In early 1958 the Swiss government ordered 100 British designed Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 fighters for the Swiss Air Force. The first 12 were upgraded former RAF F.Mk.6 examples and the rest were new off the Hawker production line (the first was delivered in April 1958 and the last in April 1960).
Fine examples of single-seat Swiss Hunters can be seen today preserved in Hall 2 of the Swiss Air Force Centre (Flieger Flab Museum) at the Swiss Air Force base in Dübendorf near Zurich. If travelling in Switzerland, this museum is an absolute must visit place for an aviation enthusiast!
The Hunter purchase was somewhat of a nail in the coffin for Swiss fast jet aviation design as it was at the expense of the cancellation of the locally designed FFA P-16 ground attack fighter (featured in my previous post). Be that as it may, the Hunter went on to have a very long career with the Swiss Air Force first as an interceptor with a secondary ground attack role (from 1963 they were modified to carry the AIM-9 Sidewinder air to air missile to compliment the standard armament of 4 x 30mm ADEN cannons mounted under the nose of the aircraft), then in later years as a primary ground attack aircraft (with a top speed of just Mach 0.94 they were no longer suitable for the interceptor role against more modern jet fighters).
In 1974 the original batch were joined by 22 more refurbished Hunter F.Mk.58A fighters and 8 T.Mk.68 two seat trainers (there is also a Hunter T.Mk.68 two-seat trainer on display in Hall 8 of the Swiss Air Force Centre but I ran out of time and didn’t make it into that location before the museum closed!). In the late 1970’s the Hawker Hunter was replaced in the air to air role by the Northrop F-5E Tiger II which had a superior maximum speed of Mach 1.6 plus more modern avionics and an improved air to air radar. In preparation for their new primary ground attack role the Hunters were upgraded to F.Mk.58A standard to carry more advanced air to surface weapons including cluster bombs and the AGM-65 Maverick missile. These modern weapons accompanied with locally produced SURA 80mm rockets (up to 32 could be carried underwing) and the 4 x 30mm cannons gave the Hunter plenty of bite.
Naturally being a neutral country, they never saw combat service with the Swiss but provided the backbone of the air force for decades. Unfortunately by the early 1990’s wing cracks were a major problem with Swiss Hunters and as a result, in 1994 the last Hunters of the Alps were retired earlier than expected from the Swiss Air Force. This early retirement left a temporary gap in Swiss ground attack combat capability as the first of the planned replacement McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet multi-role fighters did not arrive until 1996 (26 single seat F/A-18C and 8 F/A-18D two-seat trainers were delivered between 1996 and 1999).
This was not to be the last flight of the Hunter in Switzerland though. The Fliegermuseum was formed in Altenrhein, Switzerland by former Swiss Hunter fighter pilot Paul Ruppeiner and they were able to obtain from the Swiss Air Force a F.Mk.58 and 2 T.Mk.68 trainers. They continue to fly them around European air shows as the Swiss Hunter Team almost 60 years after the type first graced the skies of Switzerland!
May they stay on the hunt forever…