The trip started at 04:20 on Sunday, what an unearthly hour, mind you not as unearthly as the others as they had driven down from Yorkshire! I was collected from home by Mike, Colin and John. We then set off for the relatively short journey to London Gatwick airport.
Our flight was with easyJet Switzerland on one of their Airbus A319-111 aircraft registration HB-JYN from London-Gatwick to Basel (BSL) or to give it its full name EuroAirport, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg. Departure was close to on-time as could be expected and was very pleasant indeed, in fact so comfortable I managed to sleep for thirty minutes. After arrival at 11:32 local time and through Immigration, Customs etc. we collected our Rental vehicle which was a very spacious VW Touran SUV, Mike being the duty driver.
The first stop was on the ‘Technical’ side of the airport where much to our delight was a brand new Boeing 777-3SB(ER) of the JASDF (Japanese Air Self Defence Force) sitting waiting to be fitted out prior to its delivery. This one was the second of the kind to be fitted out at Basel for the JASDF and will go on to wear the serial 80-1112. Research shows that this was delivered to Basel as N511BJ and this airframe will potentially serve with 701 Hikotai at their Chitose base.
From there our next destination was the Flugplatz at Bleienbach-Langenthal some 76 Km and an hour’s drive from Basel, where we were very hopeful of seeing a number of vintage aircraft amongst which would have been a couple of Bücker 131 Jungmann and 133 Jungmeister’s. We arrived to what seemed to be a deserted airfield and everywhere as far as we could see was closed up and or locked away. Undeterred we walked along the front of a row of hangars which were partially glazed and we could just see the tops of the aircraft, how frustrating was that! There was the Aero-club facility close by so we chanced it may be open; luck was with us, inside was a warm and friendly welcome and the chance of a hot coffee. There was one man there who asked where we were from, so we explained England and he immediately said “So you’re Spotters”. There was no denying this, after a brief chat he phoned a friend of his and within thirty minutes ‘Willy’ arrived with the keys to one of the hangars. It was a small Aladdin’s cave; contents included a Piper Super Cub mounted on floats, as well as a number of other vintage airframes. After talking to Willy for a few minutes another vehicle drew up in front of the now open hangar. This transpired to be the owner of a Bücker 131 Jungmann that was located in one of the hangars we had tried to see in on our walk earlier. This aircraft wore the Swiss Air Force (AF) serial of A-15 and also the Swiss civil registration of HB-UUE. Not only did we get to see it but also a Pilatus PC-6 that had been in the Austrian AF (3G-EM) and was now registered in the USA as N856FA. We actually helped the owner of the Bücker A-15 Mr Ulrich Wenger and his wife push the aircraft out of the hangar. Having spoken to Mr Wenger earlier I ascertained that he was actually the Father of a friend of mine I was to meet the following day; what a coincidence that was.
Alas time was against us so we had to say a fond farewell to all at Langenthal and start making our way towards our next destination of Studen.
Mike had arranged to visit a private collection owned by Colonel Sämi Heuer (Swiss Army Retd.) located within the Dynamic Vintage Military Museum at Studen-Petinesca, CH-2557.
We were greeted by Col. Roland Jungi (Swiss Army Retd.), he was the man with the keys to the collection which is always useful as there are no windows to see into the collection of Military aircraft, Tanks and assorted weaponry. It is not the sort of place to turn up unexpected as there is 24/7 CCTV and positively no windows to see inside.
Colonel Jungi opened the main door to the collection to reveal four aircraft, three fixed wing and one rotary. The Helicopter was an Alouette III serial V-259 in special Feld-Post (Field Post) markings, this aircraft had been flown to the site by Captain Sybille Frey and Colonel Sämi Heuer on June 30th 2009. The Helo was struck off Charge on December 31st 2010.
This is the Alouette III serial V-259 – Credit to John Newton
This is the forward end of the Alouette III showing the ‘Postage Stamp’ – Credit Colin Walford
In the same part of the building were a Mirage 3S serial J-2303, a DeHavilland Vampire FB.6 J-1135 and a Hawker Hunter F.58 J-4041. The only airframe that I hadn’t previously seen was the Hawker Hunter so that was a bonus for me.
Roland then took us through a labyrinth of passageways to reveal some of the Tanks and Armoured vehicles in the collection. All the ‘vehicles’ we saw were in working order and are driven around the quarry that Colonel Heuer owns adjacent to the Museum.
The crowning glory to this visit was when Roland took us to see the collection of vintage cars; Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar and MG all in a temperature controlled environment, what an experience and what a collection!
As with all good things they have to end, our thanks to Colonel Roland Jungi for the guided tour of the Museum. Special thanks go to Colonel Sämi Heuer for permitting the visit on a Sunday afternoon.
We then set off for our overnight accommodation, but first we stopped at one of the motorway service areas for something to eat and for me a welcome glass of water and a large mug of coffee.
Our accommodation was a Hostel called the Bell Park in a Luzern suburb called Kriens. Not one of the most inspiring places to stay from the outside and even less inspiring once we’d checked in and seen the room! The small (cramped) room had two sets of Bunk beds, and a single bed, there was an en-suite that was rather dated in design and condition. But hey ho it was cheap if not cheerful and it was only for one night.
The following morning we were up early, note I did not mention bright and set off for our first destination of the day Pilatus Werke AG at Stans-Buochs. Although it was still dark we were able to see into the re-work hangar (RAUG) and read off the serials of the aircraft within, then we moved across the runway to the PC-21 production hangar where we managed to read off 99.9% of the aircraft being built.
From there it was a quick drive over to Alpnach AB where we were able to see and read the serials of the resident EC635’s and the Puma / Cougars through the glass windows in the hangar doors.
Back then to Pilatus Werke AG for our pre-arranged tour of the facility; since I was last there a brand new building (Hangar 25) has been assembled alongside the existing one.
Initially we were taken into the conference room where we were given an oral and visual presentation on the Pilatus brand aircraft and the history of the company. I learnt from that presentation that Pilatus is the only Swiss aircraft manufacturer to still be independently owned.
Following the presentation we were split into two groups of about ten (10) people and then guided around all the production lines.
Unfortunately photography is not permitted for the PC-21’s that are being assembled, flight tested or ready / stored for delivery to their Military customers. However we were able to photograph the PC-24 that is destined to be for the Swiss Air Force. It was carrying it’s ‘test’ registration of HB-VPN which was covering its Military serial T-786, again and unfortunately it was raining / sleeting at the time of our walk-around which isn’t conducive to good photographs. One condition of the photography within Pilatus are that they are for “Private use only” so I am unable to share any pictures taken on the visit with you the reader of this article.
Our first port of call was the new Hangar 25 which is the main production area for the first ever Pilatus aircraft to be jet-engined, the PC-24. At the time of visiting there were over one hundred (100) orders or deliveries for this type of aircraft, as far as I am aware the Swiss AF are so far the only Military Customer.
We were then taken to the engineering facilities within the complex and given a briefing on all the milling machines etc.
At least four of the RAAF PC-21’s that were seen were painted in the RAAF Roulettes colour scheme, their Aerial Display Team. The RAAF Roulettes currently operate the Pilatus PC-9 which is due to be retired from RAAF service in 2019 and replaced with the PC-21. The Roulettes operate from RAAF Base East Sale, Victoria, Australia, some 220 Km to the east of Melbourne. Alas as the RAAF is a Military customer of Pilatus we were not permitted to photograph any of the aircraft.
Whilst walking between and in the various buildings on the Pilatus site we were able to see four PC-21’s destined for the French Air Force, at least six (6) PC-21’s for the RAAF, a PC-9M to be used by Pilatus and a number of PC-12’s as well as a number of PC-24’s.
Out of interest the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service have chosen the PC-24 to replace and supplement their current Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, one example seen in the final assembly hangar was nearing completion. The PC-24 as the PC-12 does have rough field capability, meaning that it can take-off and land from unprepared strips, a vital capability to the RFDS of Australia or other countries that may consider purchasing the aircraft in the future.
To quote the Pilatus website,
“The PC-24 is simply unique. It’s the only aircraft combining the versatility of a turboprop with the cabin size of a medium-light jet, and the performance of a light jet. It’s a plane that simply doesn’t fit into any of the existing business jet categories. That’s why we had to create a new one: the Super Versatile Jet (SVJ) category. The PC-24 has been engineered to be “off-road” compatible from the beginning. Its outstanding short-field performance – even on unpaved runways – opens up an incredible level of mobility”.
Our thanks to a friend of Mike’s, John’s and Colin’s at Pilatus, Stans, for facilitating the visit and his hospitality during and after the tour.
After lunch the four of us set off for our next visit, again privately arranged, this was at RUAG in Emmen.
As with any visit to Emmen it would be rude not to check the ‘boxes’ on the opposite side of the airfield to the RUAG facility. As we arrived one of the Pilot School PC-21’s serial A-102 took off, as we arrived at the 8 ‘boxes’ (roller doors at both ends of the hangar style building to allow the aircraft to taxi in and out thus negating the use of aircraft tugs. There are eight (8) boxes in this building the first five were empty and would have contained PC-21’s, the last three 6, 7, and 8 all had unidentified F-5E/F Tiger II’s on standby, these aircraft act as the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) airframes lest Swiss Sovereign airspace is intruded. There is a public viewing area in the proximity of the box building and this has a Hawker Hunter F.58 on display serial number J-4070. From the viewing area we made our way to the Security check-in control at the main gate to RUAG.
It was a great pleasure for me to meet my friend and Son of Ulrich (who we’d met at Langenthal the previous day), Marc Wenger. Our host and guide for the afternoon was Laurence Price, unfortunately Marc could not join us on the tour as he had a previous meeting engagement to attend.
We started our visit to RUAG by entering the area that manufactures all the winglets for the Airbus types of aircraft, RUAG also manufacture the basic airframes for the PC-21 of Pilatus and four aircraft were seen being assembled with parts for a fifth evident. In the same building aircraft fuel tanks are also manufactured primarily for the Swiss Air Force, also other Customers such as the French Air Force.
The next building was number 8, this contained three F-5E’s and one F-5F (two seat variety), and an AS.332M Super Puma being upgraded to Cougar specification. Two of the F-5E’s were in the Patrouille de Swiss colours.
From building 8 it was a short walk (in airfield terms – short!) to building 5 which is the F/A-18 Hornet deep maintenance and upgrade facility. There were a number of the F/A-18’s on maintenance and upgrade and to respect the wishes of RUAG and the Swiss AF the numbers are not recorded of those currently not in service.
On our way out of this building we were fortunate to pass another hangar, the doors of which had not long been opened to allow a Diamond DA-42 to be placed in there. Our attention was also caught to five more F-5E/F’s in that building of which four were positively identified.
Our thanks not only to our host and the other RUAG employees we met but to RUAG as an organisation for allowing us the privilege of visit the facility.
Time was getting on and we still had about a two hour journey ahead of us to reach our next destination of Altstätten where we had our overnight accommodation booked. Colin had come up trumps this time with a very pleasant place through Booking.com The owners occupied the upper floors of the premises while the down stairs had been converted to three double bedrooms and large modern and very clean bathroom / shower and a fully furnished kitchen / dining area.
However, our stay here initially was short lived as we had a dinner appointment in the town of Teufen some twenty (20) Km from our accommodation. We called at the home of Mr Albert Zeller who Mike had arranged to meet and put in him the car with us. We set off being guided by Mr Zeller to a rather pleasant Pizzeria in the centre of the town of Teufen.
Albert Zeller is the owner of a number of Bücker Jungmann and Jungmeister aircraft that he keeps in a facility close to his home. During the course of the evening we were joined by Albert’s wife Elizabeth and learnt that she had ‘secretly’ (without her husband’s knowledge) learnt to fly and on the day that she passed her Private Pilot’s Licence (PPL) her instructor also a friend of Albert’s suggested he attend the airfield with a bottle of Champagne. Only when Albert attended the airfield did he learn that his wife has successfully completed her PPL. I understand that Mr & Mrs Zeller both have their own Bücker Jungmann aircraft which they occasionally fly off somewhere together.
After a very pleasant evening in the company of the Zeller’s it was time to go back to Altstätten to our accommodation. After the previous evening’s accommodation it was so lovely to sleep in a clean and comfortable bed.
The next morning we woke refreshed and ready for the next day; first stop was at the facility where Albert Zeller keeps his collection of aircraft. Albert is having a Museum built on his land that will house the majority of the airframes that we saw including a mixture of the Bücker Jungmann & Jungmeister’s, as well as a Dewoitine D26 and a Klemm KI-35D. It is hoped that the Museum and the exhibits will be open sometime in late 2019 or early 2020 when the general public will be able to see this amazing collection.
Our sincere thanks go to Albert and Elizabeth Zeller, for their hospitality (for the Coffee) for showing us the aircraft collection and the guided tour of the new building for the Museum.
In these two pictures you can see the new building for the Albert Zeller Museum. The picture to the right is the main area where the aircraft will be displayed; the Klemm and the Dewoitine are already stored there.
These two pictures show the former Bücker-Werke-Kontrollturm, which roughly translated is the former Bücker Works Control Tower. Notice the similarity between the former ‘tower’ and the building to the right in the other photo shown below.
Both photos are published with the consent of and remain the intellectual property of Mr. Albert Zeller
Alas as with previous visits it was time to leave and make our way back towards Basel for the flight home that evening. However we were not done yet with ‘spotting’ so our next stop was at Bäretswill for two preserved airframes. They are an Alouette III serial V-245 and a Mirage IIIC serial J-2201
Speck was the next stop; we were looking for and successfully found a Bücker Jungmann wearing its former Swiss AF serial of A-22 amongst a wide selection of aircraft at this small airfield.
Heading closer to Basel our next stop was at the Swiss Air Force Museum at Dübendorf. On arrival we sought and luckily found a man we were looking for and we able to gain access to a hangar containing one of the Ju-Air Jü-52’s and photograph the airframe. That mission accomplished we then had to wait until 14:00 local time for Halle 8 at the Museum to be opened.
This particular Halle is only open for a limited time on certain day(s) of the week and we had engineered our visit to coincide with its opening time as we all needed to see something in that Halle. Again mission accomplished (I wanted to see the Alouette III – V-260 and the Hawker Hunter Mk.68 J-4042).
From the main Halle it is possible to see across the airfield to the Swiss AF side where there are a number of Puma/Cougar and EC635 helicopters operating in and out of the facility. To my surprise and I have to say delight I finished off seeing the Swiss Air Force EC635’s by seeing T-366.
Birrfeld was our next stop, a pleasant little airfield used for training ab initio pilots and the home of several flying clubs. A little bonus here in the shape and form of an Antonov An-2 YL-LEI (registered on the Lithuanian civil register) and we made another Bücker Jungmann HB-UTN / A-74 formerly with the Swiss AF.
The An-2 was formerly with the Lithuanian AF as “17” Yellow and carries the construction number 1G177-56. It is pictured here on what could only be described as a very cold and grey day at its new home of Birrfeld, Switzerland.
We had one last stop on our way back to Basel; Schupfart another small airfield and by the time we arrived there it was very dark! Guarding the “Gate” was a former Swiss AF DeHavilland Venom FB.50 serial J-1648. By a stroke of luck the Manager of the airfield was still on-site and was able (and willing) to show us the contents of the hangars which held a number of Piper Cub and Super Cub airframes.
That was almost the end of the day, we travelled back towards Basel airport being sure to check out the maintenance areas prior to returning the rental car and getting ourselves fed and watered ready for the return flight to London-Gatwick.
Our flight back to LGW was with easyJet (Europe) on an A320-214 OE-ICV departing BSL at 21.21 local and arriving back at Gatwick 21:26 local (Zulu) time. The A319-214 is capable of holding 186 passengers, however on this flight there were only 61 of us on board. It was a question of make yourself comfortable time.
Back at Gatwick we didn’t hang about and once cleared through Immigration / Customs etc. we were reunited with the car and heading back to North Hertfordshire and Yorkshire.
My personal thanks to, Mike, Colin and John for their company, planning and for permitting me to join them on this visit to Switzerland. I look forward to the future and the possibility of more trips with these three J