Aircraft cavern

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Aircraft cavern, a calque of the German word Flugzeugkaverne, is an underground hangar used by the Swiss Air Force.

Design[edit]

A Mirage IIIRS in front of an aircraft cavern in Buochs airfield, Switzerland

A Swiss Flugzeugkaverne has space for 30 or more aircraft. The outside door usually consists of a light composite material made from steel with a wooden core. This door is safe against small arms fire and hand grenades attack. Past these doors is a tunnel which is shaped like the letter S to make it impossible to fire on the main blast doors. As long as the blast doors are closed, the area with the aircraft is protected against attack by nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) weapons. These blast doors are made of steel and reinforced with concrete.

Each Flugzeugkaverne consists of three tunnels:

  • The first one is named Tunnel X. It provides space for 15 aircraft and is equipped to handle any major overhauls such as engine repairs or replacements. The aircraft are moved by lifting them up by cranes. Once they are on the crane, they can be moved the whole length of the tunnel. There is a direct link to the weapons storage chamber. The weapons storage is protected by a sealed door. The weapons room can be filled with inert gas to prevent fire and explosions. It also holds ammunition for the soldier’s firearms and all the ammunition needed to re-arm the aircraft. This includes cannon shells, Sidewinders and AMRAAMs. On the opposite side of the weapons chamber is the Command tunnel.
  • Inside the Command tunnel, there are the working rooms for maintaining the aircraft systems, the communications center, briefing rooms, kitchen, dining rooms, sleeping places and diesel engines for maintaining the electrical power. Also there is enough food and water for the personnel. The Command tunnel is also protected by hermetically sealed doors in case of NBC fallout.
  • Next to the Command tunnel is Tunnel Y. Having the same size as Tunnel X, it can also hold 15 aircraft.

Fuel storage is located behind the three tunnels. All this allows the complex to sustain 30 aircraft for about 30 days without re-supply of electricity, fuel, ammunition etc. from the outside world.

Meiringen Air Base viewed from the Rothorn

Flugzeugkaverne Meiringen was built for a cost of about 120 million Swiss Francs and refurnished so that the F/A-18s would fit in. A new Tunnel Z was built so there was no need for the overhead cranes. Tunnels Y and Z are connected by a few linking tunnels and some parking spaces were added on the opposite walls of each tunnel. So it is possible to operate 12 F/A-18s and the fighters can roll in and out at the same time without the need to move parked aircraft. This makes it possible to operate with more aircraft. The tunnels Y and Z are linked with a tunnel directly before the main blast doors so it is possible to refuel and rearm an aircraft during a mission without opening the main blast doors (especially useful in NBC conditions). Flugzeugkaverne Meiringen is different from other Swiss Flugzeugkaverne, because the ammunition storage area has its own tunnel to the outside. Originally this was built as tunnel for the A-7G Corsair II, but the Corsairs lost the evaluation by a very small margin to the Dassault Milan. In the end, none of these Corsair aircraft or any other aircraft type was bought.

Operational use[edit]

A Swiss Air Force F-5E Tiger II crossing a road between an aircraft cavern and the runway in Mollis airfield in 1999

Six Swiss Flugzeugkavernen were constructed - Flugzeugkavernen Alpnach, Ambri, Buochs, Meiringen, Raron and Turtmann. During WW2 Retablierungsstollen were also built in Alpnach, Buochs, Meiringen, St. Stefan and Saanen. Retablierstollen have a straight tunnel, not much bigger than an Autobahn tunnel, where it is possible to store and re-arm small fighter aircraft like the Messerschmitt Bf 109.

Flugzeugkavernen Alpnach, Ambri, Raron and Turtmann have closed down. Flugzeugkaverne Buochs has been mothballed, but if necessary it could be reactivated within a few hours.[citation needed]

Flugzeugkaverne were used to operate the following aircraft types:

Flugzeugkaverne would also have been able to operate N-20, Mirage IIIBS/DS, P-16 and Learjet aircraft. Other aircraft types (BAe Hawk and Alouette III) have been stored in Flugzeugkaverne after being withdrawn from service.

External links[edit]

  • [1] Armeeschulfilm über die Schweizer Flugzeugkaverne
External images
Aircraft cavern
M113 in Cavern Turtmann
F-5E in Cavern
Hawker Hunter in Cavern
Patrouille Suisse F-5E in Cavern
F/A-18 and F-5 Cavern Meiringen