Post World War Two the Swiss Air Force operated an ageing fleet of piston engine fighters (Messerschmitt Bf 109E/G and Morane-Saulnier D-3801) and desperately needed more capable aircraft in numbers. An order had been placed for de Havilland DH.100 Vampire jet fighters but they would not enter operational service until 1949. A stop-gap fighter was needed to replace the obsolete fighter aircraft.
The USAAF had plenty of surplus 8th and 9th Army Air Force long-range North American P-51D Mustang fighters sitting around in Europe (many were sitting on airfields in nearby southern Germany) that could be purchased relatively cheaply and the Mustang fitted the bill perfectly. A Swiss delegation was sent to Germany to inspect the aircraft, a contract was signed in December 1947 and 130 were purchased. The Mustangs are said to have been purchased for $4,000 USD each – oh to be able to buy one for that amount today!
100 were for operational use (delivered by USAAF pilots between February and August 1948) and 30 were for use as spares (these were made flyable by Swiss ground crews and ferry flights were conducted by Swiss pilots between October and December 1948). 4 of the P-51D’s had been modified infield by the USAAF to be two-seat aircraft generally for use as a VIP taxi or squadron hack aircraft rather than as a trainer (they removed the fuselage fuel tank and added a jump seat. Two of them had a special split canopy for the rear seat and the other two just had the normal canopy).
P-51D Mustangs were operated by the Swiss Air Force from 1948 to 1957 and flew with 5 squadrons. This was well into the jet age but apparently the Swiss pilots loved the Mustang and they flew first in the air defence role, then later as a fighter-bomber until airframe and engine fatigue meant it was no longer viable to continue to operate them (in addition to the 6 x 0.50 calibre machine guns they could carry underwing rockets such as the locally produced SURA 80mm rockets or bombs). The Mustang was the last piston engine frontline fighter of the Swiss Air Force.
The Mustangs went into storage and were officially retired on April 11th, 1958. Then in 1959/1960, with the upmost Swiss efficiency many of the Mustangs met a sad end in scrap yards and smelters, and apparently a number were used for target practice on Swiss Army firing ranges into the 1970’s! During the scrapping process many parts were sold off to civilian buyers and parts/instruments were repurposed by the Swiss military i.e. gun cameras were reused in the de Havilland Vampire and Venom jets that replaced the Mustang.
A Lone Survivor
A well restored P-51D in the markings of Fliegerstaffel 21 is on display as you enter the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf (Flieger Flab Museum). Despite 130 serving with the Swiss Air Force this example, J-2113 (USAAF Serial Number 44-73349) is the only surviving complete Swiss P-51D!
This last P-51D was delivered to the USAAF from the North American factory in Inglewood, California on March 15th, 1945 it served with the USAAF 9th AAF during the occupation of Germany during 1946 to 1947 with the 86th Fighter Bomber Group, 525th Fighter Bomber Squadron near Munich. The aircraft was struck off charge from the USAAF in October 1948 and delivered in November 1948 to Dübendorf where it sits today. It is painted in the livery of Fliegerstaffel 21 and has painted on its side their very unique squadron emblem of a pistol shooting cowboy beaver riding a shark!