Text: Serge Van Heertum - Pictures: Philip Verhasselt & Archives as mentioned - Translation: Marc Arys   © sbap 2017
 

Axalp, a mythical name in the world of aviation passionate, but actually, it is the name of the skiresort, located not far from the renowned shooting range of Ebenfluh.
Every year in October, the Swiss Air Force organizes an event, a kind of very dynamic mini-airshow where F-5E/F and F/A-18C/D dive into the range for some strafing runs.
The 2017 edition was the most successful since 2012, as the weather conditions in October regularly hamper the activities on the shooting range, which, sometimes, forced the authorities to cancel the event at the last minute... Safety First !
This year the show went on, with still the replacement of the aging fighters F-5E/F and F/A-18C/D in the background. The search for the right candidate is still going on, together with the necessary negotiations and with the typical Helvetic referendum, because in Switzerland, every citizen has the right to speak... just try making sense of the purposiveness of this latter allusion.
So here you have some Swiss postcards on the eve of the holidays. These images are a flavorsome mix of modernity facing those majestic millennial mountains and the thundering sound of the jet aircraft towards the tranquility of the Alpine scenery.
This page concludes the 2017 season, which was richly textured with events and various reports, as our readers have witnessed all year long. But this page is also the opportunity to come back to the history of the Meiringen airbase and its surroundings, knowing that it is the home base of the aircraft and helicopters taking part in this Swiss made aerial feast.

 
 The Axalp Ski station today  (Axalp Tourism Center©) Ebenfluh firing pad  (Swiss Air Force©)
The flight demonstration Axalp (also known as an aviator shooting Axalp) is a kind of airshow of the Swiss Air Force on the shooting range Axalp-Ebenfluh (also called Äbeflue) in the mountains at 2,250 m above sea level above the Axalp in Brienz Canton Bern. It is usually held annually over two days at the beginning of October.
During the Second World War, General Guisan noted in July 1942 during an exercise in the mountains that the pilots dropped their bombs very inaccurately. He decreed that the pilots should be trained immediately to provide air support to ground forces in the mountains. On October 7th, 1942, the air to ground training began on the newly established shooting range Axalp-Ebenfluh.
At the beginning of the jet age Venom, Vampires and from 1964 on, Hunters were to be found on the Ebenfluh, practicing bomb drops, firing unguided rockets and shooting with the guns. Soon the Tiger F-5E/F replaced the Vampire and Venom squadrons and in the 1990's the Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet replaced the Hunter and Mirage units. In the new doctrine of the Swiss National Defense, air support was cancelled with the introduction of the F/A-18C/D. Today's target exercises are only the control of the aircraft and firing the gun, which for safety reasons may not be fired in "free flight".
 

Meiringen Airbase

Meiringen Airbase, also known as the Unterbach military airfield, is a Swiss military airbase located near the hamlet of Unterbach and the town of Meiringen, in the canton of Bern. Meiringen is one of three remaining airbases of the Swiss Air Force.
The airfield is situated in the steep-sided alpine valley of the Aar river, with a single runway parallel to the river. At the South side of the base are the famous caverns built within the mountain side.

History

The Meiringen Airbase started operations on December 1st, 1941. The base played an important role in 1946 when a C-53 Skytrooper crashed on the Gauli Glacier. The rescue operation was launched and coordinated from the Meiringen airbase. Rescuing persons on a glacier with airplanes ,had never been done before.
After World War Two, an aircraft cavern was built at the site. In the 1970's , the construction of another cavern-tunnel was started for the LTV A-7G Corsair II, but as the LTG A-7G was finally not bought, this construction was completed as an ammunition storage cavern. With the introduction of the F/A-18C/D the aircraft cavern was rebuilt again and received another tunnel so aircraft can go straight in and out at the same time. Inside the cavern, maneuvering without crane is possible.
In 2004, militia Squadron 8 "Destructors", equipped with the F-5E/F Tiger, moved from Buochs airbase to Meiringen. In 2007, professional Squadron 11 "Tiger", equipped with the F/A-18C/D, moved in from Dübendorf airbase.
Today, the airfield of Meiringen is still important for the Air Force. With the pending closure of Sion Airbase after 2017, it will be one of only three fighter jet bases, along with Payerne and Emmen airbase.
It is the homebase to two fighter squadrons, militia Squadron 8 "Destructors", equipped with the Northrop F-5E Tiger, and professional Squadron 11 "Tiger", equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.
Meiringen is the only Swiss airbase that uses an aircraft cavern in daily operations. The runway is equipped with retractable arresting gear devices (used by the F/A-18 and in emergencies by the F-5) at both ends.
The operation of the airfield has for the region and the town of Meiringen, both positive and negative effects. Noise emissions by the military jets is affecting population as well as the tourism businesses. The airfield is, however, with some 190 labor and 25 training places an important economic factor for the region. The airfield has a small museum open on Wednesday afternoons from May till October; various pieces of equipment are exhibited as well as an Aérospatiale Alouette III and an F-5 Tiger.

 
Meiringen village in 1940  (DR via internet©) The famous caverns in the late 1970's  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 
Fliegerstaffel 8
 

In 1925, Fliegerkompanie 8 was founded. Their first aircraft were Häfeli DH-3 until 1933 and Häfeli DH-5 from 1926 to 1934. From 1934 to 1940, the unit used Fokker C.V and the EKW C-35 for reconnaissance and air-to-ground missions. From 1940 to 1949 the Messerschmitt Bf.109 E was used. In 1945, Fliegerstaffel 8 was made up of the pilots within Fliegerkompanie 8. The squadron was equipped with De Havilland DH-100 Vampire from 1950 to 1959. In the fall of 1956, Fliegerstaffel 8 completed a training course at Meiringen, flying their first missions out of aircraft caverns.

From 1959 to 1975 the flight operation with Hawker Hunter took place from Meiringen airbase and between 1976 until 1980 from Alpnach. Since 1980, the squadron has his home base at Meiringen.
During the planned dismantling of the Hunter fleet, two F-5E/F Tiger squadrons were re-trained for ground combat in a second role. In addition to the professional pilots of Fliegerstaffel 1, the militia Fliegerstaffel 8 was selected for this task but cancelled shortly after.
In 1993, the first Northrop F-5E Tiger received the Fliegerstaffel 8 badge. Air policing and identification of foreign aircraft became a major task of the Fliegerstaffel 8. The future of the Fliegerstaffel 8 is uncertain (like for the other two F-5E squadrons, the Fliegerstaffel 19 and Fliegerstaffel 6). This is because the F-5E/F fleet is expected to be phased out in 2018 and the procurement of modern, complex combat aircraft, is foreseeable, that they can't be used effectively by non-professional military pilots.

 
Häfeli DH-3  (Coll Denis Eusicom) Häfeli DH-5  (Coll Denis Eusicom)
Fokker C.V  (Coll Denis Eusicom) EKW C-35  (Coll Denis Eusicom)
Messerschmitt Bf.109 E  (Coll Denis Eusicom) De Havilland DH-100 Vampire  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
Hawker Hunter Mk.58  (Coll Serge Van Heertum) Northrop F-5E Tiger  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 
Fliegerstaffel 11
 

The unit was founded in 1925 as Fliegerkompanie 11 and was equipped with Fokker C.V's until 1938. In 1938, Fliegerkompanie 11, switched to the EKW C-35. In 1945 the Fliegerkompanie 11 was renamed to Fliegerstaffel 11. From 1946 to 1959 the Fliegerstaffel 11 used the De Havilland DH- 100 Vampire from the Alpnach airbase. From 1959 to 1975 the squadron flew the Hawker Hunter from the new home base Meiringen, afterwards from 1975 to 1979 Alpnach was again their home base. Afterwards, now at Dübendorf airbase, the training was carried out on the F-5E/F Tiger and the Fliegerstaffel 11 used this aircraft type from 1979 to 1997. Under the command of Werner "Höffi" Hoffmann, the Fliegerstaffel 11 transferred from the F-5E/F Tiger to F/A-18C/D Hornet in 1999.
On Friday, December 16th, 2005, the Fliegerstaffel 11 was transferred to the present home base, Meiringen, under the command of Peter "Pablo" Merz from Dübendorf airbase.

 
Fokker C.V  (Coll Denis Eusicom) EKW C-35  (Coll Denis Eusicom)
De Havilland DH-100 Vampire  (Coll Serge Van Heertum) Northrop F-5E Tiger  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet  (Coll Serge Van Heertum)
 
The C-53 Skytrooper 42-68846 history
 

On November 18th, 1946 the C-53 Skytrooper military transport aircraft with serial 42-68846 took off from Tulln Air Base near Vienna, Austria, bound for Pisa, Italy. The route planning was affected by bad weather, so the crew chose an alternate and longer route via Munich, Strasbourg, Dijon, Istres, to arrive in Pisa two days later.
Having already avoided several alpine peaks in instrument meteorological conditions (IMC), near Innsbruck, the crew became disoriented, and on November 18th at 2.45 PM, the aircraft crash-landed on the Gauli Glacier at an altitude of 3.350 m because of the sudden onset of a katabatic wind, the aircraft sliding over ice and snow upwards, slowing down rapidly.
The crew thought the aircraft had crashed in the French Alps. An hour after the crash, the crew was able to send emergency radio messages which were received at Orly Airport and at the Istres-Le Tubé airbase near Marseille, tri-angulating their position in the Airolo-Sion-Jungfrau triangle. A large search and rescue operation began immediately.
Two days later, the control tower at Swiss Air Force Base Meiringen, located at 12.7 km of the crash site, received radio calls, giving a new radio bearing, narrowing the search area to the Gauli Glacier.
At 09:31 AM on November 22nd, a Royal Air Force Lancaster, piloted by F/L G. Head, spotted the aircraft through a break in the cloud cover. The crew managed to localize the crash point by using radio plots. When the clouds cleared later that day, search aircraft were sent to this location.
A Boeing B-29 Superfortress sighted the aircraft by chance from an altitude of 16,000 ft during a flight to Munich, later confirmed by the crew of a Swiss Air Force EKW C-36.

 
(Based on Google Earth)
The crash location was confirmed by a EKW C-36
(Coll Denis Eusicom)
The crash site on the Gauli Glacier
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom) (Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
 

After the accident location was known, a large alpine rescue operation started. The United States Army arrived on a train carrying equipment in Interlaken, where the normal gauge railway track ends. The U.S. response units were equipped with Willys MB jeeps and snowcats but these were potentially useless in the alpine conditions, so rescue teams had to proceed on foot.
On November 23rd at 2:20 PM, two Swiss soldiers on skis reached the stricken aircraft and its passengers after a 13 hour ascent from Innertkirchen, but as it was too late for a descent on the same day, it was decided to wait at the wreck overnight, enduring temperatures of minus 15 °C. The next day, everyone descended towards the Alpine Club's Gauli hut at 2.205 m, failing to make radio contact with the coordinators in the valley. At 10.20 AM, Swiss Air Force pilots Captain Victor Hug and Major Pista Hitz, managed to land two Fieseler Storch aircraft on the glacier beside the rescuers, and with eight flights, everyone was flown back to safety.

 
The rescue operation was organized
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Swiss soldiers on skis
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
The U.S. response units was equipped with Willys MB jeeps and M 29 "Weasel" (Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom) Swiss Alpine soldiers on the way to the crash site
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Two Fieseler Storch were prepared with skis
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Arrival on the crash site
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Not so seriously damaged
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Rescue team in action
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
All passengers were safe
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
After 6 days and 5 nights of anguish, the relief can be seen on the survivor faces
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
The good samaritans: Fieseler Storch A-97 and HB-ARU
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Preparing for a flight back in the valley
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Swiss Air Force A-97
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
Safely back to Meiringen
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
 
This rescue earned Switzerland the praise of General Snavely, US Air Force, commander of the 15th Army based in Austria. And for a good reason: his wife was on board of the aircraft!
After World War II, the diplomatic relationship between Switzerland and the United States was uncertain, but following the successful rescue, the political climate improved, in part because the rescue work was prominently covered by the international media.
The rescue operation would have repercussions a decade later when the Swiss were asked to support the rescue and salvage efforts after the 1956 Grand Canyon mid-air collision.
A more lasting impact of the incident was that the rescue of aircraft passengers in alpine terrain became seriously considered by authorities. The crash on the Gauli glacier is seen as the birth of Swiss Air Rescue, and in 1952, the Swiss Air Rescue Guard was founded.
 
In 1947 the C-53 was partially dismantled...
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
...for spare parts recuperation like the instruments
(Swiss Archives via Coll Denis Eusicom)
 
Meiringen activities 2017
 
Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Agusta AW109SP (HB-ZRP)  (Philip Verhasselt©) Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar (T-342)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar (T-331) with a mobile tower  (Philip Verhasselt©) Eurocopter EC635 P2+ (T-360)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) Aerospatiale AS 332M1 Super Puma (T-313)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
With the splendid snowed mountains  (Philip Verhasselt©) Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar (T-332)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) Aerospatiale AS 332M1 Super Puma (T-314)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
The arrestor barrier system  (Philip Verhasselt©) Time for the fighters  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Coming out of the mythic caverns  (Philip Verhasselt©) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet (J-5006)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet (J-5021)  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Exhaust and arrestor hook  (Philip Verhasselt©) Full power  (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Preparation of the "Bambi Bucket"  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) Fighters are back  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Last turn before the final approach
(Philip Verhasselt©)
The thundering sound towards the tranquility of the Alpine scenery
(Philip Verhasselt©)
McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet (J-5009) on landing  (Philip Verhasselt©) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet (J-5024)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter  (Philip Verhasselt©) Mission accomplished  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Back to the caverns  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Last departure of the day
(Philip Verhasselt©)
The modernity facing those majestic millennial mountains
(Philip Verhasselt©)
A last jet landing  (Philip Verhasselt©) "Bambi Bucket" is back  (Philip Verhasselt©)
 
Ebenfluh activities 2017
 
Flares in the Swiss mountains  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Ebenfluh control tower  (Philip Verhasselt©) Eurocopter EC635 P2+ (T-370)  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Always spectacular  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Gunning passes  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) A last heavy flares firing  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Northrop F-5E Tiger II (J-3070)  (Philip Verhasselt©) Northrop F-5E Tiger II (J-3074) with a special tail markings
(Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) The AW109SP and the targets  (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) Some different mountains background...  (Philip Verhasselt©)
...beautiful and amazing  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Aerospatiale AS 332M1 Super Puma owned by the Staffel 4
(Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©)
Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar from Staffel 6  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
Pilatus PC-21 (A-108)  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) The fighters pass after the gunning exercice  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Swiss Army parachutist  (Philip Verhasselt©) "Bambi Bucket" demonstration  (Philip Verhasselt©)
Eurocopter AS532UL Cougar solo display  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet solo display  (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
To close the show, the splendid "Patrouille Suisse"  (Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©) (Philip Verhasselt©)
(Philip Verhasselt©)
The final split...  (Philip Verhasselt©) ...with flares  (Philip Verhasselt©)
The closing pass performed by the Cougar's and the Super Puma's
(Philip Verhasselt©)
 

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