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CAP Operations During the WEF; Meiringen, January 21 & 22, 2015

The Swiss Air Force, part 3; Text and Photograph's by Alex van Noye

During daytime four fighter planes from Meiringen are continuously in the air for a CAP mission during the WEF. These planes usually consist of two F/A-18C Hornets and two F-5E Tigers which are all armed with live weapons. Only the F/A-18's will fly such WEF missions in the darkness during the evening sorties.

At the beginning of the day usually two F/A-18s which will operate from the QRA shelters at the head of the runway at Meiringen will be scrambled. Both aircraft are scrambled and will take off as soon as possible for their WEF mission. In addition to the operational aspect other aspects are also simulated; in this way pilots of the air force are always prepared. The start-up and taxiing out of the aircraft will take place in a period of maximum ten minutes. The F/A-18s which fly CAP missions armed with live weapons under the wings. These weapons consist of two AIM-120 AMRAAM radar-guided medium-range missiles at the intake suspension points and two AIM-9 Sidewinder heat-guided short-range missiles on the wingtips. Under the fuselage of the Hornets is a large fuel tank positioned with the text STBY 121.50. This text is the frequency at which the air traffic controls and the Swiss emergency service is accessible to the aircraft being intercepted. This frequency is monitored in Switzerland 24 hours a day to send any emergency call to the emergency services. The QRA F/A-18s leave in the dark in the morning and will be followed soon by two F-5E Tigers. The two Tigers are also armed with live weapons. But the Tigers are lighter armed than the Hornets because they are smaller aircraft. The F-5s during the WEF missions are armed with two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles on the wingtips. The Tigers in Switzerland are flown by militia fighter pilots who fly only a few weeks a year. The rest of the year, these pilots often are employed by large civilian airlines.

All fighters which are taking off at Meiringen leave with full afterburner, because the runway at this airfield is only 2250 meters long. There are from the first QRA mission in the morning all day long continuous four fighter planes in the air. Groups of two Hornets and two Tigers depart every time for a WEF mission. Only after the departure of the next wave, the first aircraft of the previous wave will return to Meiringen. This pattern repeats itself every hour, because an average WEF mission takes about one

hour. The F/A-18s fly from the QRA shelters only during the QRA scramble in the morning. The rest of the day, the Tigers will make use of these shelters. The F/A-18s are flying all day from the cavern in the caves on the south side of the airbase Meiringen. During startup of the aircraft sounds therefore the characteristic sound of a starting F/A-18 from the air ducts in the mountains. The size and layout of the caverns at Meiringen is a military secret. Switzerland generally has an open air base policy, which means that they have no secrets on the base. However, the caverns that are an important link in the defense of the airbase and the protection of the air base are a secret. The checking off of the Hornets which are ready for departure happened on the platform which is at the entrance to the cavern. After checking off, the aircraft taxi directly to the runway where they cross a public road. The taxiway runs directly from the platform next to the cavern to the runway.

The Tigers which are flying from Meiringen are parked outside on the platform next to the control tower. The aircraft are arranged on a flight line and will fly on a rotational basis various WEF missions. Besides the WEF the Tigers fly in this period the Wiederholungskurs (refresher course) (WK). During the WK, the pilots are trained in the execution of the standard procedures and they are step by step again qualified for the F-5 Tiger. The militia pilots fly only eight weeks a year with the Tiger from Meiringen. The rest of the year, only F/A-18 Hornets fly at this airport and are flown by professional pilots. During the night the Tigers are partly stored in the cavern and in the hangars which are located next to the control tower. These hangars are mostly used for the maintenance of the F-5 Tiger at Meiringen. During the night the live weapons are removed from the aircraft and are stored in a special ammunition bunker. Shortly after each departure of the Hornets also two Tigers will depart for a WEF mission. The Tigers which return after a mission will use their standard landing parachute. The road which is crossing the runway at Meiringen will be closed by a barrier when aircraft are taking off or landing. The control tower of Meiringen has an orange flashing light which will blink when the barriers goes down. At the end of the runway to the west of the airfield is also a road over the airbase. The gates of this road remain closed during the entire flight time, because they have no insight into this place from the tower. Only at the end of the flying day this road opens again.

At five o'clock in the afternoon the last F-5s of the day will land. The F-5 is with its small radar incapable to safely fly in the dark in the mountainous area. Also, the militia pilots with only a few weeks of training, are not enough trained on the F-5 to operate safely in the dark. Therefore, after sunset, the night missions are only flown by the F/A-18s. During the evening two F/A-18s leave per hour. The night patrols will be flown until 11 o'clock in the evening. After this time there are no longer active flights at Meiringen during the WEF. On the ground, however, are two Hornets non-stop ready to respond to a QRA call. The F/A-18 is an aircraft which is able to perform in all weather conditions. Also night operations in a mountainous area are not a problem for the Hornet. The pilots of the F/A-18 are equipped with night vision equipment allowing it to fly in the dark becomes a lot easier. The F/A-18 has for the visibility on the ground not only the nose wheel lighting as a tool. Alongside this strong light, the F/A-18 has at various locations on the fuselage, tail and wings reflective strips. These strips can also be active illuminated in the dark; the strips then colors in turquoise light. This type of lighting is a system designed for the US Navy for the visibility of aircraft on aircraft carriers. These strips can be activated in a formation flight, because the light is not intense. The Hornets fly in pairs during the missions making this system a good safety tool. The system is an ideal tool for the Hornet pilots.

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