Swiss jet action in a stunning scenery
One of the most beautiful situated air bases in Europe is probably Meiringen Air Base in the Bern region in Switzerland. The airbase is surrounded by high mountains, which are often covered in snow and is situated close to the Brienzersee. For photographing, the base is nearly perfect. Pictures can be taken from both sides of the runway and the opportunities are overwhelming. In August 2008 we were able to spend two days around Meiringen Air Base to witness some Swiss Air Force action.
Swiss Air Force history
The Swiss had an immense Air Force in the sixties and seventies. At one point the Swiss Air Force flew around the 300 fighter jets and during the same period the Swiss had no less than 27 air bases in use. The Swiss also had some rather unique jets in their inventory. In 1951 for example, they purchased 103 De Haviland Vampires that stayed in service until 1991. And what about 124 De Haviland Venoms that arrived in 1956 and stayed in service until 1984. In the mid-sixties 59 Mirage IIIs, and from 1971 to 1976, also 68 Hawker Hunters were added to the Swiss Air Force inventory.
Swiss Air Force nowadays
The Swiss Air Force nowadays has only 2 fighter jets in its inventory, the F/A-18 and the F-5. The Swiss bought 26 F/A-18C and 8 F/A-18D models. The first F/A-18 was delivered in 1997. The first F-5 was delivered in 1978. A total of 72 F-5s was purchased by the Swiss Air Force, 66 ‘E’ and 6 ‘F’ models. The Swiss Air Force now only has 7 air bases in use, but only three of them are jet air bases; Emmen, Payerne and Meiringen.
Meiringen Air Base
Meiringen Air Base is the home base to two fighter squadrons, Squadron 8 “Destructors”, with the F5 Tigers, and Squadron 11 “Tiger” with the F/A-18 Hornets. It is also the only Swiss air base that uses an aircraft cavern in daily operations. Going to and from the caverns, the jets have to cross a local road which closes with a barrier, just like a railroad crossing.
During our visit, there were two Swedish JAS-39D Gripens at Meiringen. They performed some test flights hoping to convince the Swiss to buy Gripens to replace the F-5 Tigers. Other contesters are the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon.
Addition: Although a decision was expected in July 2009, questions about the true cost let to a public referendum in which the Swiss population said ‘No’ to the replacement of the F-5s.
At this moment (2020), a part of the F-5 fleet is still in use and the Swiss Air Force is now thinking about replacing the F-5 and F/A-18 fleet with a new fighter.