Even if today Payerne is the Swiss Air Force main operating base, Meiringen Air Base is well known among aviation geeks: in fact the aircraft which take part to Axalp exercise usually are deployed to this airfield.
Anyway Meiringen Air Base is also the only Swiss Air Base that can actually be visited throughout the year: in fact from April to October a tour of the base is held every Wednesday afternoon while three more visits three hours long are held from May to October.
In fact we had the chance to visit Meringen Air Base on Oct. 15 2014: being located not far away from Varese City, the airfield can easily be reached from north west Italy.
Despite the fact that the visit was planned to start at 1.30 p.m. , the first F-18 Hornets from Fliegerstaffel 11 (that alongside with the F-5 Tigers from Fliegerstaffel 8 are part of the Fliegergeshwader 3) took off in the morning. Due to the fact that the aircraft are recovered inside undergroud caverns and because the bustle pass through the airbase taxiways and runway, several levell crossings sorround the airfield giving the chance to the fighters to taxi and reach the runway to take off. This means that you can see an aircraft behind the level crossing instead of a train: for sure a beautiful sight for every aviation enthusiast.
With the landing of the last three F-18s at midday ended the morning flight activity and after a fast snack, you can access to the observation platfomr from which you can take pictures of airplanes taking offs and landings. At 13.00 p.m. “the sound of freedom” of eight General Electric F404 engines comes from the underground caverns and four Hornets reach the runway taxing among cows and homes placed very near the airfield. Then after the Hornets taking off, at 13.30 p.m. the tour started with a movie that showed duties performed by the units deployed at Meiringen Air Base. After the movie we saw an interesting kennel club demonstration followed by a Pilatus PC-7 take off, then the tour continued in the cable car tools factory. Before visiting the base manintenance hangar, we had the chance to admire the landing of the four Hornet which taxied nearby us. In the maintenance hangar several aircraft (a PC-6, an F-18, a PC-7 and a Patrouille Suisse F-5E) are on display where we had seen every Hornet detail such as the ATFLIR (Advanced Targeting Forward Looking Infrared) and the fighter glass cockpit. Moreover each visitor had the chance to sit at the controls of both the Hornet and the Tiger.
The tour ended with the ejection seat and the anti g suit mode of operation.
We can affirm that this kind of visits are an interesting tool for every aviation enthusiast with only one small imperfection: each tour is held in German only, and of course an English spell out would be necessary. On the other side we admired the Swiss aviation heritage from our arrival at Meiringen Air Base where we found a dedicate “photo” (that can be taken without facing any limitation during the whole base tour) apron with toilet alongside the runway, something totally weird outside our airfields. Moreover the great maintenance efficiency showed by the Swiss Air force has been demosntrated by the fact that three sorties were flown in one day only by the same four Hornets airframes (J-5014, J-5016, J-5023 and J-5026).
Text and images by Dario Leone
Produced by Giorgio Ciarini