Introducing the Air Force’s 2023 F/A-18 Hornet solo display pilot Kapteeni Henri Toppari from Lapland Air Command.
Kapteeni Henri ‘KIF’ Toppari serves as a flight and aerial combat instructor in No.11 Fighter Squadron at Lapland Air Command. He has accumulated more than a thousand Hornet flight hours during his 11 years in the air command. This year, in addition to his normal duties, Toppari will also fly the Hornet in the role of the Air Force’s main performance pilot.
“Although the hornet performance pilot is always chosen to be the drivers of the more experienced guard, I have to admit that I was surprised when I was selected for the position. I thought that for my part the train would have already gone. The choice was a great honour,” Toppari says.
This year’s backup pilot is Captain Petteri Kairinen from the Karelia Air Command.
- Originally from Kauhava
- Captain by military rank
- Serves in 11 Fighter Squadron at Lapland Air Command
- Has flown the Hornet for 11 years, approx. 1050 hours
- Call sign KIF
- Hobbies include ice hockey, golf and reading
Henri, what has your journey as a fighter pilot been like?
I am from Kauhava, next to the then Air Force Academy. There, as a little boy, I could watch flying planes in the yard and from the school window, and that’s where the spark for a fighter pilot’s career began.
I invested in school success and the hobby base was already very athletic. During the application phase, it quickly began to become concrete that fitness and school performance are on point for a pilot’s career. The application process and tests were varied, and fortunately, time after time, there was an invitation to the next step.
However, it turned out that I could not get in on the first try. It was a big disappointment after a long daydreaming. I ended up doing military service at the Air Force Academy and ended up as a military police sergeant. The night before, before disembarking, I interrupted my service and reapplied for the Air Reserve Officer Course in Tikkakoski. Then there was a jolt.
There was a little longer military service, from start to finish for two and a half years, but it was worth it. The journey, and the long beginning, have taught me to enjoy what I do and appreciate every day of work.
Was the transition from Kauhava to Rovaniemi and from Hawk’s controls to the Hornet a big culture shock?
No, I went north here in 2012 with my spouse with an open mind, and we adapted really well from the beginning. The Hornet training proceeded smoothly, and flying the Hornet has been the greatest thing in the whole package.
What kind of workplace is Lapland Air Command and the Air Force?
The best thing about Lapland Air Command and Fighter Squadron 11 is the team spirit. Not only did I get to, but I was included in the group from the very beginning. I enjoy working for the Air Force very well and my motivation to do this work is high.
What are your daily tasks?
I am a swarm leader and a flight and air combat instructor, and my job also includes a managerial position as head of the Tactical Office. The basic working day begins in the morning with a joint distribution of tasks to the entire squadron. In it, we go through the flight service plans for the day, go through the assignment with the student, warm up well and equip ourselves. Before boarding the planes, the flight department meets to check the equipment of the aircraft, weather conditions and other possible issues affecting the flight.
Depending on the mission, the flight lasts from half an hour to one and a half. In addition to flying in the role of a teacher, I observe the student’s performance. After the flight, we will go through together how the task was completed.
Last year you served as a backup show pilot and now you get to perform your own show flight series. How does it feel?
After all, it’s just insanely cool to have wanted this since I was two years old, and now, as a big fan of air shows, I’m there in the sky myself.
Throughout last year, when I was a backup show pilot for A leksi Ritvos, I had in mind the movements that I myself liked to watch and later fly myself. That’s where the design started and since then a lot of checkered paper and simulator lessons have been spent.
What kind of Hornet solo will we see this year?
I try to highlight the movements that can be done with the Hornet, but many others cannot. There are movements of a large angle of attack, in which the machine often does not move in the direction in which the cam is pointing. There are two tricks in the series that are my absolute favourites: a foot barrel and a hat that some may feel better as a cobra. I know they actually look really good to the audience.
The Hornet is visible to the public throughout the performance, and something happens all the time. It should be mentioned that all movements are also those that are included in the training programs of hornet pilots.
What is the Hornet like as a performance aircraft?
Performance flying with the Hornet is cool precisely because you can fly movements with a large angle of attack, in which the plane is still maneuverable all the time. It looks and feels ragged and aggressive.
Of course, I look at it with very colored glasses, but the Hornet is always really spectacular on performance flights. No other fighter jet can fly like the Hornet. Sure, it depends on the viewer that what you value the most, but in my opinion, no fighter jet is as “cool” as the Hornet.
It will also be interesting to see what kind of performance the Swiss Air Force Hornet will lead in Turku at the Finnish Aviation Association’s main air show (17.–18.6.).
How do you prepare for individual presentations?
I closely follow the weather forecasts so that I know which of the three sets of different weather conditions I am flying from. As the H-moment approaches, I’m rehearsing my series alone somewhere hidden, with my eyes closed, my hands in the air. If the aerodrome is strange, I will also go to study the arrangements and peculiarities of the place.
Closer to the presentation, I do a careful warm-up. I have my own workout, which warms up especially the big muscles, neck, neck and other supporting spine.
Then it’s time to put on your flight gear, check and start the plane, and roll it. They all go smoothly with a standard routine. At the end of the runway, I concentrate for a while longer, then the and the start.
I don’t have any superstitious routines because I have enough of them in my hockey hobby. What is probably characteristic of me is that I do all the routines on my own, without distractions, in peace with concentration.
What would be the perfect show flight weather?
Calm frosty weather is ideal for flying, but as a performance flight weather, I would say perfect one in which the audience becomes more focused, stays dry and enjoys.
And what is your favorite place to perform?
My favourite place is one where you have your own family in the audience – you get to show for once what that daddy does for a living. Of course, even if you don’t have anyone to watch, flying is a really nice thing to do anyway. If someone else enjoys flying at the same time, that’s awesome.
What do you expect from the flight show season that is about to begin?
I hope for successful events where everyone enjoys themselves. I hope that I can play my part in inspiring young people to take this path. Of the big foreign air shows, my program includes at least RIAT in mid-July in the UK and Radom in late August in Poland. I look forward to them.
Interview and portrait image from “No other fighter jet can fly like a Hornet” – The Finnish Air Force (ilmavoimat.fi)