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AxAlp 2023


Swiss Mountains AxAlp 2023

For many years I had wanted to go to Switzerland to see their F18’s flying amongst the snow capped mountains. Particularly ever since I saw a photograph of an F18 on the taxiway with a waterfall in the background.

I was due to go in 2020 with the Welsh wizard that is Robert Griffiths but we all know what happened that year! Maybe one day we’ll get to do Axalp together buddy! Fast forward to 2023 and I’d still not lost the desire to go and experience the live fire exercise that is Axalp so I joined forces with two old friends of mine and formulated a road trip, because let’s face it, that’s the real way to go! 

 

Saturday 14th October we caught the Dover to Calais ferry for a smooth, albeit expensive (when it came to food), Channel crossing. We then drove several hours south to Reims, where of course many a soldier relaxed in the latter days of WW2 including the men of Easy Company. On arrival however we were faced with the prospect that someone was already in the apartment that we’d booked! Awesome! So another hotel had to be found quick time as the Rugby was on! Luckily we landed on our feet finding a hotel that served some exquisite burgers!

 

Onwards and travelling across France we crossed over into Switzerland without so much as a border check. Finding ourselves journeying through Basel, this was going to be the best part of the road trip clearly. Winding through a series of dramatic and mountainous roads and tunnels we made it to the valley in which the Air Base at Meiringen was situated. What a reveal that was, honestly that was one of the most spectacular views I have seen to date. Taking the road down to the valley floor, we went down to the base. Being a Sunday, the airfield was closed, so obviously we had to jump on the opportunity to walk across the runway and have an obligatory photos. (It goes without saying if you do this be don't mess about and do pay attention to your surroundings and WATCH OUT FOR FOD!)

 


Moving on we did a ‘fam ex’ of Interlaken, which is a nice little lakeside town, which is actually very peaceful by the lake of Brienzersee. We were very fortunate with our accommodation, we managed to get an apartment up in the mountains overlooking Interlaken in the village of Axalp itself. The road up was absolutely awesome, it was steep and winding providing you views of everything stereotypically Swiss from Cottages to cows.

 

Interlaken Switzerland

Monday 16th and we headed down to the air base at Meiringen for one of two designated training days for the Swiss Air Force in the lead up to AxAlp itself. I still find it utterly brilliant that as a civilian you can enjoy the food in the mess hall the same as the serving personnel. Switzerland have national service and have done for many years. I loved the fact I was seeing older generations ,who had served, coming back and eating alongside those still going through their service period. I find that quite a healthy and supportive thing, maintaining that community spirit. Perhaps things could be learned here.


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023

We were able to gain access to the roof top terrace overlooking the airfield which gave a fantastic overview of movements from helicopters coming in and out.


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023

After a short while it happened! Silence broken by the unmistaken echo of an F18 wind up from their mountainside hangers. It’s genuinely like something out of a Bond film or something, it’s certainly a ‘must hear before you die’ type of thing. We started proceedings with a 4-ship of F18’s ‘Beast Flight’ operating Runway 28 for departures. Throughout the day we watched several departures of both F18s and various Helicopters (operating a shuttle service to the range control).


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

We caught wind on the grapevine as it were that they would be operating evening sorties from Runway 10 so we ventured on down to that end. We were lucky to catch a flight of 4 F18s departing as the sun was setting over the snow-capped mountains to the East. Their full burners radiated through our chests as they departed down the valley trailed by their mighty echo reverberating down the valley walls.

 

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Tuesday 17th was to be our main day and an early start. We walked up the road, still in near darkness to the ski lifts which would take us part of the way up the mountain. For me this was a life first, I had never taken a ski lift before so trying to do it with 15Kg of Camera bag on me was interesting. Once survived we had a further climb of around 3,000 ft or there abouts to an altitude of just over 7300ft. You have to be relatively fit for this ascent especially if you have camera gear as there are two major ascents that are rather unforgiving.

 

Once at the top we were greeted by a large white tent and a full complement of toilets the enterprising Swiss had airlifted up! Legends! That’s Tschingelone then there is a dip and then there is Ebenflüh which has Range Control on it. Now both have their advantages and disadvantages so take a 50/50 chance and see what you get. We chose to stay on Tschingelone to give us the best chance and sweep to the range from the approaching valley below.

 

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023

The day started off with a few dry runs from F18s followed by live runs firing their 20mm Vulcan Cannons into the side of the mountains. Like swans, they graced the range with very elegant manoeuvres, that clearly have a practical purpose for hitting targets but it isn’t something you see at say an air show or with standard low-level flying.


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Throughout the day we had a variety of aircraft, PC-7, PC-21, F18’s, Aérospatiale AS 332M1 Super Pumas, Eurocopter EC635, Patrouille Suisse F5s and the Swiss Air Force Display F18. We even had two demonstrations, one in the form of a parachute drop and secondly a unit assault on the range targets via a helicopter insertion. The latter of which was most certainly a live fire exercise.

Sitting on that mountain with food on the go and wine in the hand was a pretty unique experience and one that I would certainly revisit without a doubt. You don't get those luxuries in the loop!


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 patrouille suisse

Wednesday 18th we took the decision to see what was going on down in the valley at Meiringen. We tried out a few different locations on both sides of the runway throughout the day for the sake of variety. I think our leg muscles and knees thanked us for this choice as the decent the day before was fairly taxing.


Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

Meiringen Air Base Ax Alp 2023 F18

As I have said in previous blogs, these trips aren’t just about aviation it’s also about experiencing other cultures and ways of life. Thursday 19th we drove West to Berne the Capital or Federal city of Switzerland. With a population of around 133,000 and its stunning classical architecture, Berne is an absolute pleasure to visit. It’s cobbled streets and tall buildings reminded me in a very small way of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, perhaps their architects sought influence from the Swiss in some form or way. Over the river Aare you’ll find the old bear pit and a new sanctuary with a couple of live bears in it. The Bear being the symbol on the flag and coat of arms of Berne.

 

Friday we began our drive back to Britain, with a stop off at Saint-Dizier, for those of you who are astute to the aviation world will know what’s coming. On the edge of Saint-Dizier lies a front-line fighter base for the French Air Force, stationing a large fleet of Rafales.

 

Saint-Dizier Rafale

Saint-Dizier Rafale

After a night stop off in Saint-Dizier we travelled north to Calais and a very choppy Channel crossing. But it was a fair amount of fun to be out on deck even if there was a random guy chundering over the side and immediately swigging a bottle of whiskey! Anyway it was a huge blast to do an old school road trip and entirely the best way to do a trip like this where you’ll certainly have far fonder memories to take forward seeing much more of the world.       

 


          

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