report by: Mike Danks
AXALP is a unique and exhilarating experience for all who climb up to one of the viewing points, whether the official points or on the opposite of the valley on top of the Wildgarst mountains. Global Air Power attended the two official days of the exercise on the Wednesday 11th and Thursday 12th, with media access on the Thursday. The AXALP- Ebenfluh range is located high in the mountains, a few kilometres south of Flugplatz Meiringen, at 2,300m. The range targets are on three different points in the small valley and flights using it are controlled from a small control tower. This famous range has been open to the public since the early 1940s and is a huge draw for locals and aviation enthusiasts from across Europe with an estimated 8,000 making their way up to the public areas each day.
The scheduled timetable for the demo and displays is from 14:00 and lasts for 1.5hrs but it is worth making your way to the range in the early morning as fighters complete live firing and the Super Pumas are ferrying VIPs and media up to the range from Meiringen. The first day we made our way to the car park at the end of Brienz Lake at 06:15 and boarded a bus that would take us and many other people up to the village of Axalp. The sun was just rising as we stepped off the bus and headed for the chair lift that would transport us further towards the range. After clambering off the chairlift you can see the first of the points to climb to and following a well-worn path with peoples brightly coloured coats showing where the trail leads.
We made it up to the first position and decided that we would watch the show from here as the next day we would be at the point where the control tower is located. As I took my camera out we were greeted by four F-5E Tiger IIs streaking overhead shooting at the first of the targets at the other end of the valley. The F-5s attacked all of the targets multiple times climbing up over the mountains and diving down towards them before breaking away and pulling inverted over the mountain peaks. After the F-5s departed the Super Pumas began ferrying up people up to the control tower area and gave the opportunity to take some shots of them in this stunning location.
A count down began to the start of the demonstration with the announcer telling everyone to look to the east as two F/A-18 Hornets rose over the top of the mountains and got lower and lower until they pulled up towards the range and started releasing flares, coming within 200ft of the crowd. As soon as they had passed two more Hornets were lining up on the first target. For the next 10 minutes they attacked each target from all directions completing high speed high G turns and pulling hard over the mountains. The final pass saw two Hornets on full afterburner passing through the range, as at the start, before pulling up and firing the last of their flares whilst climbing up to at least 10k feet. The F-5s were next and completed the same routine as in the morning with an added pass using High Explosive rounds to hit the southern target. The demonstration turned to the rotary element with a Search and Rescue demo from an EC635 and two Super Pumas carrying Bambi buckets dropping water over the targets.
Now it was time for the Swiss Air Force displays. The PC-21, Super Puma, F/A-18 and Patrouille Suisse all completed their routines within the valley and gave the opportunity for some stunning backdrops unlike anywhere else in the world. The second day was more relaxed with the chance to have breakfast in the hotel before heading to Meiringen air base to collect our media passes. We spent some time on the roof of the restaurant at the base photographing the departing and returning F/A-18 Hornets, EC635, Super Pumas and A109. After a briefing from the base commander we were allocated our tickets for the flight in a Super Puma to the range. We joined the queue and walked out towards the taxiway where the Super Pumas were collecting their passengers. Once we were at the top we had a different perspective of the range with the some of the targets about 200m away.
The demonstration was the same as the previous day and allowed for some different shots to be captured of the high speed action. After the completion of the show the Super Pumas began their shuttle service back down to Meirigen air base. AXALP is well worth the trip to Switzerland and with many other bases on the way from Zurich to Meiringen then there is an opportunity to see much more of what the Swiss Air Force has to offer in stunning locations. Thank you to the Swiss Air Force and especially, Alina Gysin, Communication Swiss Air Force and Jürg Nussbaum, Chef Kommunikation Luftwaffe / TPL Komm Kdo Op, for allowing globalairpower.net the unique opportunity to fly to the AXALP range and feel part of this exercise.