The Meiringen alpine airfield is located in the valley of the river Aare, between Brienz and Meiringen. This airbase is currently one of the three main airfields of the Swiss Air Force and has celebrated its 75th anniversary with an open house event organized between 16th and 18th June.
The airfield was built in 1941, in the middle of the World War II, as a part of the National Redoubt – the Swiss defensive plan. The idea of Swiss fortifications has started in the 19th century and then expanded during the World War II. One of the elements included in the defensive strategy created by General Henri Guisan was to build several alpine air bases in the region of high Alps.
The location of those airfields, in the alpine valleys with the rocks in the close vicinity of the runway, allowed the Swiss army to build the approximately 100m long tunnels, called ´Retablierstollen´, that could be used for hiding and re-equipping the Swiss Air Force aircrafts. This idea of the aircraft caverns boosted during the Cold War years – the excavation works started in 1950s, extending the space of the caverns and allowing to service and repair the aircrafts in the tunnels. During the following years the command posts, ammunition and fuel storages, generator rooms and other technical facilities were added, turning the simple tunnels into the complex underground system.
In the 21st century the Swiss armed forced were significantly reduced and this also affected the Swiss Air Force. The alpine bases were deactivated, the aircraft caverns closed or mothballed. Currently the air base in Meiringen is the only still operational one from the airfields built as the result of the Redoubt strategy. It is also the last one still using the aircraft caverns – the tunnels there may accommodate 22 F/A-18 Hornets.
The Meiringen 75th Anniversary event was organized as a part of the ´Deine Armee´ (your army) exhibition programme, being one of three main events focused on the complex presentation of the Swiss Army to the public. It included, certainly, the airshow over the airfield, but also the exhibitions of various components of the Swiss Army – armoured units, mountain units, combat engineers and many others. The event was also a presentation of the army as an attractive employer, with the very active recruit section.
Usually weather is an important factor related to the airshow. At the airfield located in the alpine valley weather becomes the most important factor. Unfortunately during the second part of June the weather in Europe wasn´t the one might expect at that time of the year, it was cold and raining. And this was exactly that kind of the weather during the anniversary event – mostly raining, with heavy showers and even a thunderstorm, and just a few hours of sunny weather on Friday morning. All the grass areas in the public zone have shortly turned into the awful mud. Fortunately, the organizers were aware of the weather and the roll-out roadway and some pumps allowed the visitors to walk through the exhibition area.
As already mentioned above, the airfield is located in the alpine valley. All those rocks and high mountains surrounding it, the green alpine meadows and still snow-covered peaks are creating not only an amazing view but primarily the incredible background for the aircrafts flying the displays. It was really a pity that most of the time the peaks were covered in clouds and the light conditions were really very bad.
The airshow part of the event was the ´all Swiss’ display. The spectators could see the best of the Swiss Air Force: F/A-18 Hornet solo display, PC-7 aerobatic team, Super Puma demo and Patrouille Suisse jet aerobatic team. In addition the Meiringen based F/A-18 and F-5 jet fighters performed several take-offs and landings and the formation flying over the valley.
Patrouille Suisse performed their aerobatic show in a formation of five aircrafts. This was their first public presentation after the accident that took place during the airshow at Leeuwarden, the Netherlands, on 9th June 2016. This was uncertain if the team would be able to fly in Meiringen just one week after the accident, but they managed to do it and performed a fantastic show in the Aare valley.
It is very hard to say which flying display was the best during the airshow at Meiringen. Both F/A-18 solo and PC-7 performed the incredible shows and even the Super Puma demo, which certainly was less dynamic than the other displays, was really good.
The static display included the variety of Swiss Air Force former aircrafts: Dewotine D.26, MS. 406, Fi 156 Storch, Hawker Hunter, Mirage III or DH-115 Vampire. There was also a display of modern jets from the Tiger squadrons that were invited to the anniversary event, some of them in special ´Tiger’ painting – two German Eurofighters (´The Cyber Tiger´ and ´60th Luftwaffe Anniversary´ paintings), two Belgian F-16 (one of them in the ´Tiger´ painting) and two French Rafale. This turned the anniversary in ´Tiger Meet Meiringen´ and a special meeting patch was available at the airfield.
Meiringen is a home base for two fighter squadrons: Fliegerstaffel 11 ´Tigers´ operating F/A-18 Hornet and militia Fliegerstaffel 8 ´Destructors´ operating Northrop F-5E Tiger. The visitors had the possibility to see both types of the jet fighters during the take-off and landing, several formation flights and on the ground taxiing and maintenance. This great opportunity to see the Swiss F-5Es in the air during the open house event was also one of few remaining possibilities to take some interesting photos, as the F-5E Tigers would retire soon.
The anniversary weekend was not only about the aircrafts and the visitors could also see many interesting ground displays there. The fire-brigade from Meiringen saved the pilot from the Hornet that was on fire, the armoured units of Swiss army presented the modernized Leopard tank (Pz 87 WE) and armoured carrier in the very dynamic display. Also a special ´drag race´ was organized, between F/A-18, Leopard tank and a professional sport car – I think there is no need to say the winner, as it was (almost) obvious.
During the open day there was also the possibility to visit some technical facilities at the airfield, meet the pilots from the aerobatic teams and also take part in the lottery with very interesting prizes (including the flightseeing tour in Super Puma or helicopter flight to Axalp live firing exercise).
The organizers were expecting more than 50,000 visitors each day but due to the weather conditions there were just 30,000 of them (the training day and two open house days in total). Those that arrived to Meiringen airfield despite the weather conditions could enjoy the perfectly organized event with many interesting displays.