100 Years Swiss Air Force Stamps – By Swiss Post
Swiss Post issued a set of two stamps celebrating 100 years of the Swiss Air Force.
Although balloons sporting the Swiss national colors took to the skies in the early part of the 20th century, the first Swiss air squadron was not assembled until the start of World War One. However, its commander, cavalry instructor Theodore Real, had scarcely any resources at his disposal, and had to mobilize private aircraft owners, most of them from western Switzerland, who brought their own mechanics with them. Three foreign aircraft were also requisitioned. From August 1914, the squadron was stationed in the balloon hangar on the “Beundenfeld” in Berne. However, the site was ill suited to training the pilots, so, at the end of 1914, the squadron had to relocate to Dubendorf near Zurich. The pilots were seldom deployed during the war.
It wasn’t until the interwar period that the air force gained in importance, and, in addition to Dubendorf, other military airbases were established in Thun, Lausanne and Payerne. The first fleet of aircraft ordered by official quarters were Hafeli DH-3s.
In 1936, in the face of the increasingly critical international situation, the Swiss government decided to form an anti-aircraft defence. The airmen displayed tremendous resistance in defending neutrality in Swiss airspace until, in June 1940, three of them lost their lives above the Jura mountains. General Guisan then imposed a ban on Swiss interventions with fighter planes, which remained in force until October 1943. As part of the “reduit” strategy, the air squadron then drew back to the Swiss mountains, where numerous runways were built. It did not resume active service until 1944, by which time thousands of fighter bombers were stationed throughout Europe. The air squadron’s task was to intercept aircraft in Swiss air space and force them to land. It was a risky undertaking, as be- came all too apparent in 1944 when a Swiss aircraft was shot down by a US plane. Moreover, despite these interventions, bombs were dropped on a number of Swiss towns and cities, including Schaffhausen.
During the Cold War, Switzerland procured Vampire jet planes. Radar early warning and navigation systems rapidly evolved into a core element of the air force. In 1952, three Hiller UH-12B helicopters were purchased for air transport. These legendary behemoths were based at mountain airbases such as Meiringen, Turtmann and Raron.
In the 1950s an attempt was also made to develop Switzerland’s own fighter jets, but these ambitions had to be laid to rest after the failure of the P-16 and N-20 projects. Instead, British Hunter aircraft were purchased. The acquisition of fighter air- craft always triggers fierce debate, as demonstrated by the popular initiative which, in 1993, sought to prevent the acquisition of the F/A-18 and the dispute surrounding the procurement of the Mi- rage fighter jet in the early 1960s, which massively exceeded the available budget. In the end, just over half the planned number of aircraft were ordered. Fearing the spread of communism to the West, on the orders of the federal government, the terrestrial anti-aircraft defence purchased the “Bloodhound” guided missile system, which could be deployed swiftly and combat airborne targets at great heights. Sections of motorway have also been used as emergency runways since the early 1970s.
Despite international tensions, in 1964, on the occasion of the National Exhibition and the 50th anniversary of the Swiss Air Force, the Patrouille Suisse was founded which, until 1978, operated exclusively in Switzerland. Eleven years later, another formation was created, the PC-7 TEAM. The fall of the Berlin Wall also entailed strategic adjustments for the Swiss Air Force. Deployments became more diverse and were extended to air policing and border surveillance tasks. The F/A-18 is in Three generations of helicopter side by side in Axalp – symbolic of the history of helicopters in the Swiss Air Force.
Daily use as the “air police” and provides airborne support for the security forces at special events such as the G8 summit or the WEF. In April 1999, the Air Force deployed Super Pumas for the first time, to provide humanitarian aid in Albania. Similar missions have since been flown in Indonesia, Bosnia and Kosovo.