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Fliegerstaffel 18 “Panthers”; Sion, March 18, 2013

The Swiss Air Force, Part 1; Text and Photograph’s by Alex van Noye

There are no planes based at the Swiss air base Sion. Only a few times a year Flieger- geschwader 14 is stationed on this base in the south of Switzerland. Fliegerstaffel 18 is one of the two units which are a part of this Fliegergeschwader. Fliegerstaffel 18 is equipped with the American McDonnell Douglas FA/18 Hornet.

The second F/A-18 unit which is stationed at Payerne is Fliegerstaffel 18. The unit is together with Tiger Fliegerstaffel 19, which is equipped with the F-5 tiger, a part of Fliegergeschwader 14. Fliegergeschwader 11 is also based at Payerne airbase; this unit is composed of Fliegerstaffel 6 and Fliegerstaffel 17. Fliegergeschwader 11 is the unit which is permanently based at Payerne. Fliegergeschwader 14 is in principle also stationed at Payerne, but is also a few times a year stationed at Sion. Sion is located in the south of Switzerland near the Alps. This base is used only a few times a year during the Wiederholungskurse of the Swiss Air Force. Sion airbase is during that period intensely used for several flight activities by the reservists of the militia with their F-5 Tigers and the professional pilots with their F/A-18 Hornets. Fliegerstaffel 18 is the third 18 F/A-18 unit of the Swiss Air Force. The F/A-18 units in Switzerland are all professional units while the militia units which operate the F-5 Tiger are operated by commercial pilot who fly normally civilian planes. Fliegerstaffel 18 is one of the oldest units of the Swiss Air Force; the unit was established before the Second World War in the mid-20s. The Swiss Air Force was considerably expanded to guard the country against the German threat. The northern neighbor of Switzerland had created a big army in a short period which was a serious threat to neighboring countries. The Swiss government decided to set up a big army to protect the country against the rise of fascism. Fliegerstaffel 18 was founded in 1925 as part of the Swiss air defense.

Fliegerstaffel 18 was formed under the name Fliegercompagnie 18. The unit was not immediately equipped with aircraft after its formation in 1925. The first aircraft were assigned to the unit in 1928. The Dewoitine D27 was the first aircraft which was received by this unit; the plane was a monoplane. The aircraft was just after the First World War developed and was introduced at the Swiss Air Force in 1925. The Swiss Air Force was the largest user of the D27. The D27 has served at Fliegercompagnie 18

until 1941. The Morane D-3800 was put into service at the beginning of the Second World War. The D-3800 was built under license in Switzerland as the MS406. The D-3800 was a modern fighter at that time and it was quite a heavy plane. This aircraft was the first full metal aircraft which was built in Switzerland. The aircraft would remain in service with Fliegercompagnie 18 until the end of 1949. In total, the Swiss Air Force had 74 of these aircraft in service. Fliegercompagnie 18 was renamed to Fliegerstaffel 18 shortly after the Second World War. Switzerland remained a neutral country in this post war period. In 1949, the P-51 Mustang was purchased by the Swiss Air Force. These aircraft were obsolete after the war within the U.S. Air Force and entered service in the Swiss Air Force. The Swiss Air Force had captured a number of P-51s during the Second World War, because they landed in the neural country and were confiscated. Almost 130 aircraft were purchased after the war and a part of these planes served at Fliegerstaffel 18. The P-51 Mustang has served until 1956 at Fliegerstaffel 18 before the aircraft were withdrawn from service.

From 1957, Fliegerstaffel 18 flies the British De Havilland DH112 Venom. The Venom belonged to the first generation jet fighters. The Venom is the advanced variant of the Vampire. The Vampire was already in service of the Swiss Air Force, but not at Fliegerstaffel 18. The Venom was designed as a fighter-bomber for the RAF. The aircraft is like the Vampire equipped with a double tail boom. The unit was since the Second World War continuously based at Alpnach. From 1973, Fliegerstaffel 18 received for the first time in its existence a supersonic aircraft; the aircraft which was received was the Hawker hunter. The Hawker Hunter was a plane which initially was developed as a fighter. The aircraft was quickly also used as a fighter-bomber. The unit would not use the Hunter for a long period at Alpnach, because Fliegerstaffel 18 moved to Payerne in 1975. The Hawker Hunter was for many years the backbone of the Swiss air defense until the Mirage III entered service. However, the Mirage III was not assigned to Fliegerstaffel 18. Since 1978, the unit started to use to the Northrop F-5E Tiger. The Tiger was a lightweight air defense fighter. The aircraft was not suitable as an interceptor, because the F-5 was too light for this task. In addition to the air defense role, the F-5 Tiger was also very suitable for various support tasks such as close air support and ground attacks. The F-5 Tiger was used by Fliegerstaffel 18 until 1997. The unit would switch to the modern McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The Hornet was chosen as the successor to both the Mirage III and F-5 Tiger.

The F/A-18 Hornet is a multi-role fighter which can operate under all weather conditions. The Hornet is an aircraft which is suitable for the cold Swiss winters and has a large operational reliability. The aircraft was designed in the late 70s as the YF-17 in the race for lightweight fighter for the U.S. Air Force. This race was won by the F-16 Fighting Falcon. The YF-17 was developed into the F/A-18 Hornet for the U.S. Navy. The F/A-18 Hornet replaced the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom in the U.S. Navy. The F/A-18A Hornet entered service in 1984 within the U.S. Navy. The aircraft is suitable for the hard deck landings on an aircraft carrier. The F/A-18 has a top speed of up to Mach 1.8 and has a relatively low approach speed. The F/A-18C/D is the improved version of the F/A-18A/B variant. The Hornet is capable to carry modern weapons such as the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AGM-65 Maverick. The Hornet can also carry the AGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile. In total, the Swiss Air Force has 26 F/A-18Cs and 8 F/A-18Ds in operational service. The first F/A-18s were delivered in 1996. Fliegerstaffel 18 was in 1997 after Fliegerstaffel 17 the second unit which received the Hornet. The Hornet is the most sophisticated and efficient aircraft which ever flew within Fliegerstaffel 18.

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