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Fliegerstaffel 11 “Tigers”; Meiringen, March 20, 2013

The Swiss Air Force, Part 6; Text and Photograph’s by Alex van Noye

Fliegerstaffel 11 is based at the Swiss Airbase Meiringen and is the Tiger unit of the Swiss Air Force. The unit is a member of the NATO Tiger Association. This is remarkable, because Switzerland is not a member of NATO. Fliegerstaffel 11 is part of Fliegergeschwader 13 and is equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet.

Like many fliegerstaffels in Switzerland, also the history of Fliegerstaffel 11 started in the difficult years just before the Second World War. The Swiss Air Force decided to significantly expand their army and air force against the threat from Germany. Switzerland, however, would never get involved in the Second World War. Three new staffels were established by the Swiss government to strengthen the air defense in 1938. Fliegerstaffel 11 was already established as Fliegercompagnie 11 in 1925, but was re-established in 1938. The staffel has flown the Fokker CV in the first years of its existence. Later at the start of the Second World War, the unit was quickly equipped with the Morane D-3801. This plane was not the most suitable aircraft for the air defense task. Shortly after the war in 1949, Fliegerstaffel 11 would step into the jet age when the unit was equipped with the DH Vampire. The unit was from this moment stationed at Alpnach airbase. The Swiss Air Force was reorganized and the unit would continue as Fliegerstaffel 11 from 1952. The DH Vampire was its time ahead, because it was a modern jet fighter in those days. The DH Vampire was a lightweight air defense fighter and was developed in the UK. The concept would soon become obsolete, because the development of combat aircraft went very fast in that period. The aircraft were at that time just at the edge of the supersonic era. Switzerland would also go along with this development.

The British Hawker Hunter was the first aircraft in Switzerland which could break through the sound barrier. Fliegerstaffel 11 switched over to the Hawker Hunter in 1958. The unit was moved from Alpnach to Meiringen when Fliegerstaffel 11 switched to the Hunter. Fliegerstaffel 11 flew from 1959 to 1975 from Meiringen airbase with the Hawker Hunter. When the Hunter was introduced, Fliegerstaffel 11 also got the air to ground role assigned, because the Hunter was a multi-role fighter. From 1975, the unit was moving back to Alpnach. The unit continued to fly the Hawker Hunter at this base

until 1979. From 1979, the first Northrop F-5 Tigers were delivered to Fliegerstaffel 11 at Alpnach. The Hawker Hunter would remain in service for many years with the Swiss Air Force, but not with Fliegerstaffel 11. The F-5 was when the aircraft was introduced purchased as a lightweight multi-role aircraft. The main task of the Tiger was defending the airspace at low and medium altitudes. The role of interceptor was not suitable for the small aircraft; this role was in Switzerland at that time fulfilled by the Dassault Mirage III. However, the F-5 was also used as close air support aircraft for the protection of the Swiss ground troops. Unlike many other units in Switzerland, Fliegerstaffel 11 was a unit with professional pilots instead of militia pilots. In 1997, the unit stopped flying the F-5 Tiger. The unit moved from Alpnach to Dübendorf in the two years that followed. From 1999, Fliegerstaffel 11 started to fly the American built McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. The unit moved for the last time in 2006. The unit was moved from Dübendorf to Meiringen.

Fliegerstaffel 11 is nowadays still stationed at Meiringen airbase. This airbase offers a number of daily challenges for the F/A-18 pilots of the unit. The airport is located between two mountain sides, and is therefore not an easy base to operate from. Especially, the airfield is not easily accessible through the low clouds when it is foggy or in overcast. Fliegerstaffel 11 is together with Fliegerstaffel 8 at Meiringen a part of Fliegergeschwader 13. Fliegerstaffel 8 is the militia unit at Meiringen and is equipped with the Northrop F-5E Tiger. The main task of Fliegerstaffel 11 is defending the airspace of Switzerland. This aspect of flying is practiced daily by the F/A-18 crews. Several times a year, the militia units are practicing various scenarios during an inten- sive week with many flights. The militia units are following the Wiederholungskursus and are flying intensively. For Fliegerstaffel 11 it is also a very good opportunity to practice these various scenarios. Often the F/A-18 pilots fly in the aggressor role during these training missions. The F/A-18 units can train their offensive tasks, while the militia units are defending the country. The pilots of the militia units will train next to the air defense scenario also the interception of aircraft. The F/A-18 Hornet has usually an external tank under the fuselage with the text 121.5. This is a general distress frequency in Switzerland which is continuous monitored. Enemy aircraft which are intercepted can be contacted at this frequency.

Besides the air defense role, the F/A-18 Hornets of Fliegerstaffel 11 can also be used for various offensive tasks. In general, these tasks will be limited to offensive tasks for the defense of the Swiss army, because this is the policy of the Swiss government. The main task here is to support the ground forces. The F/A-18 Hornet is also an excellent close air support fighter, but the F-5 Tiger is more suitable for the close air support role. The F/A-18 was originally designed as a multi-role fighter which can be used as a fighter-bomber. The F/A-18 is the only aircraft within the Swiss Air Force which is able to execute both the air defense role and the air to ground role. Fliegerstaffel 11 is a full member of the NATO Tiger Association since 2004. Despite the fact Switzerland is not a NATO member state, the unit was admitted to this organization, because Switzerland is a reliable ally of the NATO countries. The badge of Fliegerstaffel 11 consists of a tiger's head in a black circle. The full membership of the NATO Tiger Association of Fliegerstaffel 11 was awarded to the unit during the Tiger Meet in 2004 at the German airbase Schleswig-Jagel. Membership of the Tiger Association offers pilots of Fliegerstaffel 11 many opportunities to train in an international context. The unit is in Switzerland by far the most experienced unit, because they participate in the Tiger meet every year. The unit has won the Silver Tiger Trophy at Gütersloh in Germany in 1982 and at Ladivisiau in France in 2008.

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