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Swiss Air Force/Schweizer Luftwaffe

 

 

 

In May 2006 Jetwash Aviation Photos visited Switzerland with the intention of getting up close to the Swiss Air Force. The opportunity for photographing at Swiss bases is second to none due to the open nature of them. Many have public roads that drive straight through the middle of the bases and have little if anything in the way of fences, a photographers paradise.

 

The Swiss Air Force was established in July 1914 as part of the Swiss Armed Forces, but did not gain autonomy until 1936. It has traditionally been a militia-based service and since 1996 has seen a considerable down-sizing in the number of pilots and aircraft operated. Several bases have closed and it now operates from Dubendorf, Payerne, Meiringen, Sion, Alpnach, Emmen and Magadino. Some VIP aircraft also operate from the civilian airport at Bern.

 

The main frontline fighter is the McDonnell-Douglas FA-18C/D Hornet, of which 34 were purchased, with the ageing Northrop F-5E/F Tiger still being operated in large numbers, although some have been sold to the United States Navy and are due for replacement.

In addition to this a number of helicopters are in use, these mainly being the Aerospatiale Super Puma and Cougar, together with a dwindling number of Alouette 3's. An order for Eurocopter EC.135/635's has recently been made to replace the Alouette 3's and these are due in service from 2008 onwards.
 
Pilot training is undertaken using the Pilatus PC-7 at Magadino, whilst several other aircraft are used for a variety of purposes such as the Pilatus PC-6 and PC-9 along with a few VIP aircraft of differing marks. Since the British Aerospace Hawk was withdrawn rather prematurely, the Schweizer Luftwaffe has lacked an up to date lead in from the PC-7 to the FA-18 or F-5. This will soon be remedied by the introduction of the Pilatus PC-21, six of which are currently on order and will be introduced into service in 2008.
 
Meiringen Air Base
 
Meiringen is probably most famous for the caverns built into the mountain backdrop at the base that house the resident fighter aircraft. They were built back in 1952 for the De Havilland Vampire jet aircraft which at the time formed the backbone of the Swiss Air Force. From June 1979 the Northrop F-5E/F's took up residence and are still to be found here to this day serving with Fleigerstaffel 8 along with the newer FA-18C/D Hornets from FlSt.11.In 1998 Meiringen started to be redeveloped with extensions to the famous underground hangars, the work being completed in 2003, the caverns needed to be adapted to house the new FA-18's. Further construction to its infrastructure started in 1999 under 'Project Luce', and following the closure of Dubendorf as a fighter base, Meiringen was selected for upgrading. The FA-18's of FlSt 11 at Dubendorf were moved here and Meiringen was designated as a wartime and training airfield. Meiringen is only active for around twenty weeks a year as the air base suffers from runway icing due to the narrow valley blocking the warming sun from the runway in the winter months, whilst fog and limited instrument-flying navigational aids add to the problems.

 

Northrop F-5E Tiger 2 on take off at Meiringen during heavy showers

An evaluation is currently underway to replace the venerable F-5, with the Gripen, Rafale and Eurofighter slugging it out

A Northrop F-5E operated by the resident FlSt.8 taxies back to the ramp at Meiringen after another mission

 

The Swiss Air Force started to evaluate a new interceptor in 1973, in order to replace the ageing Hunter fleet. Procurement of sixty six F-5E and six F-5F's was approved and in1978 the first nineteen aircraft were transported to Switzerland. The remaining forty three aircraft were then assembled in the RUAG factory at Emmen. Another batch was procured in 1979, which consisted of thirty two single and six twin seat aircraft

 

Patrouille Suisse F-5E taxying back to the ramp at Meiringen

Northrop F-5F Tiger on touchdown at Meiringen

The chute just having 'blown' on the same aircraft

 

Payerne Air Base

 

Payerne is now the main operational base of the Swiss Air Force and is located in the western part of the country. It is historic in that the first powered flight undertaken by a Swiss Air Force pilot took place here in May 1910. It houses Esc.6 with the Northrop F-5, AusbSt.16, FlSt.17 with the FA-18 Hornet and LTSt.1 and LTSt.5 with the Alouette 3 and Puma/Cougar helicopters. FlSt's 18 and 19 are also based here although they deploy to Sion for operational purposes or in the event of war.

 

F-5F lift off at Payerne. Most of the Swiss Air Force's twelve twin seat F-5's are based at Payerne and operated by AusbSt.16

J-3070 recovers at Payerne after a morning mission. Note the Escadrille 6 badge on the nose

A two-ship F-5E launch at Payerne. J-3044 nearest the camera wears the FlSt.19 badge on the nose section

With its brake chute deployed a Payerne based F-5F slows to a halt

FA-18C Hornet taxying out at Payerne. Twenty six single seat FA-18C's were delivered to the Swiss, most being licence

built by RUAG. An upgrade programme is currently underway.

McDonnell-Douglas FA-18D Hornet taking off at Payerne. Eight twin-seat D models were delivered.

The FA-18 is the Schweizer Luftwaffe's primary air defence fighter.

 

Alpnach Air Base

 

Alpnach is now the Swiss Air Forces primary helicopter base, also housing a RUAG facility for overhauls. The majority of the new EC.635 helicopters are also to be built here in the future. The first helicopter was based here back in 1964 when an Alouette 2 unit took up residence. Since then jet aircraft such as the Hawker Hunter and Northrop F-5 have operated from here, although fixed wing operations ceased back in 1994. LTSt.6 and LTSt.8 are now the resident squadrons operating a mix of Alouette 3, Puma and Cougar helicopters.

 

T-316 is an Aerospatiale AS.332M Super Puma and is seen here at Alpnach Air Base. Note the ski's attached to the undercarriage

An Aerospatiale AS.532UL Cougar taxying in at Alpnach having just landed in a heavy downpour
After the highly successfull introduction of the AS.332M Super Puma the AS.532UL Cougar was introduced from May 2001 onwards.
The Swiss operate fifteen Super Pumas and twelve later model Cougars
Seen above is the cockpit of a Swiss AS.532UL Cougar

A total of 84 Alouette 3's were delivered between 1964 and 1974, of which 60 were built under license in Switzerland.

At its peak the Alouette 3 equipped a total of seven squadrons and despite its age is still the backbone of the Swiss helicopter fleet.

 

Dubendorf Air Base

 

Dubendorf is located very close to the capital Zurich and for many years has been seen as the "Home" of the Swiss Air Force. Sadly it is in decline. Having seen fast jet operations cease in December 2005 it is but a sad reflection of the heady mid-80's when Hunters, Mirage's and F-5's took centre stage and approximately 15,000 movements per year took place. It has been used by the military since 1914 but is slated for closure sometime between 2010 and 2014. Main residents now are LTSt.3 and LTSt.4 with Alouette 3 and Puma helicopters, however some VIP aircraft such as the Learjet, Falcon 50 etc are also to be found here with the LTDB.

 

Introduced in 1993, the sole Beech King Air 350C operated by the Swiss Air Force seen at Dubendorf.

This aircraft as with the Twin Otter below was initially used for mapping purposes by the Swiss Federal Office of Topography.

It still retains this role today but is also used for government and military missions when required.

The sole Twin Otter operated by the Swiss is alos seen at it's home base of Dubendorf

This aircraft was also used by the Swiss Topography Department for mapping purposes

The LTDB Dassault Falcon 50 is seen here at RAF Fairford in England

Alouette 3 V-253 in a hanger at Dubendorf Air Base

Alouette 3 on the ramp at Dubendorf (note the Polizei sticker denoting use by the Swiss Border Guard)
Unfortunately the heavy rain does little to enhance the photograph
 

In service since 1959 this Dornier Do.27 is seen at Dubendorf. Seven aircraft were delivered between 1958 and 1959,

one was lost in an accident whilst four were sold in 1981, leaving two to soldier on

It's sister ship V-607 also seen at Dubendorf on the same day

 

Emmen Air Base

 

Probably most famous as the home to the Swiss Air Forces display team the Patrouille Suisse, Emmen houses a variety of aircraft and many different aircraft movements take place on a day to day basis. Emmen is also home to LTSt.7 with Pilatus PC-6's, ZflSt.12 with the Pilatus PC-9M and Drohnengeschwader 7 with the ADS-95 Ranger UAV. Also to be found at Emmen is the aircraft manufacturer RUAG, who built several of the Swiss Air Forces aircraft including the majority of Swiss Air Force F-5 fighter aircraft and more recently the FA-18 Hornets.

 

The Swiss PC-9's are used as target tugs and for Electronic Warfare training, hence the high visibility scheme

 

Twelve such aircraft were delivered to the Schweizer Luftwaffe and although ZflSt.12 are based at Emmen their aircraft are dispersed around various Swiss bases as and when required. A single under-wing RM-24 winch deploys a towed banner for artillery or air to air gunnery practice, whilst a VISTA 5 electronic warfare pod is used for ECM training.

 

A Pilatus PC-6B Turbo-Porter of the Swiss Air Forces LTSt.7. These aircraft are used for transport and liaison duties

Pilatus PC-7 A-907 taxying at Emmen

 

During the week we visited there was a PC-7 refresher course taking place at Emmen, which resulted in about thirteen of the type being present. Pilatus had begun upgrading eighteen of the surviving PC-7's, which were first introduced into service in 1979 to provide them with a more modern 'glass' cockpit, along with a fresh new red & white colour scheme.