After years of trawling the web and looking at photos I finally made the pilgrimage to the Swiss Air Force live fire event held high above Brienz and Meiringen.

I only went up on one day, as it turned out this wasn’t the best idea. Having arrived in Meiringen on the Tuesday I made the ascent up to the range on the Wednesday morning. Most of the info I’d received told me to get to the Park and Ride as early as possible.

I had bought an open ticket allowing me to get transport up and down on all the days. In the pitch black I found my way to the bus, one piece of advice I’d received was to purchase a head torch. OK I may have looked like a fool but it really helps light your path.

The bus was packed and we slowly crawled up to Axalp village. From there I took the Chairlift up. In total silence and darkness we ascended into the mountains, with the Milky Way strung out high above, it was as if we were ascending into the stars. An utterly breathtaking moment that will live with me forever.

Once off the Chairlift, which was comical for all those viewing me falling off, came the climb. I’m not mountaineer, in fact I’m not the fittest of people but after a couple of hours I finally made it to the top. Carrying two large lenses and camera gear wasn’t my finest moment, so I’d advise to pack as wisely as possible. I only had one walking stick, two would have been better. So glad I took water as it helped during rests, and you will sweat, so a change of shirt also helps. Yes it was hell going up but once at the top, wow, it’s worth it!

Once at the top, you have a choice of where to go, there are three viewing positions. Naturally, this fool chose the one fathest away, so another climb was needed, though much gentler than the initial ascent. Picture below left shows the two farther positions with the tower in the far background of that photo, picture right shows the view from the far end. I managed to get into position by 9.00am, so a full three hours from the car park to the top.

Over the previous days the Swiss Air Force had carried out practice missions early, unfortunatley they didnt on the Wednesday, so there were precious few movements from 9.00am until the event officially started just after 2.00pm. One issue you will find is that the sun is directly against you in the afternoon, so photography from the “Official” side is challenging.

First action came from the F/A18 hornets entering the Valley with flares popping, needless to say I wasnt ready for them but did manage to capture some of the action, they were very quick! Then followed many high speed passes and live firing against to mountainside.

Following the Hornets, the rotary wing got into the action with a display from the Super Puma, flares popping on entrance

The main reason I had to get to Axalp in 2018 was due to the fact it would be the last time the F5’s would take part in the live firing, yet they will still be seen flying in formation as Patroille Suisse. Again, the entrance was spectacular and I completely missed it on camera, oh well!

Spectators were then treated to a solo PC-21 display, a role demonstration of Swiss Air Policing and the event finished with a full Patroille Suisse display.

So at just about 4.00pm the event finished and the mad rush down the hill started, knowing what I know now I would have avoided getting the chairlift down, it took over an hour to queue and then the huge queue for buses in the Axalp village meant that I didnt get off the mountain untill well gone 8pm, getting back to the car in the pitch black again. Next time, I will go straight down the valley and follow the masses who descended that way.

I swore I wouldnt do it again, but the bug has me now. So next year, 2020, I’m planning to go back. Would I go to the “Naughty Fields” opposite, well I’d love to but the climbs there are not for the fainthearted and with no medical cover I am too much of a coward to risk it. What I will try and do is go up on the practice days, just to try and get some better light and to try and get better chances of capturing those Hornets enter the Valley en masse!

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