Finland's air force looks forward to operating the Boeing F-18 Hornet

Rene van Woezik/Tampere-Pirkkala AB

The motto of the Finnish air force is "Qualitas Potentia Nostra: In Quality Lies Our Power". In terms of its front-line hardware, however, this quality has recently teetered on the verge of obsolescence.

The Saab JAS35 Draken and the Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed have given stalwart service to the Finnish air force, but the designs are hardly adequate for a front-line fighter for an air force entering the 21st century.

The aircraft which will be the vanguard of the air force in the next century is the Boeing (née McDonnell Douglas) F-18C/D Hornet, now entering the Finnish inventory in meaningful numbers. So far seven two-seat F-18Ds and twelve F-18Cs have been delivered out of the total of 64 aircraft on order. The total cost for the aircraft, training, simulators, weapons and spares is around $3.3 billion (in 1992 dollars).

Finland was the first international customer to receive the F-18 with the Hughes APG-73 pulse-Doppler radar, according to the commander of Havittajalentolaivue (HavLLv) (fighter squadron) 21 at Pirkkala air base, Lt Col Jarmo "Charles" Lindberg. The APG-73 lies at the very heart of the F-18s' capabilities in the air-defence role.


Multi-target tracking

The APG-73 has considerably greater processing capability than its predecessor, the APG-65. It also supports the multi-target tracking required to exploit fully the Hughes AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM). The first AIM-120B AMRAAMs are expected to arrive in mid-1998, while the first live AIM-9M Sidewinders will be delivered by the end of 1997.

For self-defence, the Finnish aircraft are equipped with the ALR-67 radar-warning receiver and ALE-47 chaff-and-flare launcher along with the ALQ-165 Airborne Self Protection Jammer.

The first Finnish Hornets were flown to the country on 7 November, 1995, refuelled en route by a McDonnell Douglas KC-10A tanker. All seven two-seat F-18Ds have now been delivered, as well as a dozen single-seat F-18Cs.

Since October 1995, the F-18Cs have been assembled locally by Valmet. The first aircraft was delivered to the air force in June 1996 and the 57th and final single-seat Hornet will be delivered in August 2000. Finavitec produces about one Hornet a month, although deliveries are now three months ahead of schedule, speeding up the conversion process.

The Hornets are now equally divided between HavLLv 21 at Pirkkala and HavLLv31 at Rissala air base. HavLLv 21 of the Satakunta Air Command at Pirkkala started converting to the F-18 in July 1996. The second training flight operates both the Hornet and Saab 35F/C Draken. In late 1997, the Draken will be phased out of HavLLv 21, making Pirkkala the first Finnish operational Hornet base.

The HavLLv 31 of the Karelian Air Command is the second Finnish unit converting to the F-18. About 15 MiG-21bis fighters remain operational at Rissala, including six MiG-21bis/Ts. The reconnaissance squadron moved there in 1996.

Karelian Air Command Commander Col Heki Lyytinen says: "Compared to its neighbour, Russia, the Finnish air force is relatively small and so is its number of fighter pilots. Therefore, we must have fighter pilots of a better quality, just as our motto Qualitas Potentia Nostra says."


Shooting live weapons

"To give our pilots the experience of shooting live weapons, we have an annual shooting camp at Oulu where live gun and missile firings are carried out. This year will be the last year we fly the MiG-21 at Oulu as we are in the process of conversion to the F-18," he adds.

Rissala saw the arrival of the first Hornets in September 1996, and the squadron will have its first operational Hornet flight in the third quarter of 1997. Conversion from the MiG-21 to the F-18 takes about a month of computer-based training, followed by just four flights in the F-18D dual-seat aircraft leading to the first Hornet solo flight.

The conversion to the Hornet is quite easy, which may come as a surprise - keeping in mind the 1950s "clockwork" design of the MiG-21 cockpit. The air force foresaw problems with the Russian displays at an early stage and replaced them with Western cockpit displays, giving the Fishbed cockpit a similar look to that of the Hawk trainer.

While the MiG-21bis will be taken out of operational service later in 1997, the Draken is earmarked to continue in service until 2005.

The Rovaniemi-based HavLLv 11 of the Lapland Air Command will be the last Finnish operator of the Draken. Some 23 operational aircraft are now shared between HavLLv21 and HavLLv 11.

Three variants of the Draken are used by HavLLv 11: the Valmet-built Saab 35S, former Swedish air force stock Saab 35F fighters and the two-seat Saab 35C trainer. This squadron is also destined to become a Hornet operator and, although the final F-18C is planned to be delivered in 2000, HavLLv 11 is due to fly the Draken until 2005.

The three fighter squadrons are supported by an Operational Support Squadron based at Tikkakoski. This unit was formed in January 1997 from the amalgamation of the Reconnaissance Squadron and the Transport Squadron based at Utti.

The reconnaissance unit was forced to return its reconnaissance-modified MiG-21bis/Ts to Rissala because of a shortage of operational MiG-21bis. The fighter-reconnaissance task was then passed to Hawks carrying the reconnaissance pod previously used on the MiGs.



The Operational Support Squadron also operates the sole electronic intelligence-gathering (ELINT)-modified Fokker F27 and three Gates Learjet 35s.The latter perform many tasks, including passenger transport, maritime patrol, target-towing, photo-reconnaissance, aerial mapping, passive electronic-warfare training, calibration, airborne- warning-and-control-system duty, fall-out surveillance, air sampling, nuclear, biological and chemical reconnaissance, search and rescue and ELINT.

Also on the Operational Support Squadron's inventory are two Fokker F27 transports, now at the ends of their operational lives. The air force is looking for replacements and has already shown interest in purchasing three civil AI(R) ATR 72s from FinnAir. For liaison purposes, each squadron has a fourth flight equipped with one Piper Pa-28 Arrow, one Piper Pa-31 Chieftain, two Valmet L-90TP Redigos and one or two Valmet L-70 Vinkas. As most of the Pa-28s are nearing the ends of their operational lives, the training requirement is going to be met increasingly by the Vinka.

The future Hornet pilot's four-year course starts at the Air Force Academy at Kauhava. The cadet will fly the Valmet Vinka for 45h in the first year. In the following three years, the Vinka is flown for 60h and the Hawk for 100h.

Following graduation the pilot is transferred to one of the three Air Commands for operational training. In the first year 150h are clocked on the Hawk, followed by 120 flight hours on the Hornet the following year. At this point, the pilot is viewed as having reached a full operational capability, and is cleared for combat on both aircraft.

Lindberg says that the computer-based training systems and simulators requirement is driven by "-information-management capabilities. In the traditional cockpits, the dials and needles didn't change much. This is totally different in the modern Hornet cockpit with its multi-function displays. You really have to know what information you want during different phases of the flight.

"In the Hornet, there are three displays with 20 push buttons around each. This means that you have to know several different push-button sequences in order to find what you want, which we see as a training challenge."

Tampere-Pirkkala is the home of the Hornet Training Centre (HTC). The HTC uses traditional as well as multi-media lectures, computer-based training (CBT) and several simulators. The CBT training is for self-paced study of the aircraft's systems and procedures in support of the traditional lectures. All test results are tracked through a network student-tracking system. The HTC uses the operational flight-programme trainer as a dynamic training tool to teach the features of the F-18 software.

The Hornet's operational software is loaded into the computer so that the displays, radar modes and hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls work in the same way as in the actual aircraft. The weapons tactics and situational awareness trainer is a low-cost procedures and weapon-systems tool built by McDonnell Douglas Training in accordance with Finnish specifications. It is used in the early conversion phases, emergency procedures and in radar-intercept training.


Weapons-tactics trainer

Besides the at Pirkkala-based trainer, which is a single-channel-visual version, there is another five-channel-visual version whose field of view extends over 180¹ in azimuth, based at Rissala. Hughes Training built the weapons-tactics trainer for the Finnish air force. This is a 12m-diameter dome built around a Hornet cockpit. The dome uses Landsat and Spot satellite imagery of Finland.

A total of 36 different target types can be projected on the dome's surface with four laser projectors. The pilot has a 40¹ high-resolution field of view, which is head-tracked by a magnetic sensor on the headphones so that the system knows where the pilot is looking.

The dome has a radar and infra-red forward-looking-infra-red image of Finland. It is night-vision-goggles-compatible so that it has a full night precision-strike-training capability.


Source: Flight International