AXALP tour: Day 1 "The Climb"
The alarm went off at 5am and we layered up to head to the AXALP range. Stepping outside into the darkness we loaded the car and headed for the car park at the end of the Breinzersee Lake to catch the bus up to the village of AXALP. After scanning our tickets we grabbed some earplugs and free sweets and climbed aboard one of the bus' laid on to transport the 1000's of people who would be attending the event.
As we got closer to the village the sun started to rise and it began to show off the stunning views we could expect to be surrounded by for the rest of the day. Once off the bus we walked towards the next stage of the climb, the chair lift. This is an odd sensation going on a chair lift without wearing full snowboard attire but it allowed amazing panoramic views down towards the Brienzersee Lake with its near turquoise water.
After stepping off the chair lift it was time to get the walking poles out and readying for the climb to the first of the official points. From the chair lift you can see where you have to climb to and it didn't look as bad as i had first thought it would be. The sun was now starting to feel warm and i was slightly regretting having a long sleeved thermal top on. We got to the bottom of the final climb up and now saw how steep it really was. As we climbed we were surprised by the sudden flypast of four F/A/18 Hornets which arrived to complete their morning practice before the full demonstration. I assumed that they would just be flying their attack approaches and not using their guns.....how wrong i was as the first aircraft screamed overhead and i heard the gunfire and barrel of the gun spin. WOW!!! What a noise!! and this was the practice.
Once over the footbridge we were at the first viewpoint where we would be based for this day. and what a view we had up and down the valley. After changing to a dry t-shirt there was no time to relax as the first pair of F-5E rolled out onto the target at the end of the valley to the east. Again this was an amazing sight to see two pairs of F-5Es appearing over the mountaintops, diving down into the valleys and then climbing back up to roll out onto one of the three targets.
The F-5s completed a final flypast and silence came over the valley. This didn't last long as the Super Puma shuttle service from Meiringen air base soon started bringing up VIPs and media to the spot by the control tower. They used very different approaches allowing the chance to capture some great shots with a stunning mountain backdrop.
With so many people attending the event the Swiss Air Force fly up amenities including multiple port-a-loos and gazebos so that people could purchase cold drinks and hot food. The port-a-loos have to have the best view of any i have used.
The Super Pumas finally headed back down to Meiringen and an EC635 started its safety check flights along the valley and up and over the mountains opposite. The commentator came over the speaker system explaining the history of the range and the running order of the demonstration. Then the count down began and to the start at 14:00
Just before 14:00 I looked to the east and spotted the first pair of F/A-18 Hornets over the top of the mountains. They began to descend down the valley and were at least 1000ft below our position when they started to climb back up. They passed within 200ft the viewing point on full afterburner and releasing flares as they accelerated by and banked around the control tower. What an opening to a show! As soon as they had passed then the second pair were rolling out and lining up with the target at the end of the valley. The action was continuous with the four aircraft turning and burning after hitting targets then pulling up hard to climb over the mountains before turning inverted and diving down into the valleys.
Their final pass was a pair again passing at high speed before pulling straight up releasing single flares climbing to 15,000ft before levelling off. And that's just the start of the demo.
The F-5Es returned as the Hornets disappeared into the blue and completed the same manoeuvres as earlier on in the morning. It was great to see these nimble fighters banking hard before climbing up the steep valleys sides and rolling over the mountain tops. These aircraft are coming to the end of their days with the Swiss Air Force and this could be their final year at AXALP.
The live fire demonstration was completed and now it was time for the individual aircraft displays, including PC-21, Super Puma and F/A-18. Along with these displays there were demos of fire fighting, Search and Rescue and para-drops with the SAR EC635 landing within 10m of where we were stood.
Finally the Patrouille Suisse closed the show with their brightly coloured red and white F-5s showing up against the mountain backdrop. I've seen many display teams over the years but never had the opportunity to look down on the aircraft during their display.
After they had completed their display it was time to head back down the mountain to the car with a reverse to the climb up to the range.
What can i say about AXALP? Unique, unforgettable, amazing and I couldn't wait to do it all again the next day but slightly more relaxed.