J. Heard/Focal Plane photography, takes
a look at typical Swiss TOT, (Tag der Offenen Ture), recently held at Payerne
Air Base in western Switzerland.
The Swiss Air Force holds two "Tag der Offenen Ture", (Open door days), at Payerne AB every year. But, contrary to popular misconception, the primary role of these events is not to provide a public airshow, (although they do this admirably as we will see), but to function more as a 'Families Day' to mark the end of military conscription training courses. The TOT's are held primarily to show Swiss families just what their Sons and Daughters have learnt in the course of their military training.
At the present time military conscription is still very much part of Switzerland's defence planning and almost every Swiss citizen is compelled to undertake some form of military training during their lifetime. This said, the current implementation of the Swiss 'Armee XXI' plan is seeing a shift away from reliance on conscription towards a more regular form of military service career which is less reliant on the 'Milizia' system. Indeed, at the TOT just held at Payerne, the first 'Armee XXI' pre-test schools had just been completed.
So Just what does a TOT involve?- A visit to the most recent Spring TOT at Payerne provided a good insight into these annual events.
The day started very early for the military with security personnel deployed around all the major and minor roads to prevent parking in areas which might be over-flown by aircraft taking part in the flying displays later in the day. Security is 'keenly' implemented in this respect, there is NO off base parking - such is the high regard to safety. However, from 10:00 the event is open to the public as well as to families, so there is ample opportunity to view and take photographs throughout the day.
At 10:00 the TOT thus commenced with a welcoming speech to service families and the public gathered at the main display hangar. This was given by commander Colonel Heinz Thalmann, chief of ground personnel operations and training, (Picture right). The day was then officially open for everyone to view the aircraft on display and watch practical demonstrations of what had been taught to the military students during their training courses.
In the main display hangar various types of aircraft from the Swiss inventory were on show for close inspection, along with numerous technical displays being provided by the newly qualified personnel. Aircraft types on show were diverse, ranging from the Mirage IIIRS to the F/A-18, and likewise helicopters ranged from the trusty Alouette III to the modern Super Puma.
Outside saw further demonstrations being given throughout the course of the morning. These included demonstrations of fire and rescue training, aircraft servicing, aircraft turn-around procedures, and again these displays were all largely provided by the newly qualified military trainees, no doubt keen to show off their new skills.
Towards the latter part of the morning Col. Thalmann then welcomed specially invited guests and VIPs to the TOT and then a leisurely break for lunch was available in one of the main hangars. This was accompanied by good humoured military fashion parade involving "volunteer" recruits in various garb, including full NBC kit!
The flying display - Then started at 13:15 with the aircraft being ceremoniously handed over to the display pilots to commence the start of the afternoon's flying schedule, which again drew on all types from the Swiss Air Force inventory. The afternoon weather was somewhat poor but nonetheless a spirited performance by the Swiss PC-7 team was still forthcoming as one of the early highlights of the show. This was followed by individual displays from aircraft like the F/A-18 and Alouette III. The show also included a number of formations flyovers by Hawks, F/A-18s and of course the ubiquitous F-5 Tiger, an aircraft now synonymous with the Swiss Air Force.
However the highlight of the flying display for many of the Swiss people gathered was without doubt the flypasts given by the German Air Force MiG-29, which was one of a number on deployment to Dübendorf AB at the time of the TOT, for operation FULCA 2002. This made two flypast in company with an escorting Staffel 11 F/A-18C and a Staffel 10 Mirage IIIRS, (the latter taking pictures), all much to the delight of the gathered crowd (picture right).
The finalé to the flying was provided by the ever precise 'Patrouille Suisse' with their famous Red and White 'Tigers', and it was during the course of their display that one really could appreciate the real passion that their is for aviation in Switzerland. This was evident by the number of people who steadfastly refused to move whilst the heavens proceeded to open and tried to spoil their show (picture below).
Indeed, not for a long time have I ever seen a team display in such heavy rain and persevere, (along with their appreciative audience), until they had completed their routine with a fantastic 'bomb-burst', complete with flares which looked just stunning in the dark overcast skies.
The event, whilst not an airshow as such, is a wonderful day out and moreover provides a much better view of the Swiss Air Force than a mere flying display could ever do. It gives the visitor an opportunity to understand better the nature of the Air Force and what it means to undertake military service for Swiss citizens and all of this in a much more relaxed atmosphere than you could legitimately expect.
The author would like to pay particular thanks to the Swiss Air Force at Payerne AB, in particular to Major A. Ulrich, for his hospitality and tremendous help during my visit.