Swiss Air Force Base, Meiringen - Unterbach
“One of the most photogenic airfields in Europe”

Situated in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland region the airfield of Meiringen – Unterbach offers the aviation photographer the very best opportunities to capture the Swiss Air Force in action, with its typically Swiss backdrop.

The annual Air Power Demonstration at the Ebenfluh Firing Range at Axalp, because of it’s spectacular flying, is a must for all aviation photographers. However Meiringen which is situated just below the range should not be over-looked. The Northrop F-5E Tiger II’s, which display at Axalp, are with Fliegergeschwader 13, Fliegerstaffel 8 and are based at Meiringen. For each day of the demonstration 300+ VIP’s are ferried up to the range by Aérospatiale Super Puma or Cougar from here. Numerous flights of Aérospatiale Alouette III’s perform liaison duties, including the transporting of portable toilets to the range for the spectators.

Another time, apart from Axalp week, when Meiringen is particularly active is in January, during the World Economic Forum (WEF), when the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet’s are involved with Combat Air Patrol (CAP) duties. There are 100-200 sorties a week during this period. But be aware the sun does not shine onto the airfield at this time of the year!

During exercises and in wartime the F/A-18C’s of Fliegergeschwader (Air Wing) 11 at Payerne deploys Fl.St. 11 to Meiringen and Fl.St. 18 to Sion in the south. Escadrille d’aviation 17 with its F/A-18C’s and D’s remain at Payerne. The F-5’s and F/A-18’s operating from either the hangers or from the caverns, use Meiringen for around 20 weeks in a year.

The report that follows has been produced to emphasise the numerous photographic opportunities that can be had at one of the most attractive air force bases in Europe. The airfield is situated in a very narrow valley, with high and shear rock faces each side rising high to snow covered peaks. The single runway and parallel taxiway runs roughly from east to west.

A dozen or so grass covered shelters lay back from the runway on each side. Curiously a farming community appears to be integrated within the airfield itself. Livestock graze on the grass around the hangers and surrounding taxiways. At weekends the whole airfield appears to be at their disposal. Taxiways littered with farm machinery go to the rock cliffs, you are able to drive up these and progress to underground hangers or caverns at the end, which were off limits of course. A public road goes straight across the middle of the airfield. Barriers similar to a railway crossing come down minutes before incoming or out going aircraft. If that is not enough to alert you to take up position with your camera, then a large light on the top of the air traffic control tower starts flashing. Many of the locals, and during Axalp week, aviation photographers from across Europe, assemble around these barriers on each side of the airfield. Such is the relaxed attitude of the Swiss Air Force during Axalp week, photographers can stand inside the barriers, just yards from the action. At the end of the day, there comes a booming announcement from the control tower, in both the local German and English languages, stating that; flying has finished for the day and that they will see us tomorrow.

The local community integrates well with the military. I saw a heard of cows marched across the airfield along the public road, right in the middle of operations. I guess any approaching aircraft would have been told to hold until the farmer had completed this lengthy exercise. Two horses similarly were ridden across on another occasion, the young jockeys choosing to wait for the recently recovered F-5’s to taxi back before heading for the other side.


The following images were taken at eight or nine distinct locations (there are more),
which all very accessible to the public.

Meiringen in typical Swiss style is blessed with underground hangars carved into the rock below the Axalphorn mountain. Located to the south of the air base, the caverns are often used to house the deployed or based aircraft. Outside the cavern entrance there is a ramp area where the aircraft park, between the days sorties. Once the protecting barriers have been opened and the road barriers dropped, the aircraft will taxi out of this complex, passing between the buildings on the base itself, and out to the runway. Immediately after landing the procedure is reversed.

South side the taxiway from the cavern hangar crosses a public road. From the lowered barriers wide angle shots of the taxiing aircraft is possible.

Left: Line up of F-E’s outside the cavern hangar, taken from the reserve taxiway to the cavern area.
Right: F-5E J-3079 crosses the public road on its way to the runway, caught here in the early morning sun.

Three F-5E’s having crossed the road, are about to turn onto the runway.

F-5E’s often depart in pairs. A 400mm telephoto lens is ideal to capture the action, showing how close the aircraft are to each other. The narrow steep sided valley provides a perfect backdrop for aviation photography.

The F/A-18C needs less runway before starting it’s steep climb.


Left: The pilot of F-5E J-3060 acknowledges the appreciative photographers.
Right: F-5E J-3014 seen shortly after landing from the east, it shows just one of the many grass covered shelters, which were used to house the Vampires and Venoms in years gone by.

Landing  and taking off from the western end

F-5E J-3025 with central orange drop tanks and dummy AIM-9P Sidewinder training rounds. These aircraft are used as ‘aggressors’ when engaged in Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) dog fighting.

Left: F/A-18D two-seat J-5238 just about to touch down. This shot looks like the aircraft is landing in a farmyard, such is the close proximity of the farming community at Meiringen.
Middle: F-5E J-3086 in the colours of the Patrouille Suisse display team.From a farm track, parallel to the runway at the western end the aircraft taxi towards you down the long parallel taxiway.
Right: F-5E’s J-3069 and J-3074. Down at the eastern end, north side for the departing aircraft. You will be looking in to the sun, but hey it does offer some interesting light and angles. The parallel farm track is just 60 yards away, across a drainage ditch to the touchdown point.


Left: F-5F two-seat J-3206 accelerates down the runway, departing to the west.
Middle: F-5E J-3015 taxis out to the runway from the cavern area.
Right: F-5E J-3025 landing at the eastern end after a typical 30 to 45 minute sortie.

Returning to the caverns at the end of the day. The shadow from the mountain side is now covering nearly half the southern side of the airfield. These wide-angle shots show how close you can stand.

There are also good photographic opportunities for capturing
Swiss Air Force helicopters in action.

The best location is from the southern road barrier in the centre of the airfield, which is very close to where the Alouettes usually touch down. Aérospatiale Super Pumas and Cougars will also taxi and fly past this location to and from the main ramp area.

Alouette III V-250 arrives from the east.

Left: Alouette III V-261 up real close.
Right: V-254 about to land (note: shutter speed of 1/100 to give 360 degree blur to the tail rotor).


Super Pumas and Cougars were used to transport 300+ VIP’s up to Ebenfluh Firing Range each day. AS.332M-1 Super Puma TH-89 (T-312) of LuftTransportAbteilung 6 departs to the west.


The published flying times are: Monday to Friday 08:00-12:00 and 13:30-17:00.

Tourist Office Information:
Reading through some local Tourist Office information I discovered that there are regular guided tours of Meiringen Air Base. In 2005 they were on June 9, August 25 and October 27 14:00 to 16:30. For further information and booking of tours you must telephone the local Tourist Office only, on 033 972 6464.

Source: Target Aviation Photography - Philip Stevens
Pictures provided and copyrighted by Target Aviation Photography - Philip Stevens
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