Bye Bye Airbase Turtmann


It must have been an amazing sight for the unprepared tourists, on their way through the Rhone valley from Montreux to Simplon. Entering the village of Turtmann, a traffic light would show red. Expecting another car to cross the road, the motorist had to give way to a jet fighter making it's way across the street. Such a thing is, or rather was, quite usual for the inhabitants of the Swiss village of Turtmann, in the canton of Vallis.

The peacetime Swiss Air Force  only has a limited number of airbases for fast jet operations. In wartime, and particularly during the years of the Cold War, a large number of reserve bases would have been activated to disperse the fighters throughout the country. Personnell-wise, the Swiss Armed Forces have always heavily depended on reservists. This includes fighter pilots. These reservists have to train regularly. This is done during a so-called WK or Wiederholungskurs (Rehearsel Course).  During such a Rehearsal Course, some of the reserve airfields, reserve squadrons and reserve personell would be activated for a two-week period. The withdrawal of the Hawker Hunter during the early nineties removed the need for many of the reserve airfields, however. 

The last of the reserve fast jet bases to be activated during these twice annual exercises was Turtmann. This base, only active during two fourteen day periods each year,  played host to it's usual visiting squadrons, Fliegerstaffel 1 and Fliegerstaffel 6. Flst 1 based at Payerne is a professional unit, whereas Flst 6 is made up of reservists. Apart from the pilots, reservist groundcrew attached to Flugplatz Abteilung 3 (Airfield Section 3) were trained in their respective trades. The way Air Base Turtmann has been constructed makes it peculiar compared to NATO air bases. However, for the Swiss it is not unusual. The east-west runway runs along the Rhone river. To it's south there is the village of Turtmann. To the south of the village, aircraft shelters have been carved out in the southern valley wall. These are the so called Kavernen (caverns). In order to reach the runway from the caverns and vice versa the aircraft have to taxi right through the village.

Below you will find some pictures taken during the last exercise at a unique airfield which at the time of writing is no longer an air base anymore, for Turtmann officially closed for flying on Friday 14 March 2003. Apart from this, Fliegerstaffel 1 as well as Flugplatzabteilung 3 will disband.

The pictures below were all made between 10 and 12 March 2003.


All pictures (c) Hans Rolink.

With it's nosewheel set in the extended position, F-5E J-3077 prepares for take-off from Air Base Turtmann. Like most aircraft taking part in the exercise, the jet carries a centerline tank and a pair of Sidewinder training rounds. The Schweizer Luftwaffe uses the type for air defence duties. Note that the snow has not completely disappeared yet. 

The location of Turtmann with the close proximity of the valley wall makes for some spectecular take-off shots. Here, J-3002, wearing Fliegerstaffel 8's swordfish badge, takes off in company with J-3045. F-5E's quickly withdraw their main undercarriage but the nosewheel stays extended rather longer. J-3095 is framed by the snow covered Alps during it's take off. Sometimes, F-5's would even buzz the chalets on the slope.

F-5E J-3038 on finals for Turtmann. Note the dayglo orange belly tank, which increases visibility for certain intererception exercises. The badge on the nose of the aircraft is from Fliegerstaffel 1. This picture could be taken from the verge of the main road just outside of Turtmann village. Note that there was no barrier at all between the photographer and the runway. 

F-5E J-3014 returns from a mission. Unlike some aircraft, it has not been fitted with an AIM-9 training round. Note the Fliegerstaffel 11 badge on the nose of this aircraft. Swiss F-5's often carry squadron badges, but beware of  identifying the operating unit through the badge. It is not uncommon for F-5's to carry badges from different squadrons on either side of the nose. Even if there is only one badge displayed, it might be flown by another squadron. Of course, Flst 11 has been associated with the F/A-18 Hornet since 1999.

Another shot of an F-5E returning, in this case J-3057. Some aircraft, like this one, carried a rather elaborate badge on the nose. It read Flugplatz Abteilung 3 and Fliegerkompagnie 8 (Air Base Section 3 and Aviation Company 8). Right over the nose of J-3057 one can see Turtmann's runway. Note the close proximity to the valley wall. Swiss pilots are required to fly very precise approaches.

J-3058, another of the F-5's wearing a Flst 8 badge returns. In between the F-5's missions, the buildings on the other side of the runway could be reached by crossing the runway. When an aircraft was about to take off or land, sirens would be sounded to warn other traffic to leave the runway!

Right of way for F-5E J-3037. The badge on the nose of this aircraft belongs to Fliegerstaffel 13. Note the truck in the background waiting for the traffic light to show green again. The F-5 would continue it's way towards the caverns in the southern valley wall. In order to make sure no traffic accidents would take place during such road crossings, the Swiss had laid spikes on the road which would puncture the tyres of any car not halting for the traffic light.

The text behind the cockpit of J-3093 says it all. Bye Bye Air Base Turtmann, FlKp8, Freitag 14.03.2003. Friday 14 March 2003 was the official closing date for Air Base Turtmann. The end of an era...

This picture was taken at the eastern end of the runway, just south of the main road. J-3093 was about to cross the main road at another set of temporary traffic lights on it's way to get airborne.