Swiss F/A-18s Practice Highway Operations During ‘Alpha One’ Exercise

Alpha One
One of the Hornets of the Swiss Air Force caught by an autovelox (Image credit: Militärpolizei)

For the first time in three decades, the Swiss Air Force operated fighter jets from a highway, and the operations were also broadcast live on TV.

On Jun. 5, 2024, the Swiss Air Force executed the pre-announced “Alpha One” exercise, with four F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets landing on the A1 motorway between Payerne and Avanches. This is the first time in more than 30 years, as the last time was in 1991 when Hunters and F-5s landed on the A2 motorway near Lodrino.

The goal of the operation was to assess the ability of the Swiss combat aircraft to operate in case airfields are unavailable or a decentralization of air defense is required. In fact, the Swiss Federal Department of Defense (DDPS) said last week the test was necessary because all aircraft are concentrated on three air bases in Payerne, Meiringen and Emmen, making them vulnerable to long-range enemy weapons systems.


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Swiss highway operations

In late 1950s, the Swiss Parliament approved the use of several makeshift runways on motorways, on which fighter planes could take off and land. The motorways were built exactly straight for two kilometer stretches and equipped with easily removable central barriers.

This motorway sections were located in Münsingen (BE), Oensingen (SO), Alpnach (OW), Lodrino (TI), Sion (VS), Flums (SG) and Payerne (VD). During the exercises, these locations could become airfields in less than six hours, and about two hours after the last plane took off the motorway could be reopened.


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The special motorway section located in Payerne was the one chosen for “Alpha One”, and it just required the removal of barriers and the application of special markings for the operation. Because of this, the motorway section was closed the evening before the exercise, on Jun.4, and was reopened in the morning of Jun. 6.

The exercise

Shortly before 10:00 AM (local time) the first Hornet landed on the highway, followed by the others. After refueling and turnaround, which also simulated a blown tire, flight operations were performed both in the morning and in the afternoon, with the aircraft returning to Payerne Air Base at the end.

Alpha One
F/A-18s are refueled after landing on the A1 motorway near Payerne. (Image credit: DDPS)

Before the exercise, the pilots scheduled to land on the motorway practiced the operations for two weeks in the simulator. The main difference from a standard landing was the width of the “runway”, which was 25 m, and the presence of trees and vegetation on both sides.


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Pilots and officials said the exercise was successful and allowed to train for this type of operations and test all procedures. Observers from other air forces were also present, but it was not specified from which nations. Similar exercises are becoming more common lately also in Europe, so the exercise might have provided also an occasion to exchange experiences with some of the countries that are already practicing highway operations.


The ”Vignette”

As a little gag, the pilots of Fliegerstaffel 17 who took part in the exercise, sported on the canopy of their F/A-18s the “vignette”, the green sticker usually applied on cars’ windshield after paying the motorway’s charge. “It’s a gag we decided in the squadron,” said one of the pilots. “We knew we would be seen. We didn’t want to show ourselves on the highway as “undisciplined” citizens.”

An F/A-18 sporting the vignette on its canopy and, in the onset, the exercise’s patch. (Image credits: DDPS and Fliegerstaffel 17’s pilot via Corriere del Ticino, edited by The Aviationist)

The exercise’s patch was also inspired by the vignette. In fact, the patch is a white and red vignette, from the squadron’s colors, with the F/A-18’s shape and the writing “A UNO”, from Alpha One.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.