The last Hawker: Interview with a Hawk pilot

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All pictures: Paul Heasman

The last British military fast jet in production is the BAE Systems Hawk. Though designed in 1969, the Hawk remains in production in 2017. Paul Heasman has flown both the legacy T1 and the new T2 Hawk, in this interview he compares the two, and shares his experiences of flying this classic jet. 

What were you first impressions of the Hawk? 

“Coming off the Tucano, I was amazed by how much more the pilot seemed to be able to see over the nose of the aircraft.  The Tucano has a flat nose from the front cockpit that houses the Turboprop engine, the Hawk T1 nose just slopes away to a point not far forward of your toes.  From a handling point of view, the lack of nosewheel steering certainly caught me out on the early sorties and, in the close formation phase, it became apparent that I’d learned some pretty bad lessons on the Tucano.  Firstly, the Tucano has an instant power response when opening the throttle whereas the Hawk needed time for the Adour engine to spool up.  Secondly, slamming the Tucano throttle to idle would flat plate the prop disk – effectively giving you a huge airbrake and instant retardation while selecting idle in the Hawk would offer little retardation as the airframe is so slippery.  These factors combined meant that I had taught myself to be quite lazy in formation in the Tucano and I quickly had to learn to anticipate a lot more in the Hawk.”

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What are the best and worst features or quirks of the Hawk? “It’s a hand-built aeroplane, read into that what you will. The legacy Hawk is literally handmade – think old school sheet metal fabrication rather than robots and lasers.”

What advice would you give those new to the aircraft?  “You’re either on RAFAT, the Ton or the Navy standards unit.  Enjoy your tour!”

How does it compare with the Alpha Jet? 

“We had French Alpha Jets visit Valley 4 or 5 times during my time flying the Hawk.  The aircraft invariably performed very well against the Hawk and would easily outrate the BAE jet despite being a similar weight and having a similar maximum thrust.  Presumably the Alpha Jet had a superior wing design, whereas the Hawk used a lot of aerodynamically intrusive wing fences to prevent span wise flow, the Alpha Jet used an elegant saw tooth notch in the leading edge to achieve the same purpose.  Additionally, the Hawk uses a ‘Toblerone’ on the inboard section of the leading edge of the wing to artificially stall that section of the wing before the wingtips.  While this is great for a training aircraft as it gives the pilot feel of the approaching stall and maintains a degree of aileron effectiveness in the fully developed stall, it’s a disappointment in air combat as it needlessly wastes lift. The Hawk is the better-looking jet by a country mile!”

What was your most notable sortie?  

“Somehow finding myself over a Squadron mate’s wedding reception at just the right time….”

If the Cold War had turned hot (forgive this old cliche) Hawk T.Mk 1As would have been flown by instructors as fighters – how would they have fared against ‘Flankers’? How did pilots feel about this role? What do you think about the concept? 

“An unworkable idea that was almost certainly more to do with PR than any tactical thinking.  The Hawks would have been eaten alive and the close control that they would have required would have chewed up a massive amount of the UK GCI resource.   The aircraft has no RWR so the pilot would never have known that the AA10A and AA10Cs were inbound!  In short, it would have been suicide.”

What is the biggest misconception about the Hawk? 

“The amount of times I’ve been supporting the Hawk T2 at various air shows and been told that the T2 is the same as the aircraft that the Red Arrows fly”


Have a look at this fab model here

100-series Hawks 

“Though outwardly similar, the new generation Hawk is largely a new aircraft. It is surprising to learn that the aircraft have only 10% commonality with the first generation aircraft. The new variants have a new wing, forward and centre fuselage, fin and tailplane.

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Some see the Hawk as deficient in performance compared to rivals such as the T-50 and M346, what do you think about this?” 

“Yes, it’s true.  But, if your training aircraft can fly the same G, AoA, Mach number as the FL (frontline) types then it is ostensibly an FL aircraft, with the associated maintenance burden.  As an example, the USAF put a great deal of weight on the fact that the TX aircraft should be supersonic capable.  Anyone who has been supersonic in an aircraft manufactured after 1975 will tell you that it is really a non-event!”

 What are the Hawk’s (and Hawk training systems) training aids and how do they compare with others?

“The Hawk Training system will be very much tailored to the specific needs of the customer, but will generally include several levels of synthetic training with various levels of fidelity before the trainees even make it to an aircraft.  The trainee could then reasonably expect to return to the ground based synthetic training devices as each new element of the flying course is introduced.  In the same way that training is downloaded from the frontline to the Hawk, then it’s reasonable to expect that training could be further downloaded from the Hawk to the simulator.”

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 Would a Hawk with a HMS and modern IR missiles stand a chance against a Typhoon or F-16 in close-up combat (imagining RoE have ruled out AMRAAM from the larger fighter)? “The only advantage that the Hawk pilot would have is if he saw the Hostile first and was able to weaponeer first.  The Typhoon/Viper would probably utilise the vertical as soon as its pilot was tally with the Hawk and the Hawk wouldn’t have been able to follow.”

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How good are the Hawk’s avionics and what can they simulate?

“The avionics are superb, a lot of effort went into ensuring that they were representative of frontline types.  The Hawk Sensor Simulation simulates a modern radar (granted a mechanically scanned one) in the air to air role.  The aircraft is equipped with an Enhanced Synthetic Weapons suite including a Medium Range Missile simulation, allowing simple AMRAAM style intercepts to be flown against real or simulated network participants.”

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What should BAE Systems do to help Hawk sales?

“The modifications to HNDA to create the Advanced Combat Hawk were a step in the right direction, but probably five years late.”

Hawk T1 versus Hawk T2 


“The T2 is a heavier jet – it feels less like a sports car and more like a real aircraft, but it is undeniably less impressive in terms of pitch and roll rate.”

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“The addition of the CLT to the T2 has meant an increase in the maximum fuel load at takeoff.  Notwithstanding this, the T2 is a thirstier aircraft so the two factors just about cancel each other out.  On balance, the T2 will probably endure longer that the T1.


“The T1 is a classic early 70s cockpit – lots of dials and gauges.  In-cockpit, the T2 is a baby Tranche 1 Typhoon.  Yes, there is no chance that the aircraft can perform the same manoeuvres, but the T2 trainees can expect to learn frontline skill sets such as radar handling and active BVR missile employment.  This downloads training from the Typhoon, improving the output to the frontline.”

Pleasure to fly

“Both aircraft are a pleasure to fly. Ask a member of  Royal Air Force Aerobatic Team (RAFAT) and you’ll be told that the T1 is the superior aircraft due to its performance and this is true.  In the same breath though, the T2 is far more well equipped to graduate trainees to the current 4thGen and future 5th Gen frontline.”

Reliability/ maintenance requirements “Generally, when a Hawk is serviceable then it’s reliable.”

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How good is the Hawk as a training system? “It’s very good – but then I am biased.”

 What was your most scared you’ve been on a mission/flight/sortie?  “Being awoken by a screaming klaxon at about 2 in the morning and 7 minutes later lining up on the main runway at RAF Marham having been cleared to get airborne, accelerate to supersonic speed and intercept an airliner.  As we powered up on the runway, we were stood down.  Taxiing back to the HAS I realised how sleep-induced, punch drunk I’d been as I ran to the jet, getting into my pre-positioned flying kit along the way and started the jet up.  Crawling back into bed, still wearing all flying kit minus the flying helmet (which was perched on the front cockpit canopy arch of jet) and my LSJ (that was at the base of the cockpit access steps) I began to work through (for the thousandth time in my short fighter pilot career) what my life would have looked like if I’d ever been asked to shoot down an airliner in a 911 inspired scenario. (on the Tornado F3).”

 What are your views on F-35/Gripen E style cockpit displays? “Do HMDs make them irrelevant? Should all fast jets have these big single display screens? “A Hawk is actually flying with an ‘F-35 style’ Large Area Display, so presumably there is a market for it!  I’ll caveat the following with the fact that I’ve never flown an aircraft with a Large Area Display or HMS, but my understanding is that they are effectively two separate instruments.  I guess the LAD would be useful for formation or battlespace management, whereas the HMS would be a less interactive display.”

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Do you like touchscreens?
“Yes, they are easily robust enough for life in a fast jet.  A touchscreen should make for a lighter display.”

Should Typhoon pilots be using Helmet Mounted Displays during the Hawk part of their training? Why are they not?

“Simply put, cost.  My assumption that training with HMS would be expensive would be due to the modifications required to the Hawk T2.  Mission computers would need to be upgraded to support the extra processing and graphic generation load – this would require all associated software to be retested which is expensive in itself.  A new helmet would require a new AEA clearance for the aircraft and possibly associated ejection seat and egress trials.  I’m not saying that it couldn’t be done – far from it.  The point is that Hawk downloads training from the OCU and, at present Typhoon isn’t training with a helmet.  I appreciate that F-35 is, but that is integrated with the LAD and unless a LAD was to be added to Hawk T2 then you are potentially teaching skills in a baseline T2 with HMS that would have to be unlearnt at the F-35 OCU.  All of this is assumption!”

What is the most flattering angle to photograph a Hawk from? “Anywhere in the forward of the 3-9 line.  Aft of that, the stepped tandem cockpit makes it look like a porpoise!”

Paul Heasman amassed almost 3000 fast jet flying hours in his 16 years in the Royal Air Force and was part of the team that introduced the Hawk T2 to RAF Service.  Having recently left the RAF, Paul is busy studying for his ATPL airline exams while doing his best to indulge his hobby of air-to-air photography.

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