Swiss Air Force Centre: Hunters of the Alps

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).

Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.58 over the Alps
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 over the Alps

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!

Hall 2 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf with 2 Hawker Hunter fighters
The aviation treasure trove of Hall 2 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf with 2 Hawker Hunter fighters in the foreground – December 2015

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).

The second jet fighter development was the FFA P-16 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf
The Swiss designed FFA P-16 fighter possessed a fantastic short take-off and landing capability at high altitude but following an accident in 1958 the project was cancelled and the Hawker Hunter entered Swiss Air Force service instead
Swiss Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor - Swiss Air Force Centre
Classic Cold War lines – Swiss Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor - Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor - Swiss Air Force Centre
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Air Force Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 interceptor - Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Compared to modern-day fighters the Hawker Hunter looks pretty limited with just a basic ranging radar, guns and a couple of Sidewinder missiles but it was suitable for the job in Switzerland which has very limited airspace and any engagement was most likely going to be at close and visual range – plus it looked good in that classic 1950’s style!

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.

Hawker Hunter F.58 at the Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf (December 2015)
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A with ground attack weaponry including 80mm rockets, cluster bombs and the AGM-65 Maverick air to surface missile. Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf – December 2015
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A with ground attack weaponry including 80mm rockets underwing, cluster bombs and the AGM-65 Maverick air to surface missile. Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf - December 2015
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A with ground attack weaponry including SURA 80mm rockets underwing, cluster bombs and the AGM-65 Maverick air to surface missile. 4 x 30mm cannons were fitted in the chin. Swiss Air Force Centre in Dübendorf – December 2015
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A "Robin Hood" - Swiss Air Force Centre
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A “Robin Hood” – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A ground attack fighter - Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A ground attack fighter – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A ground attack fighter - Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
The business end of the Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58A ground attack fighter – the port above the nose housed a gun camera and that is a cannon/ammo pack on the ground to the right  – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Hawker Hunter SURA 80mm rockets
SURA 80mm rockets underwing – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss AF Northrop F-5E Dubendorf
Swiss Air Force Northrop F-5E Tiger II at the Swiss Air Force Centre – the little fighter than replaced the Hunter in the air to air role in Swiss service in the late 1970’s

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).

Swiss AF Centre - Hall 2 - Hawker Hunters
Swiss Hunters of the Alps – Swiss Air Force Centre (December 2015)
Swiss Air Force Fliegerstaffel 17 Falcons McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet multi-role fighter at the Berlin Air Show 2010
Swiss Air Force Fliegerstaffel 17 “Falcons” McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet multi-role fighter at the Berlin Air Show 2010
Hunter Replacements - Patrouille Suisse Swiss Air Force Aerobatic team Northrop F-5E Tiger II and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet multi-role fighters of Fliegerstaffel 17 Falcons at the Berlin Air Show 2010
Hunter Replacements – Patrouille Suisse Swiss Air Force Aerobatic team Northrop F-5E Tiger II and McDonnell Douglas F/A-18C Hornet multi-role fighters of Fliegerstaffel 17 “Falcons” at the Berlin Air Show 2010

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!

Fliegermuseum Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 and T.Mk.68 at the Berlin Air Show in 2010
Fliegermuseum Hawker Hunter F.Mk.58 and T.Mk.68 at the Berlin Air Show in 2010

May they stay on the hunt forever…

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