Swiss Tigers are facing their extinction! 110 have originally been ordered by the Swiss Air Force. Nowadays their number is down to only 27. Apart from the F/A-18 Hornets, the F-5s are the Swiss Air Forces only other jet type, and are today only flown by reserve pilots. With the referendum for a future jet fighter on the horizon, their near future is becoming even more uncertain. They are indeed a rare breed – time to go to stunning Meiringen airbase and catch them!
Where? Meiringen, Switzerland
When? September 2020
With a huge amount of aviation events cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this short trip to the Meiringen airbases was a welcome opportunity to pursue some aviation photography again.
Fighting out of the Caverns
The airbase‘s surrounding is really spectacular as it is located in the heart of the Swiss Alps. Flying activity was plenty during my visit as a WK (Wiederholungskurs – Repetition Course / exercise) was taking place. It had the benefit that additionally to the F/A-18 Hornets of the local Fliegerstaffel 11, F-5 Tigers, flown by militia personnel of Fliegerstaffel 19) were also based at Meiringen for the two-week long lasting WK.
The airfield is very accessible, and photo spots are plentiful. There have been even more in the past, but quite some fences have been put up in the past and certain pathways are not accessible anymore. Nevertheless, you can still get up close to the runway and get nice photos of the jets taking of or landing. Or stand at the barrier where the jets are crossing a normal road before and after their mission on the way to the cavern.
The cavern also makes Meiringen unique. Instead of shelters, all of the jets are parked in this cave, where they are protected by the massive mountain overhead. Any maintenance activity can be performed in the cavern, and rumors are that jet operations can be performed independently out of the cavern for a month. Exact numbers are obviously top secret, as these installation are one of the best kept defence secret of Switzerland.
Luckily, apart from the cavern, the rest of the airfield can easily be called a photographers heaven. For example you will not find many military airfields around, which offer dedicated parking spots for enthusiasts or even a visitors deck. It is part of an administration building, which also hosts a restaurant and washing rooms.
This accessibility combined with lots of flying provided plenty of photo opportunities during just two days. On days without night flying they Squadron flew four waves a day with up to six jets per wave. Additionally to that the Tigers went up, some PC-21 came by on pilot training missions, and now and then there was a PC-9 target tuck or a PC-6 Turbo Porter.
Looking at the the take-off sequence the F-5 Tigers were fighting against the F/A-18 Hornets in 1-vs-2, 2-vs-2 and up to 4-vs-2 scenarios.
Four waves a day were flown, with two days a week off additional night flying practice. Take-offs happened already early in the morning at 8am when the sun got barely over the mountains and shed its first rays into the valley.
Especially at that early time off the days it was great to see the afterburners being lit when the jets accelerated down the runway and vapor trails were forming at their wings when the pilot pulled their sticks back in order to take-off. In the afternoon the steep mountain slope provided a spectacular backdrop for the jets taking off.
The reduced number of F-5 Tigers could also be seen as jets of the Swiss national jet display team Patrouille de Suisse also participated in the exercise. Due to their highly visible red and white color scheme they can be very well used in this role. Though being bright and colorful, from a personal point of view it was nicer to photograph the more operationally looking jets in their grey camouflage. However only two of them were present at Meiringen for the WK, with an additional twin-seater that fortunately also flew a mission during my visit.
Planespotting Tipps for Meiringen
If you are keen about visiting Meiringen Airbase, be sure to check the flying schedule at https://www.vtg.admin.ch/de/organisation/kdo-op/lw/flpl-mei.html and also have a look at the homepage of Fliegerstaffel 11 https://www.fliegerstaffel11.ch/
After all it was an excellent visit and a great opportunity for some aviation photography in this ‚special year‘. Though plenty of opportunities have gone this year, it made me aware that good stuff also lies more or less directly in front of the door step.
Let’s hope restrictions on traveling will disappear in the near future and this spontaneous photography trip will be normal again. And if you have some spare, make the trip up the Grimsel pass, which is close by. It is worth it!