Axalp 2001 may have been cancelled, but Michael Balter reports on his personal Swiss Tour between 15 - 19 October
A helicopter crash on the Friday before the planned Axalp demo caused the cancellation of the event, an Alouette III coming down near Crans-Montana when it touched a cable, the four crew members sadly perishing. So the official Axalp demo was cancelled on Monday morning when we were already in Switzerland...
Monday 15 October
When we arrived on Monday morning after a six-hour trip I got a message from the team leader of the Patrouille Suisse that the Axalp demo was cancelled, so we had to re-arrange our trip. Thanks to Mr Eckhauer a base-visit at Dübendorf was hastily arranged and a whole day of sun was spent on base!
First we saw the F-18 flightline, where four of them (three 'Cs and a 'D) began to start for one of three missions that day. On the other side of the airbase we were able to take shots of seven Mirage IIIRSs on the flightline and during take-off. Between these flightline shots we were able to photograph all the resident aircraft such as the Falcon 50, Pilatus Porter PC-6HB/2, PC-7 and Super Puma - a surprise was a Ju-52 from Ju-Air doing some passenger flights, a nice example of one of these rare beauties!
Tuesday 16 October
At 10:40 we heard that practice flights on the Ebenfluh shooting range at Axalp were taking place during the afternoon - at that time we were at Meiringen Airfield where twelve F-5E Tigers are based. So, we threw our kit in the van and drove the two and a half hours to Axalp.
Normally a fit hiker would need another two and a half hours to climb to the range, but we made it in under two from the Axalp Sporthotel, the last place we could leave the van. We arrived just in time and were amazed at the view into the valley where you can see the blue colours of the Brienzer lake plus the city of Brienz.
At 14:00 the flying started with six Tigers from Meiringen - they flew attacks using their two M39A2 20mm cannons mounted in the fuselage nose, very spectacular to see this display for the first time! Their two General Electric J85-GE-21B turbojet engines, each rated at 22.24kN (5,000lb) with afterburners sounded great in the mountain ranges where you could see them diving out of the clouds and passing by oh so fast!
The weather was a bit drizzly, but luckily no snow as last year when the snow was ankle deep. Last year also saw 1,000 people standing at the viewing area at Ebenfluh shooting range, but today there was only about forty who had made the effort.
After the Tigers had finished their 'attacks' they were followed by four Mirage IIIRS aircraft from Fliegerstaffel 3 at Dübendorf. At first they made their well-known low approach at the Ebenfluh shooting range from the valley right up to the top of Axalp, very fast and very low - we were amazed to see this twice this day. Before they reached the top they crossed in front of us and flew over our heads very low......wowwwww! Luckily we had our ear protectors on...
They then made their gun attacks on the targets from three directions using their two 30-mm DEFA 552A cannons with rolling climb-outs. The only problem you have at the Axalp shooting range is that most of the time all flights come from the right so you always look into the sun, but still some stunning pictures can be made!
Then we had a short break before two F-18C Hornets from Payerne made their appearance, attacking the targets with their General Electric M61A1 Vulcan cannons. Unfortunately the weather changed so quickly above at the range that there sometimes was a fog-bank over the target, causing approaches to be broken-off before they could fire on the target.
After the 'show' we had our climb down to the Axalp Sporthotel which was not so hard as our up climb to the range. But, in our minds we still had those images up there at the Ebenfluh shooting range which is unique in Europe....unfortunately!
Wednesday 17 October
On Wednesday it was back to the taxiway at Meiringen, making shots of the based F-5E Tigers...plus what was a great surprise as a two-seat Hunter and a two-seat Mirage IIIS made a low flypast...thanks to my son Justin-Marvin who made us aware of these fast approaching aircraft! A spotter in the making, that lad.
Thursday 18 October
Thursday saw us at Payerne Airbase, where the F-18 training is done. Unfortunately the weather was not so good.....lots of drizzle in the morning, so first we had a good breakfast! Thanks go to my wife Melanie, as she arranged a visit with the base commander directly after going to the main gate and asking to get in! We were picked up by a ground crew technician who drove us around the base in his jeep, taking us to a hangar where we saw F-18C J-5008 on display, and answering every question we had about the F-18 Hornet in service with the Swiss Air Force. Afterwards we saw a Venom, Vampire, Mirage IIIS and Hunter that are destined for the new Payerne Airforce museum. Lastly we went to Hangar 5 where we could see a Super Puma and Alouette III in ground service, as well as a F-5E Tiger from Fliegerstaffel 1 and another Mirage IIIS there too!
Highlight of the morning was the start up procedure of three F/A-18 Hornets from their roll-in-and-out boxes that we were standing in front of - great!!! Another highlight of the day was the hook landing of Hornet J-5009 on the runway, unfortunately too far away for my camera, but luckily nothing happened! It was a nice experience to see one doing this kind of landing at Payerne.
That evening we drove back Germany, in our minds the best trip done in the last few years, already arranging our 'Swiss Tour 2002'!
My special thanks go to the following people for their great support and help, without which this trip would not have been so successful:
Mr Vallon and Mrs Berchtold of the Swiss Air Force Press Office who made so much possible. All my new friends in Switzerland like "Grimmi", Marcel and André who provided me with so much information and tips that this 'Swiss Tour 2001' was a great success!!