The Bwlch, Wales, UK - September 2013

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Having scored a big fat zero low-level in Wales with Karl on my only trip in the past, a couple of free days after a visit to Russia gave me the chance to catch the Finnish Air Force at RAF Valley with a deployment of Hawks.

Pilots from the Finnish Air Force's 41st Fighter Squadron, based at Kauhava Air Base, had deployed to RAF Valley with their Hawk Mk51s in September 2013, to participate in Exercise Finnish Hawk alongside the resident Hawk T.2s of IV(R) Squadron. The exercise saw pilots from Finland and the UK operating alongside each other to share their Qualified Flying Instructor knowledge and experience.

During each day of the exercise, the RAF and Finnish Air Force Hawks flew air combat and simulated attack sorties over Wales and north-western England, during which the latter flew with their RAF colleagues in order to broaden their operational capabilities, sharing tactical, procedural and training expertise with one another.

The Finns operate the Hawk Mk51 as a fast jet trainer, and their aircraft have upgraded cockpits and avionics to enable students to progress more smoothly to the F-18 Hornets operated by the Finnish Air Force.

Eager to catch the Finnish Air Force operating low level, I set off the following day with John Higgins, and we both huffed and puffed up the hill, taking the longer, easier route, which still saw us both feeling knackered at the top. It wasn't too long before the first aircraft came along, a 208(R) Hawk T.1. Finally, my first aircraft in the hills! Then, it was the Finnish Air Force show.

A couple of passes by a pair saw them drop lower and lower. Excellent stuff!

Later on another pair shot through multiple times, before a Tornado GR.4 arrived in dramatic fashion, which made me very happy indeed!

The day ended with another Tornado, making it an enjoyable day with great banter, and nice aircraft to shoot.