This story is written by Jerry T. Lai. Jerry is a Chicago-based photojournalist who read our coverage of 2017’s Axalp show in Switzerland, and decided he had to make the trip to see it for himself. This is his story about the 2018 show – hope you enjoy it, and be sure to let us know if you decide to attend at some point, too!
We’re all AvGeeks here, but what really gets my heart pumping is fast jets at air shows and demonstrations. As someone based in Chicago, I’m spoiled with having the wonderful Chicago Air and Water Show in my backyard, as well as EAA AirVenture in nearby Oshkosh, and am a short flight away from many other fabulous official demonstrations like Fleet Week in SFO.
But there was one show I had somehow not ever heard of, until I read about right here on AirlineReporter: Fliegerschiessen Axalp. An air show that combines liberal use of flares, cannon fire, vapor, and set with a backdrop in the Swiss Alps? SIGN ME UP!
Around August, I started making my preparations to visit. I got a flight to Zurich booked, rented a car, and found an Airbnb in Brienz, a quintessential lakeside Swiss town at the foot of the Alps.
I knew that going into this trip that because weather at this time of year in the Swiss Alps can be a bit unpredictable, that planning a trip where the primary purpose of seeing the Fliegerscehiessen would be a lot like fishing. You have no idea what you are going to get on a given day, and need to be prepared for the possibility that you may get completely shut out. Indeed prior to 2017, this event had been canceled several years in a row. You really do have to go into an adventure like this with the mindset that you could get skunked. However, at the end of the day, you’re in the Swiss Alps with so much to do in nearby Brienz, Interlaken, Lucerne, and others.
Fortunately, the weather gods were in my favor for the 2018 edition. I made the 90 minute drive from Zurich to Brienz in beautiful 70 degree fall weather on Monday afternoon before the first practice day, so that I could figure out where I needed to go before it got dark. As I passed Meiringen and approached Brienz, I could hear the roar of Swiss fighter jets above me. That was the confirmation I needed to have to know it was going to be a great week.
I was a combination of being both jet lagged and overly excited, so I ended up waking up at 3 a.m. Being unable to fall back asleep, I decided to just head to the show early which as you will read below, ended up being very fortunate. I arrived at the Park and Ride in the dark at about 5:45 a.m. but was not the first one there. There were many other cars already parked and unloading their gear for the trek up to Axalp.
And here’s the part that people don’t really warn you enough about: the hike. Oh that hike! I’m in pretty good shape, but it still took me a strenuous hour and 15 minutes to get from the chairlift to the uppermost viewing area, KP Ebenfluh. The photos of the climb don’t really do justice to describing just how steep some portions get [editor: I dunno, those photos look pretty intense].
But when you stop and look in the other direction, you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the town below.
After the bus transfer, chairlift ride, and hike, I got to my spot in KP Ebenfluh at about 8:30 a.m. and geared up for a long morning of waiting. I was pleasantly surprised that I didn’t have too wait long — at about 9 a.m., four Swiss F/A-18 Hornets made their very loud arrival by dropping flares and firing their cannons at the targets for morning practice.
This was followed by a Super Puma performing their full demonstration.
All in all, morning practice lasted for an hour and quite frankly, if that was all that I saw that day I would have been one happy camper. But no, that wasn’t all, not by a long shot. At noon, the hornets returned but brought their Tiger friends along for a few additional practice runs.
Finally, after all that, the regular show at 2 p.m. began. In addition to the previously seen Hornet and Tiger teams, any teams that didn’t practice earlier like the parascouts and Patrouille Suisse finally made their appearances.
When the day was finally done, I essentially ended up watching and photographing three air shows between 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Needless to say, because of the constant action, the flawless weather, and the great ambiance around me; this exceeded all my expectations. A few of my friends who are also AvGeeks — but just not as hardcore as me being willing to get the risk of getting skunked for the distance traveled — said that after seeing my photos they are not going to make any excuses and will definitely go in 2019. If you’re like them and thinking the same thing, you can already start planning: The Swiss have announced the dates for next year’s show for Wednesday, October 9 and Thursday, October 10, 2019.
A few tips if you make the visit in 2019
It is possible to visit without a car. You can take the train to Brienz, transfer to a shuttle to the park-and-ride lot, transfer to another shuttle to Axalp, then take the chairlift, then hike.
- If you do drive, you should purchase your parking and lift ticket in advance. The advance purchase price is a bit cheaper than buying the passes the day of the event. You can find info about next year’s event here.
- To fit in like the locals, I would suggest visiting a Coop grocery store and purchasing a portable candlelight raclette maker, and your own cheese and bread and other fixings. While you can buy concessions on the mountain, I didn’t feel like my experience was truly authentic without melting that delicious raclette cheese like seemingly everyone else.
- Again, have a game plan and go into this with the mentality that you are in Switzerland. If there is no show, enjoy the lovely scene and the surrounding Lake Brienz area and there will be no regrets.
- For the photographers: a 200mm lens is adequate for closes passes, formation flying, and for the Super Puma demo, but a lens with a reach of 400-500mm is ideal for everything else. A wide zoom, like a 17-40mm or 24-70mm, is also handy to have if you’re interested in doing some scenics or want to capture the whole tableau.
- The path between Tschingel and KP Ebenfluh closes approximately an hour before the morning practice, and an hour before the afternoon show. If you are looking to set up at KP, please budget your hiking time accordingly.
- Dress for all weather. Even though during the day it got downright hot and people were even wearing shorts when the sun came out, the hike in the morning was very cold and I was in my full winter gear for the climb.
- If you arrive early in the morning, you should bring a flashlight or a headlamp. There is no lighting on the mountain for the hike, so hiking that rough and slippery terrain in the dark is really sketchy.