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The Finnish Air Force

Midnight Hawks

The Midnight Hawks is the aerobatic team of the Finnish Air Force. Flying four Hawk jet trainers, the team has proudly presented the expertise and capabilities of the Finnish Air Force in air shows both at home and abroad since 1997.

The display season 2020 is looking very different from the previous season. Nevertheless, the Midnight Hawks team has been training their display routine in the spring and adding some slight updates to it. This year the routine is divided roughly to two parts, the first of which showcases close formation flying. You can expect to see the Midnight Hawks’ signature tight diamond as well as more formation changes than has been customary. More vertical manoeuvres for a wow factor have also been incorporated into the routine this season.

The second part of the show features various manoeuvres involving breaking and forming up. Some are familiar from the previous seasons but the team has been polishing the entire sequence to make it even more breathtaking than before. In the routine the formation flies at its lowest a mere 100 metres above the ground with aircraft speed varying between 200-800 km/h.

All Midnight Hawks pilots are qualified air combat and Hawk flight instructors at the Air Force Academy, rehearsing aerobatics on top of their teaching responsibilities. Formation aerobatics require gruelling training and commitment, yet being chosen as a member of the Midnight Hawks is an honour no one can turn down.

Midnight Hawks team for the 2020 season

The Midnight Hawks team composition has undergone some yearly changes. The 2019 season’s Team Leader, Captain Vesa Laukko as well as Wingmen, Captain Eero Mannismäki and Captain Juho Tervahartiala continue to fly on the display team. Captain Oskari Tähtinen, previously serving as Midnight Hawk 7, has taken over the slot position.

The Midnight Hawks team line-up also includes Captain Heikki Kankkio who continues to serve as the supervisor and Captain Jussi Nokso who has recently joined the ranks as the new No. 7. Kankkio’s task is to provide on-the-ground support for the display routine and formations as well as ensure flight safety. Nokso is slated to join the flying composition next year and is now providing commentary for the display routines, among other duties.

The Air Force flight operations, including the Midnight Hawks’ aerobatic displays, would not be possible without the support and tireless efforts of the aircraft maintenance personnel. Midnight Hawk 10, Senior Engineering Officer, Captain Marko Nieminen is in charge of the maintenance and upkeep of the four display and one backup aircraft. A six-person crew selected from the personnel of Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Fighter Squadron 41 assists him in carrying out the maintenance duties.

Team members

Captain Vesa Loukko - No. 1 Team Leader

Flying as the team leader for the second consecutive season, Vesa hails from Kauhajoki, the vast open plains of Western Finland. Vesa and his wife and their two daughters live now in Laukaa. Spending time with his family is Vesa’s favorite leisure activity, but he also manages to ski, walk or run outdoors, and go to the gym from time to time.

He began his military service in 2004 in Kauhava with what was then known as the basic pilot training course. After conscription he continued studying military science on Cadet Course 92 between 2005 and 2009. He started flight training with a Vinka primary trainer in Kauhava in January 2005. The Vinka training ended in Tikkakoski in 2008, after which his flight training continued in Kauhava with a Hawk jet trainer between the years 2008 and 2010. When his training in Kauhava ended, Loukko transferred to Pirkkala to fly the F/A-18 in Fighter Squadron 21 in 2010-2013. The summer of 2013 saw him back at the controls of the Hawk at the Training Air Wing in Kauhava, and in 2015 he became stationed at the Air Force Academy in Tikkakoski. Today Vesa serves at the Air Force Academy as a flight commander and air combat instructor.

Vesa began his Midnight Hawks career in 2016 on the right wing. He flew three seasons as No. 3 between 2016 and 2018. In 2019 Vesa was honoured to accept the position of Midnight Hawk 1 vacated by the previous team leader, Captain Marc Fuss. Loukko has accumulated over 500 flight hours with the Finnish Air Force Hornets, more than 1000 hours with the Hawk and 100+ with the Vinka.

 
 

Captain Eero Mannismäki - No. 2 Left Wing

Flying on the left wing, Captain Eero Mannismäki comes from Ähtäri, where he graduated upper secondary school in 2002. His military career got started in August of the same year as a conscript on Basic Pilot Training Course 77 at the Training Air Wing in Kauhava. Eero flew his first flight with a Vinka primary trainer in 2003. Post conscription, he continued his studies at the National Defence University on Cadet Course 90 in 2003-2007, and graduated with a Master of Military Science degree and received the appointment of Officer Pilot by the President of the Republic.

After the Vinka fleet, flying the Hawk jet trainer in Kauhava was the next step in his career. Eero was awarded his military pilot wings in the year 2006. Once he had completed the flight instructor course, he held the instructor qualifications for the Vinka fleet in his back pocket at the end of 2008. In the following year his training went on with the Hawk fleet, and he received the flight instructor qualification in the summer of 2009. Between 2010 and 2012 Eero strayed from the path of a flyboy and became trained as a flight controller at Avia College in Vantaa. Nonetheless, the course gave him an edge by raising his aviation knowledge and skills to a new level. Eero continued his military career in Kauhava until 2014 and was transferred to the Air Force Academy in Tikkakoski in 2015. Currently Captain Mannismäki serves as a flight commander for Fighter Squadron 41, flying both the Hawk and Vinka.

For the 2017 display season, Eero was selected as the Hawk solo pilot. He began to fly with the Midnight Hawks the following year when the Hawk solo was incorporated into two Midnight Hawks’ air shows. Eero enjoyed flying the Hawk solo in 2017 and 2018, and this year he is looking forward to flying on the display team as the left wing No. 2. He has clocked over 1300 flight hours with a Hawk and 400 with a Vinka. When not flying, Captain Mannismäki devotes his free time to various sports and nature hikes.

   
 

Captain Juho Tervahartiala - No. 3 Right Wing

Captain Juho "Tervis" Tervahartiala is the Midnight Hawks’ youngest as well as the sole "foreign" reinforcement - born and bred in Raisio and a 2007 graduate of Raisio Upper Secondary School, speaking the native Turku dialect and Finnish as a "second language". His ambition to serve his country led him from the Navy Reserve Officer Course to the Air Force Reserve Officer Course 83. Serving 544 days as a conscript impacted Tervahartiala’s character deeply, making him the airman he is today. As a natural extension of all of the above, Tervahartiala began to study at the Cadet School in 2009.

Tervahartiala completed his basic flight training with the Vinka primary trainer in Tikkakoski and then moved on to further flight training with the Hawk at the Kauhava Training Air Wing in 2011. He earned his military pilot wings in 2012 and flew the Hawk for two more years prior to taking the flight instructor course in 2014. When the Kauhava Training Air Wing closed down, the Hawks and flight instructors were redeployed to Tikkakoski, and thus student pilots have had the opportunity to enjoy Tervahartiala’s professionalism with both the Hawk and Vinka since 2015.

Tervahartiala joined the Midnight Hawks as No. 7 for the season 2016. Having many years of experience under his belt, Tervahartiala has delighted the crowds with his expert commentary of the display routines, including Finland’s as well as the Finnish Air Force’s centenary air shows. This season will see Tervahartiala flying the right wing No. 3 position. Tervahartiala is passionate about flight instruction, and he has thus far racked up 800 flight hours with the Hawk and some 400 with the Vinka.

   
 

Captain Oskari Tähtinen - No. 4 Slot Position

Captain Oskari Tähtinen is a native of Jyväskylä and a 2006 graduate of the Jyväskylän Lyseo Upper Secondary School. His Air Force career began the same year with conscription in Tikkakoski on Pilot Reserve Officer Course 81. After conscription Tähtinen started studying at the National Defence University’s Cadet Course 94, graduating in 2016 with a Master of Military Science majoring in war technique.

On completion of primary flight training Tähtinen’s flying career continued with Hawk jet trainers at the Kauhava Training Air Wing. He was awarded his military pilot wings in the summer of 2010. In 2012 Oskari finished tactical training with the Hawk and was positioned north to Lapland Air Command’s Fighter Squadron 11. There Oskari flew the F/A-18 Hornet multirole fighter for six years. In summer 2018 Tähtinen transferred to the Air Force Academy’s Fighter Squadron 41 to teach air combat.

Tähtinen joined the Midnight Hawks for the 2019 season in the role of No.7. In the spring of 2020 he took up the slot position on the display team. Tähtinen has over 1000 total hours of flying experience with military aircraft, of which 500 hours with the Hornet. He has also accumulated flight hours in civil aviation, flying 400 hours with single and twin engine aircraft as well as gliders. Besides flying, Tähtinen enjoys scuba diving and photography - some of his aviation shots have also been shown in Air Force events.

   
 

Captain Jussi Nokso - No. 7 Commentator / Rookie

The new display pilot spends the first season in position 7 to get to know how the team works and prepare for formation flying. He does not yet fly in displays but No. 7 can be heard providing commentary to the display routines through the loudspeakers during air shows as this is one of his duties.

Captain Jussi Nokso hails from Kurikka, South Ostrobothnia, and is a farmer’s son who went all out to follow the path set by pioneer pilots to land a career as an Air Force officer. In 2005 after his upper secondary school graduation, Jussi headed to Tikkakoski and the Pilot Reserve Officer Course 80. Having completed conscription, Nokso began studying at the National Defence University’s Cadet Course 93, from where he graduated in 2015 with a Master of Military Science majoring in war technique.

For a couple of years during Cadet School Jussi’s flying career continued in Tikkakoski with the Vinka, and later he was stationed at the Training Air Wing in Kauhava to learn the secrets of operating a jet. In Kauhava Jussi was awarded the Finnish Air Force pilot emblem in the year 2009. Following this his education continued with studying tactics in Kauhava for two more years until he took up F/A-18 training at Fighter Squadron 11 in Rovaniemi. Jussi served in the squadron until the year 2016 when he transferred to the Air Force Academy Fighter Squadron 41 to an air combat instructor’s post.

Jussi has recorded more than 1300 hours of flight time with military aircraft over the years. Some 500 hours of these were at the controls of the Hornet and his Hawk experience tops 600 hours already. In his spare time Jussi does various sports from cycling and going to the gym to different board sports. Jussi’s further interests include information technology and handicrafts.

 

Captain Heikki Kankkio - No. 0 Supervisor

The supervisor is an experienced Midnight Hawks pilot, whose main tasks are to ensure flight safety and develop new display routines. When the display is in full swing, No. 0 can be spotted near the airfield perimeter, talking into a radio transmitter giving instructions to the team leader.

Team Supervisor, Captain Heikki Kankkio is from Mynämäki and has been working with the Midnight Hawks team since 2014. Captain Kankkio flew the Hawk solo that year and also entertained the audience as the commentator, No. 7. From 2015 to 2018 Kankkio flew the left wing No. 2 position, after which he became the team supervisor, having served a "full-term sentence" as a flying member of the team. Whenever the team is airborne rehearsing or performing, you can spot the supervisor on the ground with a walkie-talkie and sunglasses, weather permitting.

The Midnight Hawks supervisor provides support to the team leader in decision-making and to the team members in keeping the formation visually flawless and maintaining separation between the aircraft. All this makes the supervisor the team’s "artistic director", who gives his own contribution to what the show looks like from the ground as the pilots are naturally unable to see it from that perspective.

Kankkio graduated from the Mynämäki Upper Secondary School in 2002 and began his conscript service in the autumn of the same year on Pilot Reserve Officer Course 77, from where he continued to the Air Force Cadet Course 90 pilot track. Kankkio shook hands with the president in the year 2007, and in 2008 he was stationed in Rovaniemi at Lapland Air Command for the F/A-18 Hornet conversion. In 2011 he moved to Kauhava to serve as a flight instructor in Fighter Squadron 41. Soon after, his interest in display flying with the Midnight Hawks was sparked. Following the transfer of Hawk training to Tikkakoski, Kankkio has served as the Operations Flight Commander at Fighter Squadron 41 and air combat instructor.

Kankkio has devoted his free time to many different hobbies but the one closest to his heart has been Finnish baseball, which he played actively until recently. Today - rather than the ball field, you may come across Kankkio in a gym, rollerblading around Lake Jyväsjärvi in summer, or skiing the regional track between Palokka and Leppävesi in winter.

 

Captain Marko Nieminen - No. 10 Senior Engineering Officer

The team’s senior engineering officer, in other words No. 10, is Captain Marko Nieminen from Laukaa, Central Finland. After upper secondary school Nieminen left for Halli, Jämsä to do his military service on the aircraft maintenance non-commissioned officer course where he was duly bitten by the military aviation bug and began his aircraft maintenance basic course in Lappeenranta immediately on completion of his conscription.

He was stationed to Karelia Air Command in 1998 after graduating from the aircraft maintenance basic course. His work with the Hawk fleet got started already then, but in 2007 he swapped the fighters to transport and liaison aircraft in the Supporting Air Operations Squadron housed at the time at the Air Force Academy in Tikkakoski. His next reassignment took place in connection with the Defence Forces Reform in 2015 when the Supporting Air Operations Squadron was relocated to Satakunta Air Command. He worked in Pirkkala only for a short while as he was transferred back to Tikkakoski in the spring of 2017 to his current duties as the Aircraft Maintenance Squadron’s Hawk specialist at the Air Force Academy in Tikkakoski. The specialist’s work involves maintenance planning for the Hawk fleet and their continuous airworthiness certifications, among other duties.

In the years 2018-2019 Nieminen was in charge of the Midnight Hawks display team’s aircraft systems and he now serves his first year as the senior engineering officer, or No. 10. Although his career in the Midnight Hawks has only just begun, Nieminen has already had over 20 years of Air Force experience with several different aircraft types - Hornet, Pilatus, Casa and Vinka, for example. In addition to his Hawk specialist duties, Nieminen also serves as the Pilatus PC 12 specialist for the Air Force.

In his free time, he keeps busy with his own farm in Hankasalmi, farming the land and taking care of the woods. His winter hobbies include cross-country and downhill skiing as well as snowmobiling, and in spring and summer whenever his farm work allows, Nieminen puts his running shoes on.