree before you decided to apply for the pilot reserve officer course. What would you say to a young person who sees you at an air show this year and dreams of a career as a fighter pilot? 

The most important thing is to believe in your abilities. I didn’t have any aviation experience or aviation background in the family, but my father encouraged me to apply. Although there are many test phases and the application phase is relatively tough, I quickly noticed that I might have what it takes to be a pilot. Just being yourself and doing your best will usually take you a long way. 

The Air Force's Hornet Solo display can be seen this year at the following events: 15 –16 June Vaasa Airshow, 24 August Nordic Air Power 2024, Sweden, 6–7 September Airpower 24, Austria, 21–22 September International Sanicole Airshow, Belgium, and at the Finnish Air Force’s Careers in Military Aviation Day events.

Kapteeni Kairinen istumassa HN-ohjaamon reunalla


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