Several months ago I mentioned that I would love to have to opportunity to fly in one of the Finnish Air Force’s F-18D Hornet aircraft. Soon after that I received an invitation from Major General Jarmo Lindberg, the Commander of the Finnish Air Force, to come to Kuopio and participate in an orientation flight.
The first part of the process was getting a flight physical, which by and large was not a challenge for me – except the part where they test you to see how you handle motion sickness. I will save you the detailed description and leave it at (1) I passed the test and (2) I wouldn’t recommend it for a fun time.
And so, several weeks after passing my physical, I arrived at Kuopio Air Base where I was greeted by Major General Lindberg, Colonel Ari Jussila (Commander, Karelia Air Command), and Lt Colonel Petteri Seppälä (Commander, Fighter Squadron 31).
The Air Force went right to work fitting me with flight clothing and equipment, and provided basic safety training. Next I was introduced to the pilots with whom I would fly. My pilot was Captain Markus Korhonen, who also led the pre-mission briefings.
After a busy morning of preparation, we were at last off to the flight line. Strapping into one of these aircraft was a challenge for me, but it wasn’t too long before the pilots started the aircraft engines and repositioned for takeoff. After one last sweep by the snow removal equipment, four F-18s launched into cold skies with a thin cloud deck about 5,000 feet above the ground. While airborne, the aircraft maneuvered and simulated an air policing exercise … the primary day-to-day mission of the Karelian Air Command. It was exhilarating and challenging—I gained even more respect for the expertise and commitment for this great pilots.
After landing and exiting my flight suit (nothing comfortable about that piece of attire, I assure you), Col Jussila hosted the group to a hearty Finnish Air Force meal, cooked in their squadron kitchen. The formation leader, Captain Korhonen, provided a thorough flight debrief.
The day ended with an exchange of mementos, and my sincere thanks for a matchless personal experience and a powerful physical symbol of cooperation between Finland and the United States, as Finnish Air Force pilots and support personnel continue to meet comprehensive security requirements using the F-18 Hornet as their primary airborne capability.