Captain Petteri Kairinen

Captain Petteri Kairinen

Captain Petteri Kairinen of Fighter Squadron 31 is the F/A-18C Hornet Display Pilot of the Finnish Air Force in 2024. Kairisen has ten years of experience flying the F/A-18 Hornet fighter and a thousand flight hours. This year, the alternate performance pilot is captain Paulus Kärnä from Lapland aviation.

In addition to show flying, Kairinen works as the deputy commander of the 1st squadron, responsible for the squadron’s operational flight operations and its planning. In the squadron’s daily flight service, Kairinen works as an air combat instructor. Call sign “Loudeater” – the name comes from a story about an unnecessarily loud comment during a meal at a Hornet meeting.

What are your expectations for the 2024 air show season?

Very high. This year we were exceptionally lucky in terms of the number and location of air shows. There are three foreign shows, the main domestic air show and smaller events. The air shows are well divided between summer and autumn. Naturally, I expect a quite busy, but very interesting season.

What is it like to work in the Finnish Air Force?

The job description is very versatile and you learn something new every day. Even though the squadron career is already ten years behind me, I’m not saying that every day is different, but there is still interest. International cooperation has been almost weekly even before NATO membership, but with membership, participation in international exercises and other events has clearly increased. Despite the interesting tasks, the best thing about Karelian aviation is definitely the great work community and squadron spirit.

You served as the back-up show pilot last season – what has the planning process been like making this year’s Hornet solo since then?

The design was based on last year’s observations and I brought in the elements that I especially liked.

In practice, I started planning new sets right after last season in the fall. I added movements where the nose points either directly or obliquely towards the audience. Then the plane’s trajectory and ability to move are visible to the audience in certain movements much more clearly than in movements made in relation to the presentation line.

At first, the design was mainly done as an idea. With mental imagery training, you can take the whole thing quite far when you have basic knowledge of show flying and the technique of performing movements. After that, I ran series over the course of a couple of months in the simulator, agreeing which movements fit best together. When the whole thing was at a sufficient level in the simulator, I moved on to run new sets on the machine, at first with a higher lower limit.

An important element to consider in planning is the duration of the show. I slightly shortened the length from last year, which has a positive effect on the fact that the machine is lighter at the very beginning of the series due to the smaller amount of fuel, and the performance of the machine is better.

Have the movements in the performance been rehearsed for this, or are they learned at the same time as learning to fly a fighter jet?

All maneuvers that are flown in the show are maneuvers approved for the Hornet’s maneuver bank. All the drivers have driven the same movements, but only at a height and connected to the movement according to the fight. The difference is that in the performance flight series maneuvers are flown at a much lower lower limit, and the showiness of the maneuvers to the audience is taken into account.

How often do you practice your F/A-18 solo performance and does the weather affect it?

The closer we get to the show season, the target amount of training is three flight performances per week. In addition, right before the air show, I always want to go for one practice run, preferably at the same airport where the show is held. The weather affects which of the three different series is run. In terms of performance, a strong crosswind is perhaps the biggest challenge for driving the series. The heat also has a degrading effect on the thrust of the machine and thus on the appearance of the movements.

Of this year’s series, the good weather and intermediate weather series are relatively similar, only certain movements change if the cloud height is lower. The series of bad weather has remained practically the same since the previous year, because in bad weather there are very few variations in movements.

You have a background as a long-time soccer player and you practice a variety of sports. Tell me what kind of physical capabilities are required for a pilot for this kind of performance flight or are they especially beneficial?

The main thing is that you practice a variety of sports, i.e. there is no specific type of sport associated with flying. From the point of view of performance flying, a certain good muscle condition helps to support the frame when flying under large G-forces.

What is the best thing about performing a solo display – when you get to show your skills to the audience or flying yourself?

In performance flying, the first ten times were quite painful, because in normal daily flight service, such maneuvers are not allowed at such a low altitude. In addition, we rarely fly with performance flight equipment, i.e. without an external load. I can say that the Hornet becomes quite a different machine with this equipment. The fact that someone else is watching the flying of one’s own series gives it a considerable extra spice, and at the same time, of course, pressure to perform.

What kind of practices do you have when preparing for the Hornet presentation flight, are they the same as before the flight?

It’s not quite the same. If the schedule allows, I always try to warm up before the performance flight. That’s a surprisingly taxing eight minutes for the body. In addition to the warm-up, I go through the series once from beginning to end as an imagery exercise. It makes it much easier on the machine, because during the set you don’t have time to think about what move came next.

What is the best thing about flying the Hornet?

Compared to many fourth-generation fighters, the Hornet has exceptionally good maneuverability, especially at low speed and high angle of attack. Maneuverability remains good regardless of the speed range and the thrust is sufficient for large changes in speed or height.

You already had a double degree in your pocket before you were interested in applying for the flight reserve officer course. What advice would you give to a young person who sees you at the show this year and dreams of a career as a fighter pilot?

The most important thing is not to doubt your own abilities. I had no aviation experience and no aviation background in my family, but my father encouraged me to apply. Even though there are many test phases and the application phase is relatively difficult, I noticed so quickly that maybe I am a pilot. Usually, being yourself and doing your best goes surprisingly far.

2024 Display Season

  • 15th-16th June – Vaasa International Airshow 2024, Vaasa, Finland
  • 24th August – Försvarsmaktens flygdag 2024 – Nordic Air Power. Ronneby, Sweden
  • 6th-7th September – AIRPOWER’24, Zeltweg, Austria
  • 21st-22nd September – 44th International Sanicole Airshow, Belgium