On 31st July 1914 the first incarnation of the Swiss Air Force was formed as a direct result of World War One using commandeered aircraft. Now, 100 years later, the centenary is being marked by a four day airshow spread over two weekends. Adam Duffield attended the first two days and reports for AeroReosurce.
Located on the western side of Switzerland under one hour from the French border, the air base at Payerne is set amongst some amazing scenery with mountain backdrops and rolling fields. Home to two of the three F/A-18 Squadrons (Fliegerstaffel 17 and 18) along with the Super Puma units, the choice of location to hold the centenary airshow celebrations is of particular significance.
In 1910, Payerne was the landing field for the first flight linking two Swiss towns when Ernest Failloubaz flew his Blériot from nearby Avenches to the town. Ever since, Payerne has become a major hub for aviation within the country and not just with regards to the military presence. Companies such as Solar Impulse now operate from the base with the impressive SI2 solar powered aircraft, which was one of the major attractions at the show (the aircraft took an unscheduled flight following the close of the show on Saturday). Even surrounding the main base, the importance of aviation was clear to see with a Mirage III mounted on a pole at the local motorway services and a Vampire outside the main town boundary along with roundabouts and displays relating to the Air14 show.
As well as the centenary, the two official display teams of the air force also celebrate major anniversaries in 2014. Formed on 22nd August 1964 using Hawker Hunter T58 aircraft, the Patrouille Suisse are a well-known formation jet team who this year are celebrating their 50 year anniversary. After 30 years of using the Hunter the team transferred to their current aircraft, the Northrop F-5E Tiger II, with all six adorned in a distinctive red and white scheme with the Swiss flag carried on the underside. With the future of the team unknown due to the retirement of the F-5E from service in 2016, this may be the last major anniversary the team sees.
Celebrating 25 years of continual existence (the team was briefly formed in 1987 but disbanded quickly after before being reactivated in 1989) their prop-powered counterparts, the PC-7 team, have always displayed using the Pilatus aircraft they are named after. Also wearing red and white schemes, the team are comprised of nine aircraft flown by regular unit pilots.
With the three different anniversaries to recognize, there was plenty of scope for the organisers to attract a varying lineup, especially given the spreading of the show over two different weekends. Two of the early announced star items however had to pull out from the show. Plans for the Canadian Air Forces CF-18 Solo Hornet display to come to Europe for both Payerne weekends and the following Belgian Air Days show at Kleine Brogel failed to materialise whilst a confirmed attendance from the Russian Knights team was cancelled by the Swiss organisers following the situation in Ukraine.
Despite this, there was still significant numbers of aircraft attending over the four days with the show organisers claiming to have over 250 different aircraft in attendance making it the largest military show in Europe this year, although this figure no doubt counts each aircraft of the numerous display teams that are participating giving an inaccurate view on the number of different types and forces attending.
The layout of the showground itself meant that the vast majority of the static items were contained within the northern area of the show with only three aircraft available for viewing at the southern end. Rather than one individual area, the statics were split into a number of different groups and, thanks to the layout and organisation, some of the aircraft due to fly later in the day were first put on static display then towed out to the live side such as the P-51 Mustang and Breitling Super Constellation.
Amongst the foreign static participation there were some interesting fast jets in attendance. Despite the solo display cancelling, two Canadian Air Force CF-18’s were present and grouped with an Austrian Air Force Eurofighter and French Airforce Mirage 2000-5F. More common aircraft at European shows included a Czech Air Force L-159 Alca, German Tornado IDS, Belgian F-16 and Hungarian Gripen. A plastic model of another Gripen, the JAS-39NG was present and while it may only have been for publicity purposes, it carried an interesting digital camo scheme that would look impressive applied to operational jets. Further Austrian participation in the static included a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter which the Czech Air Force also had a rotary asset on display in the form of a special scheme Mi-24 Hind. Aside from the Super Constellation, large static aircraft were minimal however two Casa C-295 transports from Poland and Finland were present.
Swiss Air Force types, both historical and present, were very well represented with one of every type currently operated on display. Standing out were two particular jet aircraft – a tiger tail special F/A-18 from Fliegerstaffel 11 and the beautiful ‘Papyrus’ Hunter. Numerous variants of Pilatus types, from the P-2 up to the PC-9 were present including a brightly colored PC-12. The largest aircraft in the forces inventory, the Dassault Falcon 900EX was also present and, inside one of the hangar, a display with aircraft types covering the forces 100 year history were present from a Blériot XI replica up to a Mirage III.
As a consequence of the airfield layout itself and the volume of display aircraft, one of the downsides was the positioning of all the display teams along the taxiway between the crowd line and runway leaving few clear gaps to view the runway which were all taken by just after 7am on both days. Particularly affecting the departure end, it was not uncommon for jets to also hold on the taxiway for long periods of time with heat haze from the exhausts causing difficulty for photography.
With initial suggestions that both show weekends would have the same flying lineup on both days it was pleasing to see that, closer to the event, there was a high level of variance over the weekend.
Saturday’s crowds enjoyed the best weather of the weekend with early morning cloud making way for clear and still skies and high temperatures. Opening the day’s action was one of a number of warbirds to display over the weekend in the form of Noorduyn AT-16 Harvard, a type used by the Swiss as a trainer up until 1968. The display was typical of many others of the same type with the exception of an impressive hesitation barrel roll. Another aircraft with Swiss Air Force history was the indigenous the EKW C-3603 – a two seat multi role aircraft that, whilst designed in the 1930’s, was still in use up until the late 80’s in a target tug role. In comparison with the Harvard the display was more distant and significantly shorter however a rare chance to see the type for many.
Over the course of the weekend many of the aircraft from the Flying Bulls historic stable were seen although the collections Lockheed P-38 Lightning displayed by Raimund Riedmann was quite possibly the highlight. A superb display of the glimmering, bare metal aircraft, it included an unusual addition to many warbird routines due to the use of a smoke system that was used sparingly and effectively with the twin smoke trails really enhancing the performance. Of the same era, and just as polished, was the P-51 Mustang ‘Moonbeam McSwine’ with an energetic display conducted at high speed and using plenty of height for graceful, looping repositioning turns.
Keeping with the prop driven theme, however moving to larger types, a formation of two Beech 18’s and a Douglas DC-3 carrying Swissair markings took to the skies. A series of differing formation passes followed before a highly energetic break leading into an opposition pass to close the routine. Moving up the size scale once more, the Breitling Super Constellation was the largest aircraft to grace both the sky and static displays. With Switzerland being the home of the famous watch manufacturer, it’s no surprise that their numerous sponsored aircraft featured heavily and whilst the Super Constellation only performed two flypasts before landing it was still a magnificent sight and sound.
Historical aircraft of a jet nature were also well represented, especially in the form of the Vampire pair featuring a DH-100 FB6 and a DH-115 T55 flying gentle turns and loops in close formation however it was some of the modern jets that may have attracted more attention from the crowds. The Belgian F-16 solo display, a common sight in the UK, was performed to its usual high standards and the addition of flares added further to the sight and sound. Also using flares was the Polish Air Force Mig-29 with an excellent display that included plenty of afterburner action leaving trails of its trademark black smoke hanging in the air. Rounding out the days foreign forces jet displays was another offering from Poland – the SU-22 Fitter pair. With formation flypasts and before a series of simulated touch and goes it was a great chance to see these cold war era aircraft perform.
A jet of a very different kind displayed as the very last display of the day. Yves Rossy, also known as Jetman, was taken to altitude by helicopter before making a descent back to earth using his carbon fibre winged jet pack. An undeniably incredible piece of technology and a unique display, it just didn’t work at an airshow with the crowd spending the majority of the time searching the sky for a small dot despite an intermittent smoke system being used. Only once the parachute had been opened one the jet fuel was expended was Yves clearly visible to all.
Although rotary displays weren’t high in number, the quality certainly made up for it. The French Army provided a display from a Eurocopter Tigre. Very much confined to the northern end of the airfield for the majority of manoeuvers meaning that those towards the southern end did not get the best view, it was still an impressive display of the aircrafts ability. With the Tigre representing the capabilities of a military attack helicopter, the Flying Bulls Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm Bo105 demonstrated some incredible aerobatics that are normally unexpected from such a type. With multiple loops, roles and other moves, pilot Sigi Schwarz proved that you don’t need fixed wings to fly enthralling aerobatics.
Another Swiss company and with significant importance to the Swiss Air Force during its history, is Pilatus. The aircraft manufacturer located in central Switzerland is this year is celebrating its 75th anniversary and played its various types played a significant part during the Air14 celebrations. Representing the latest development of one of the most common types in service around the world was a PC-9M twin seat trainer carrying 75th anniversary markings. With a well-executed aerobatic display including a manoeuvre called the ‘snowman’ – a series of three half loops in a vertical climb which is unique to the PC-9M within its category — it was clear to see why it is in use by so many forces.
Of course, with the two Swiss teams celebrating major milestones there were a number of teams from other forces present to help them celebrate. The Spanish Air Force national team of Patrulla Aguila flying seven Casa C-101 Aviojets were present but with a display that lacked presence and seemed to go on rather longer than attention could be held. The same can unfortunately be said for the Croatian Air Force team of Wings of Storm in their Pilatus PC-9s who displayed directly following their Swiss PC-7 counterparts with their display lacking presence, perhaps down to the lack of smoke use – something even mentioned by their commentator during the display. The Breitling Jet Team were another of the Swiss watch companies sponsored teams at the event and the use of flares in their final break was an unexpected surprise although it was the French national team of Patrouille de France and their Alphajets that captured the attention the most. Displaying against blue skies the aircraft really stood out with enough moisture in the air to give plenty of streamers from the wing tips which really added to the performance. With Payerne being located in the French speaking region of Switzerland, the team also received a very warm welcome from the crowd as if adopted as a third national team.
However, the whole show was intended to celebrate the 100 years of the Swiss Air Force so it was only right that the home team featured heavily in proceedings throughout the day.
Representing a display of air reconnaissance within the force a paradrop of 17 members of the Parachute Reconnaissance Company 17 jumped from a Junkers Ju-52 flying a number of national and unit flags between them. This was then followed by a Eurocopter Cougar performing a rope extraction with seven troops using the Special Patrol Insertion/Extraction (SPIE) system. In something that is highly rare at an airshow, the display sequence was completed by a single flypast of a RUAG Ranger drone, designated the ADS-95 in Swiss service. Over the weekend, the same system was found in the skies above the show providing live footage to the multiple video screens.
Following a break for lunch, the main flying display recommenced with a 45-minute aerial tribute to 100 years of Swiss military aviation. Opening with a further drop of paratroops, this time from three Pilatus PC-6 aircraft, the national anthem accompanied their journey to the ground whilst a Blériot XI replica flew in front of the crowds, representing the air forces earliest aircraft type. A Marane-Saulnier D-3801 accompanied by a F/A-18 Hornet in close formation flew a number of passes before making way for a four jet formation featuring a three historic aircraft in the de Havilland Vampire DH-100, Hawker Hunter T68 and Dassault Mirage IIIDS along with a Northrop F-5F Tiger that is in current service. After a few passes, the pace slowed with a massed formation of rotary assets charting the services progressions through types that were accompanied by two Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porters. The helicopters involved included both Alouette II and III examples, a pair of Eurocopter EC-635s and a pair of Eurocopter Super Pumas. Two formations of prop powered fixed wings followed with the first containing a CASA Jungmann, Pilatus P-2 and Pilatus P-3 whilst the second was a pure Pilatus formation featuring the PC-7, PC-9 and PC-21. To complete the segment the F/A-18 Hornet returned in formation with a Super Puma for a number of passes before breaking formation in their own direction, the Hornet releasing flares en masse as it climbed into the sky. All in all, a very well thought out and well executed segment that always gave something to look at.
The Swiss Air Force operates two solo display types that are often seen at various shows around Europe and both have participated widely around the UK during 2014. The Super Puma display represented the rotary assets although the display was performed using a Cougar whereas its fast jet counterpart, the F/A-18 solo was performed by a Fliegerstaffel 17 ‘Falcons’ special tail jet. Both displays were well performed with the Hornet especially dramatic with the amount of vapour being generated although a surprise that neither used flares.
Headline display acts, and possibly drawing the most attention, were the two official display teams celebrating their anniversaries. The PC-7 team, comprising nine aircraft fitted with smoke systems for the 2014 season, were graceful in the air with gentle turns and loops all performed at extreme proximity with the smoke certainly adding to the performance. For the Patrouille Suisse their main display was preceded by a special flypast in formation with a Swissair A330. After a number of passes the team broke away from the A330 which performed a low approach before returning to Geneva to prepare for a scheduled flight to New York that evening leaving the Patrouille Suisse to perform their own display complete with a number of flares releases at various points.
The weather greeting crowds on the Sunday was a much different story with almost full cloud cover and higher winds for the entirety of the day and flat lighting for the photographers attending.
With the organisers doing their best to vary the displays over the course of the weekend, it was always clear there would be some duplication although, amongst the foreign participants, this was minimal with displays from Patrulla Aguila, Eurocopter Tigre, Patrouille de France, Polish Mig-29, Belgian F-16 and Jetman being repeated.
The display items from the Swiss Air Force were also down to display both days as could be expected during their home show. Whilst the Hornet and Super Puma solo displays remained the same, there were some small, but noticeable changes made to the remainder. Whilst the Patrouille Suisse saved their flare release for the final break (rather than in smaller batches throughout the display as per the day before) it was the PC-7 teams chance to formate with a single F/A-18 prior to their own display. The post-lunch celebration segment also received minor tweaks with a Swiss marked Mustang replacing the Morane-Soulnier D-3801, an additional pair of PC-6 aircraft in formation with the rotary assets and most noticeably, a change to the beginning of the segment. Quite possibly due to the higher winds, only three paratroops jumped during the national anthem whilst the Blériot was replaced by a Fokker D.VII. These changes in no way affected the overall displays though and provided a small but welcome change for those who had already witnessed proceedings the day before.
Again, warbirds were well represented in the skies above Payerne. Opening the second day was a beautiful looking Yak-3U however the display was somewhat distant from the crowd line in comparison with others during the day such as that from the Douglas AD-4N Skyraider. Returning with more aircraft from their impressive collection, the Flying Bulls displayed their B-25 Mitchell and F-4U Corsair pairing and although a great display starting with formation passes before solo routines, the B-25 solo seemed unusually short.
With the Vampire pair the day before, only a single aircraft was scheduled to display on Sunday with the DH-100 FB6 performing on its own giving a chance to see a more aerobatic performance.
An impressive formation of four Hawker Hunter T68 aircraft took to the skies to perform what started out as a series of formation flypasts. With three camouflage machines and the distinctive tiger striped aircraft bringing up the rear, it wasn’t long before an unexpected airfield attack commenced complete with pyrotechnics simulating strafing runs and air to ground bomb runs surprising many of the crowd.
It was however the Mirage 2000N pair from the French Air Force tactical demonstration team Ramex Delta that stole the jet display crown on the second day with an incredibly fast paced and energetic display containing tight formations, precision rejoins and plenty of speed. A sight and sound to behold, hopefully a UK show will attract them to our shores soon.
Formation teams remained an important part of the day with three different teams on the schedule. The Swiss based P-3 flyers displayed five examples of the type that preceded the P-7 in the Swiss Air Force trainer role with a display that started slow but built to a more interesting finish. The Breitling Wing Walkers made the trip as the sole UK representative of the first weekend with their usual barnstorming antics impressing the Swiss crowd despite the thick smoke from the Stearmans covering them for the majority of the display. From the Finnish Air Force the Midnight Hawks, flying four BAe Hawk Mk51 aircraft, put on a tight formation display and their use of twin wing mounted smoke pods were an interesting departure from the systems normally seen on the type. However, the display always seemed to be wanting that little something extra in some respects especially the ending that just appeared to be another manoeuvre until they landed one after the other.
Replacing the Pilatus PC-9M display on the Sunday was a display from the companies latest advanced trainer aircraft – the PC-21. With a noticeable performance difference from the older generations and even the PC-9 the display also showed the agile aerobatic capability of the type.
Completing the lineup for the day was the Czech Air Force Mi-24 Hind display, the only rotary addition to the programme. This sizeable attack helicopter performed a long display complete with red smoke generated by a set of underwing pods. The running touch and go was a particular highlight and set the display apart from the other rotary routines.
With major focus being on the celebration of the two Swiss teams, it was only correct that the closing finale involved them both. With the PC-7 team taking off first, they were joined by Patrouille Suisse for a number of formation passes that filled the sky with aircraft. With the PC-7 team keeping tight circles in front of the crowd, the jet team covered a wider area around them before two opposition passes. To bring the display to a close, both teams ran in on the b-axis performing their break manoeuvres simultaneously with the Patrouille Suisse once again releasing a salvo of flares. The whole display was an impressive sight and was a memorable way to close off the weekends proceedings.
When news first broke of a two-weekend airshow to celebrate the centenary, many were understandably excited at its potential and it’s fair to say that the first weekend of Air14 more than met the standard expected by many. The display programme was well thought out offering constant variations in display types and time between action in the air was kept incredibly short (under a minute in some instances) which all contributed to a fast flowing and fluid experience. Both days proved popular with the crowds with over 80,000 attending the first day of the show. With a large number of relatively rare and different displays including the magnificent 100 year celebration segment, the first weekend has set the bar high and, even if the second weekend can only match it, the show will no doubt be remembered as one of the European show highlights of the year.
Look out for our continued coverage of the show with a report from the second weekend coming soon.