Where? Meiringen, Switzerland
When? March 2017
Alpine Base Meiringen offers a gorgeous setting The airfield is nestled in a small valley in central Switzerland in the canton of Bern. Surrounded by mountains that partly rise up vertically for several hundred meters it is challenging flying terrain, but provides plenty of photo opportunities. Meiringen is the home of the Swiss Air Force's Fliegerstaffel 11 "Tigers", one of Switzerland three F/A-18 Hornet Squadrons, and is also home to the militia Squadron 8 "Destructors" ("Vandalos"), flying the F-5E Tiger II.
Meiringen stands out by the fact that aircraft operations are handled out of caverns. These underground aircraft shelters are highly secret and hold a classified number of aircraft including all support material. Flight operations are performed directly in and out of these caves: flight-ready aircraft get towed out by a tug with the pilot already sitting in the cockpit. The engines are started with the aircraft still on the tug and the aircraft is ready to go within minutes. Cavern doors just open very shortly for aircraft movements. All this is quite well hidden behind trees and covered by a winding construction of the overall layout.
The actual photographers delight of this setting is not only the mountain scenery offering nice backgrounds during operations on the runway, but also the taxiway leading from the cavern to the actual airfield. It passes along a cow paddock without any fencing and offers great opportunities.
Wiederholungskurs / WK (repetition course)
The "Wiederholungskurs" (repetition course), or just "WK" in Swiss abbreviation slang, is a yearly event of high intensity training. During a WK reservists train their skills during this three week course. This includes especially militia pilots flying the F-5 Tiger II. Contrary to F/A-18 Hornet pilots the Tiger pilots are not military personnel, but hold down a civil job that is not mandatory aviation-related. During a repetition course they fly and train their skills on the F-5 Tiger, mostly to play the Aggressor role for the Hornets.
When night flying activities are planned, three flying shifts during daylight hours are usually performed involving a typical number of six Hornets and four Tigers. For the night flying F-5 Tigers are excluded since some years, and these are only performed by Hornet pilots to stay current under these conditions as well.
Farewell F-5 Tiger II Squadrons
The end of 2017 might see the disbandment of the Squadrons 6 "Ducks", 8 "Vandalos" "Destructors") and 19 "Swans". Rumors are that all Swiss Air Force F-5 Tiger jets might then be pooled in one single Squadron. The end of this year will tell how these plans are realized, but they seem to be settled firmly as aircraft J-7073 received a special tail decoration reading "Adios Vandalo" to bid farewell to Fliegerstaffel 8.
This change will also mean in the future that Tigers will not necessarily operate out of the cavern anymore, so this might have been a last chance to photograph the F-5E Tigers on the picturesque taxiway at Meiringen.
The WK date in March meant that there was still lots of snow in the mountains in the backgrounds, and the sun already high enough in the sky to shine down in the valley. During the winter months life can be hard from November to February as the airfield will see no sun at all. This can be nice for atmospheric photos as well, but I preferred a sunny day for this trip to Switzerland.
Links worth a visit if you are planning to go to Meiringen:
The Air Force Website even includes a schedule for flying activities:
The F/A-18 Hornet Tiger Squadron at home in Meiringen:
- Category: Airbases
- Published: 24 March 2017
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