High-impact, high-altitude

October 12, 2012

By Pascal Lauener

Covering the big annual air show of the Swiss Air Force on the Axalp in the Bernese Oberland starts with me checking the weather radar for the next day, hoping for a big blue sky.


As a photographer you know there will be great pictures full of action, because you are at the same altitude where the fighter jets pass you at full speed. This is a very rare situation.

This year’s Airshow on the Axalp attracted more then 7,000 spectators. Most of who hiked up to the 2200 meters above sea level high Swiss Air force training ground on the Axalp. The photographers with their equipment, and other selected guests, were offered a lift from the Air Base in Meiringen (in the valley) up to the Axalp by a Swiss Air Force Super Puma. The five minute ride was the first part of this extraordinary assignment. We could see all the spectators hiking up the steep mountain or those who had already been waiting a long time for the big show, shortly before having to get out of the helicopter on a small ridge on the Axalp near the control tower.

After checking out the positions and preparing the cameras, there was time to wait and enjoy the sun and the mountain panorama. Right on time, the first fighter jets passed low over our heads. Fire flares announced the start of the show.

This year we didn’t only cover the main event, but more importantly we covered the first participation of a Swedish Saab Gripen fighter jet with which the Swiss Army plans to replace their old Tiger fleet. An Air force speaker always announces the direction of the next plane so we know which way to look. But, it’s a fast business and as soon we see the jets, they are away the next second – there is action after action.

All fighter jets, helicopters and parachutists of the Swiss Air Force want to show their skills in front of this big audience. This annual show is also a form of advertisement for the Air Force, to garner support from politicians and the Swiss public.

After a quick 90 minutes had passed, this year’s show was over and I had pictures full of action to send. My favorite picture is the one of a Swiss Air Force F18 fighter jet releasing flares with a cloud around its hull.

But the job is not done after taking the pictures. Working for a news agency means you need to transmit your images quickly, so that they get to clients as soon as possible. Up on the Axalp, there is no signal to transmit pictures so it’s necessary to organize a ride back to the Air Base in Meiringen as soon as possible after the show ends. The VIP’s take priority for a quick return, but thanks to a very understanding army officer and the media team, we made it on the fourth or fifth Super Puma leaving the Axalp.

Back in Meiringen I sent a quick selection of pictures from the Swedish Gripen directly from my camera to a colleague in Zurich, who captioned and sent them to the Pictures Desk in Berlin. I was in my car on the way to find a better signal to transmit the rest of the pictures. All-in-all, it was a very good day with cool frames – and a good memory to cheer me up whenever I have to cover a boring news conference or a rainy soccer game.

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Nice shooting. Thank you for making my morning a bit brighter!

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