The Swiss Air Force on Wednesday 28 September endured it third crash in three months, as a AS532 Super Puma crashed in the Gotthard area. Images on social media show a burning helicopter. Two fatalities were confirmed by the Swiss Ministry of Defense several hours after the accident. The crash follows that of an F-5 Tiger in June and an F-18 Hornet in August.
The cause of today’s crash is not yet clear, but it took place in a relatively flat area in the otherwise mountainous Gotthard region in Switzerland. The Swiss have been operating Puma and Super Puma helicopters for decades.
The crash of an F-5 Tiger on 9 June was the result of an collision with another F-5 of the Patrouille Suisse display team during an airshow over Leeuwarden in the Netherlands. The pilot ejected while his jet came down in a small lake.
The crash of an F-18 Hornet took place near Meiringen air base in central Switzerland. The pilot was unfortunately killed as his jet impacted the side of a mountain. The accident is still being investigated, but preliminary results say the aircraft was flying lower than was required.
It seems very unlikely the recent crashes are in anyway connected. Nevertheless, re-checking safety procedures may be a wise thing to do for the Swiss. The US Navy recently did a similar thing after a quick string of crashes with military aircraft.
UPDATED | Rescue workers on Tuesday found the wreckage of a Swiss Air Force Boeing F-18 Hornet that went missing on Monday 29 August. The single seat aircraft disappeared near Susten in the southern part of the Alpine country. The pilot is still missing.
Update Wednesday 31 August | Authorities confirmed the pilot was killed in the crash.
The aircraft had taken off from Meiringen airbase in the company of another Hornet shortly before it went missing. Weather was challenging at that time, with lots of clouds surrounding the mountains of central Switzerland. Bad weather also hampered search efforts on Monday.
The Swiss Air Force lost no less than three two seat F-18D jets before, against no single seaters until now. A total of 25 single seat and five double seat jets remain in the fleet, according to statements made after the jet went missing on Monday.
Pilatus Aircraft has successfully tested the first of 49 PC-21 trainer aircraft destined for the Australian Defence Force, the company said on Thursday 21 July. The initial production test flight over the Pilatus factory in Stans, Switzerland, came only seven months after contract signature.
Under a contract signed in December 2015 aimed at harmonising Australian Defence Force flight training across all three services – Army, Navy and Air Force – Pilatus will deliver a total of 49 PC-21 which will operate from four Royal Australian Air Force bases. Pilatus will also supply significant elements of ground based training equipment and the in-service support capability.
This first PC-21 will be handed over to the Royal Australian Air Force at East Sale in June 2017 after completion of testing and verification work in both Switzerland and Australia.
The PC-21 aircraft will replace both the aging PC-9 fleet, which has been in service since 1988, and also the CT-4 aircraft currently used for basic training. The PC-9 is due to be withdrawn in 2019 after thirty years of service and more than 500,000 flying hours.
The PC-21s for Australia will form the backbone of future pilot training for the Australian Defence Force for the next 25 years.
As if last week’s crash of a Blue Angel and Thunderbird on the same day wasn’t strange enough, a Patrouille Suisse F-5 Tiger and Russian Knights Su-27 Flanker crashed within hours of each other on Thursday 9 June. The Swiss pilot ejected after an apparent mid air collision over Leeuwarden airbase in the Netherlands, while the Russian pilot died in a crash near Moscow.
The Swiss F-5s collided while practicing their display routine prior to the Leeuwarden airshow on Friday. One aircraft came down near the town of Bitgum, north west of the airbase. Rescue service confirmed the pilot ejected. An Air Medical Services helicopter was dispatched to the crash site.
The second F-5 involved in the incident landed safely after half an hour or so, minus half of its right hand horizontal stabilizer. The trailing edge of the right wing also showed some damage from the collision.
Swizterland is restarting its quest for a new fighter jet for its air force after a botched attempt two years ago to purchase 22 Saab Gripens. New aircraft are still needed to replace ageing F-5 Tigers, defense minister Guy Parmelin told Swiss government on Wednesday 24 February.
This year the Swiss start setting up requirements for the new fighter plus a set of plans for the selection process and eventual purchase. The selection is set to last until 2020, with a formal decision and order no later than 2022. Deliveries should start by 2025, according to Parmelin.
‘No’ to Gripen E
Prior to 2011, the Saab Gripen E, Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon were evaluated in Switzerland. Although not showing itself as the best option in all aspects plus allegations of bribery, the Gripen came out on top. The Swiss government decided to buy 22 Gripens, but opponents managed to get enough support for a referendum in which voters eventually said ‘no’ to Gripens.
The F-5 Tiger needs replacement, especially since cracks grounded parts of the fleet recently. As of now, 30 out of 54 Tigers are operational. The type was set for retirement this year but may very well fly on for some time.
In 2025, the 31 current F-18 Hornets reach the end of their service life. Extending their service for five years will cost tax payers half a billion Swiss francs (410 million EUR).