10 days of creativity and innovation on the Swiss Air scene
10 days long Swiss Air Force international airshow is now over at Payerne Air Base. No less than 400.000 people having been visiting this unique event that to all those who attended, will long live in memories.
Air14 ended Sunday September 7th at Payerne air base in Switzerland. It is true to say that from the first day of the event - August 29th - to the last - September 7th - most pole felt they were in an air event like no others ever. Never in the history of post WWII military events, was an airshow so long. It meant ten days of aerial activities of all sorts, including military aerobatic teams, all Breitling items including Jetman, Red Bull warbirds, parachutists, and of course, solo jet fighter displays from several european air forces. The first three days at Payerne, saw just half of Air14 foreign participants flying, all of those departing the airfield on Monday September 1st. Then from Monday to Wednesday, Swiss Air Force rehearsed its own items, and from Thursday September 4th, arrivals from the other « half » foreign teams came in and rehearsed until Friday. Saturday and Sunday September 6th and 7th saw these latest foreign teams taking part to the flying display. Swiss Air Force special displays - including some anniversary on off teams - were scattered throughout all flying days. For so many years, I have been stating that airshows would have soon to be very much innovative to attract public and as many sponsors as necessary to make them big events. Airshows from the Cold War with an F-16 and a foreign team - as sole foreign participation - are deemed dead. Generally speaking, it happens that some new airshows in the heart of Europe and in Central Europe have grown in the last ten years, killing the british events. But in fact, Payerne was another kind of events. So what made Air14 so different and exciting ? My answer is creativity. Having been launched for more than three years before the date, this event was perfectly managed as a real « business » company able to attract one sponsor for each individual activity or item appearing in the event. Main themes in the show were celebrations of 100 years of the Swiss Air Forces, 50 years of Patrouille Suisse, and 25 years of PC-7 TEAM. Specific flying acts mixing aircraft and helicopters, modern and historic altogether, were organized by Air14 team to celebrate all these anniversaries in a clever way.
There were so many of these special acts that I may forget to list all of them : F/A-18 flying closely along a Puma, and also an F/A-18 flying with a P-51 D, or with a Morane D-3801 (a Swiss Morane MS-406) depending on which day it was. These vintage warbirds were painted with original swiss colors, and the Hornet wings were painted with the same 1930s vintage pattern. Then let’s mention a daily perfect formation including a Vampire, a Hunter, an F-5 B, and last Mirage III DS in the world. We could witness a skilled Swiss A-330 aircrew performing a kind of a display team altogether with all six Patrouille Suisse F-5 A/B Tigers on both Saturdays. This display lasted long enough to feature several different formations . And then there was Patrouille Suisse flying with a Hunter on last Saturday, and the same team flying the Breitling Super Constellation on the last Sunday. PC-7 TEAM did not show the less, as it flew once with a Puma. But best of the best, was one that will last in memories until next show in 2024 (?) : Patrouille Suisse flew along with the PC-7 TEAM. Both teams crossed each other several times. The nine Pilatus PC-7s performed their famous tunnel and they were crossed by the six F-5s. Surely none of these anniversary displays will ever be flown again in other airshows in Switzerland. This allows me to think that this airshow was absolutely delirious. These anniversary swiss acts were absolutely no sedate straight flypasts. They were full teams of different players performing altogether and circling in front of the audience. Also flying together, a Bücker Jungman, a Pilatus P-3 and a P-2, representing history of Swiss aviation excellence at producing turboprop aircraft that have been used to teach generation of excellent pilots for the Air Force.
No need to repeat that Swiss Air Force pilots are among he best ones in the world. It all started in 1914, and that was Air14 was all about. In August 1914, Theodore Real, a Captain in Cavalry, saw the need to protect the air space above neutral Switzerland. It was 100 years ago. He managed to gather nine pilots who joined with their personal machines and technicians at a balloon station at Bern-Beundenfeld. Some of them were already popular, having performed « looping the loops » in the first airshows in Switzerland and France with Blériot airplanes. A tradition of big air events had just started in « La Broye », Geneva, Dubendorf to name a few places west of Swizerland. While it is commemorating a 100 years of flight with military wings, Air14 is making alive this tradition of airshows near Lake of Neuchâtel. Strangely these historical facts are now forgotten in the rest of Europe. Interestingly, Thoune and Lausanne had opened as first military air bases in 1919, and then Payerne was born as an operational air base in 1921. Unknown to most european people, harsh dogfights took place between swiss and german fighter aircraft in the beginning of WWII. During the last display weekend, B-17 Sally B was escorted back to the ground by a scrambled Morane D-3801, depicting the times when Flying Fortresses were fired upon the swiss, as they crossed the frontier into neutral Switzerland. During the Cold War, the « Troupes d’Aviation Suisses » were the only air forces jets in the world being based in caverns, being operational to take off and land on some of the country’s motorways, in case the « War Pact » bombers had wrecked the airfields … Military forces ned more and more skilled pilots able to fly from these tiny airfields, and into the Alpes Valleys, being able to shoot with guns at troops in the mountains. For these reasons Swiss Forces always had one of the world’s best training process. Nowadays young people are recruited with SPHAIR system, a process able to identify future talented pilots among students, with a basic flying school system in the country.
So I joined the display (french) speaker's point of view, when he said we were attending a kind of aviation « Woodstock ». The air base seemed to be occupied for long days by thousands of people waiting for noisy aircraft flying one after another, all very happy people smiling all time long, thousands of kids with ear protections, thousands of sandwiches, beers and picnics everywhere on the fields long after the show end at 5-30 PM. All these was rigged with all sorts of engine noises, music and interviews on big screens, mixing commentaries in french, german, italian and english. Everyone was introduced with the official rock song performed for Air14 by a skilled singer - or crooner - who happens to be an F-18 pilot ! And what could have been better than a Breitling Super Constellation, then rare Greek « Zeus » F-16 reverberating like a heavy two engine jet, and later on, a shining P-38 J flying with a B-25. Principle of the flying program was to include all legends from aviation history. Unfortunately, the Russkie Vityazi R(ussian Knights) were not attending, the swiss government having decided to reject them, some weeks after they had invited them… So it gave the show no Flanker at all, but luckily most other « flying legends » were there : a Sukhoi Su-22 pair and MiG-29 solo from Poland, F-16s from Netherlands, Belgium, and Greece, Rafale from the french Air Force sporting a delirious Tiger scheme, two brilliant and colorful Typhoons from the RAF individually flying as a solo ship display, Saab Jas-39 Gripen form Sweden, and of course an astonishing F/A-18 display by the Swiss Air Force. Finally the Slovak Air Force sent a MiG-29 UB only, and it was disappointing that the display MiG-29 aircraft did not make it to Payerne for unknown reasons. Most Air Forces used some flares on displays, even the Czech Mil Mi-24, and the Agusta A-109. Latest proves how a little belgian helicopter display which looked a little sedate at other shows before, became a star at Payerne just because it's been adding flares. As noisy as the Su-22 pair, was another jets duo : French Air Force Delta Ramex display team flying two Mirage 2000s. Even in France, Ramex rarely fly in airshows, and obviously they were a favourite at Payerne.
Last but not least, let me introduce the Man who is behind all Air14 : Colonel EMG Ian Logan. 10 years ago Ian was the man who built Air04. As that airshow captured everyone’s imagination for long, Ian started to work on a new show more than three years ago. With thousands of volunteers, Ian held a perfect logistics system in that airshow process, so that every man in Air14’s loop would do the right thing at the right time (swiss time means precise moment to act for every one). So I congratulate Ian Logan for having set up the best airshows I have ever attended in Europe. During Air14, a US Intern. Council of Airshows, representative came to give the trophy of « best organized airshow » in the world this year. I have doubts this cup ever came to Europe before. I also congratulate all Swiss Forces, as military means and people from all swiss territory were involved, not only Payerne’s.
Last Sunday, people leaved the airfield with one question somewhere in mind. Do we really have to wait until 2114 to have such a « 100 years » airshow again ? Wisely, I guess AIr24 may be the idea already in some of the team’s minds, but who knows ? I also understand it was a difficult operation to mount a 10 days long airshow. Personally I think it would be wise to suggest a four days (only) very big show for Payerne’s 100th anniversary (in 2021) (?), allowing time to build it, as there is the birthplace of a very much fair idea of what flight always has been in this scenic area between Jura and the Alps.