Equipped with the F-5E Tiger the team is, together with the Turk Yildizlari (Turkish Stars), that flies the NF-5A/B Freedom Fighter, the only European display team on supersonic fighter jets.
Despite being regularly invited to attend airshows across the continent, the Patrouille Suisse could be forced to stand down from 2016 as a consequence of budget cuts.
Indeed, beginning in 2016, the ageing F-5 fleet will be progressively retired and replaced by the first Gripen examples and, simply, there will not be many military aircraft in the Swiss Air Force, at least, not enough to equip an aerobatic display team.
In spite of Swiss Minister of Defense claims that the Patrouille Suisse will survive transiting on the F-18 Hornet or the new JAS-39 Gripen (even if the Swiss Parliament has suspended the purchase of the Sweden fighters ordered in 22 examples) the chances that there will be enough resources to dispatch some of these few frontline fighters to the team appear scarce.
Along with the team, even its mascot and honorary member “Flat Eric” will probably be put apart.
Flat Eric is a yellow puppet character from Levi’scommercials that is part of the Patrouille Suisse since 2000. It flies on board aircraft number 2.
One of the maneuvers performed by the team and called “Flat Mirror” is dedicated to Flat Eric: it consists of the classic mirror performed by the two team solos during a schneider turn.
One of Flat Eric’s distinctive characteristic is that it wears a Red Arrows flight suit since 2004, when it was kidnapped by the British aerobatic display team: when it reappeared in the spring of 2005 it was adorned with this special dress.
Since it belongs to the Patrouille Suisse, it follows the team in every air show and deployment; moreover “Flati”, as it is affectionately called by other team members, posses his own Swiss Air force identification card and a log book like all other Swiss pilots.
If the Patrouille Suisse will eventually be disestablished in 3 or 4 years, the airshow circus will not only lose one of its main and best aerobatic display teams, but also one of the most funny mascottes.
IRNA (Islamic Republic News Agency) has just released some quite interesting pictures of an exhibition of IRIAF planes and equipment that took place at Tabriz, in northwest of Iran.
Among the images made public by the news agency, some depict some (quite “rusty”, or at least dirty) Mig-29s, along with F-5Es and “Saeqeh” (Thunder) an indigenously modified version of the American F-5 Tiger, whose twin tails and blue colour are loosely reminiscent of the Blue Angels.
Generally speaking, the flying F-14s and F-4s recently exposed in the Russian Knights pictures taken during the return trip of the team from Bahrain International Air Show seemed to be in better conditions than these Mig-29s: at least one of the Fulcrum on display is unserviceable (it lacks both engines).
Uploaded on Youtube just few days ago, the following footage was recorded by an onboard camera installed on the lead plane of Patrouille Suisse, flown by Capt. Marc ” Zimi” Zimmerli. The interesting video shows the rehearsal flight for the Fiesta en el Cielo Barcelona Airshow 2011 (Oct. 2, 2011) and provides a privileged view of the display flown by the Swiss display team with an insight into the pre and post airshow operations. Thanks to the on board cam you will be able to see the pilot as he taxies the formation to take off along with commercial traffic; when he gives the formation the signal to begin the take off roll; checks the maps to reach the display area; guides the formation through all the maneuvers of the team’s display program; and returns to Barcelona performing a visual approach with an overhead break. Something you don’t see very often.
In 2006 I went to Axalp, Switzerland, and wrote a detailed report (in both Italian and English) that provided all the “tips and tricks” to reach the Axalp Ebenfluh range at 2.300 meters above sea level and to observe the flight operations taking place at Meiringen airbase.
Simone Bovi made the same experience on Oct. 13, 2010, and took the following interesting pictures of this year’s edition of the famous Axalp “unconventional” and unique airshow held each year, in October, by the Swiss Air Force, in the Alps of the Bernese Oberland. Next year’s Axalp airshow is scheduled for Oct. 12 – 13, 2011, while Axalp 2012 will take place on Oct. 10 – 11, 2012.
As I have already explained in my previous post about the airshow held in Rivolto on Sept. 11 and 12, 2010, to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Frecce Tricolori, in the last weeks I was interviewed many times by both newspapers and TVs.
What I’ve noticed is that the majority of the journalist that interviewed me about my book (the official ItAF book for the Frecce’s 50th Anniversary), asked me the same question: “are the Frecce the best aerobatic team?”
It is extremely difficult to answer impartially to this question. Patriotism is something that can influence the pick, so what I answered each time I was asked this question is something that can’t be denied: the Frecce Tricolori can claim a certain number of records that have never been matched by any other aerobatic team in the world.
First of all its size: the Italian aerobatic team is the only one to fly with 10 aircraft.
Another singularity which makes the PAN unique is the fact that the whole display is executed in sight of the public. Separations, transformations and rejoins are always performed in front of the spectators, a circumstance which requires absolute preciseness in all phases of the display.
By the way: another record accomplished by the Frecce Tricolori is the fact that they separate into two formations (one flight of 5 and another of 4 aircraft) which then fly an opposition pass and subsequently rejoin in less than two minutes. Rejoin time is a factor that can influence deeply a flying display. For instance, many noticed that, after taking off from Rivolto, the Red Arrows were out of sight of the public for many (too many…) minutes before rejoining and performing the entry passage. I don’t know what exactly happened (maybe they experienced some kind of failure) but the “dead time” from take off to the first manouevre (“Big Battle to Short Diamond loop and twist”) . Will get back to the Red Arrows display later.
One more peculiarity of the PAN is the Downward Bomb Burst, a manoeuvre which has been part of the Pattuglia’s tradition since its creation, having been part of the Italian Air Force heritage for 80 years now. It is a manoeuvre in which the aircraft, starting from a high altitude and in formation, dive towards the ground and then separate into 9 individual elements which depart in different directions, finally returning for an opposition pass, at three different levels, over the same point. This is a very spectacular and complex manoeuvre, which no one else is capable of reproducing, especially due to the difficulty in opposition passing and rejoining in the very short time frames required for a display.
The other record of the Frecce Tricolori is tied to the Solo’s Lomçovak. This is a display which is typically executed by propeller aircraft, and foresees a “standing roll” followed by a vertical spin, reverse and subsequent aircraft pitch down. Such a manoeuvre is usually “outside the flight envelope” for most jet aircraft, but the PAN’s Solo pilot can execute it in complete safety, thanks to the outstanding handling capabilities of the MB 339.
That said, in my opinion the Frecce display is the most difficult and technical. Each manouevre is followed by another one, in a flying programme that is extremely “fluid” and “continuos” with no dead spaces (as you can always watch the 9 ship formation, or the solo’s display).
Red Arrows and Patrouille de France displays are impressive too: they have lots of different formations and manouevres, some of which are extremely spectacular (like wingmen fly from one side of the formation to the other one). But formation is not as tight as the Italian “diamond”, manouevres (often) involve a lower number of aircraft (as the Reds’ Gypo Break or the Heart that the Frecce perform with two sections 5+4) and rejoining time is not as strict as for the Italian team and you can clearly notice the remaining aircraft flying nearby trying to rejoin with other “isolated” elements. Their display is like a series of beautiful manouevres that doesn’t look like a single choreography.
On the other hand, the Frecce display is (more or less) the same from decades. A new manouevre appears in the programme every 7 – 8 years. This make their display technical and interesting (especially for the competent observer) but monolithic, while the Reds or Bleus ones, are (maybe) slightly less difficult, but (maybe) slightly more “aggressive” and breathtaking.
The Swiss Patrouille Suisse (flying with the powerful F-5), the Spanish Patrulla Aguila and the Croatian Krila Oluje Team (whose display would be more impressive with the use of smokes) are quickly improving. Anyway, this is just my opinion, as the answer to the “who are the best aerobatic display team” question is still an open debate.
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