Hawker Hunter in service with Swiss Air Force
The Hawker Hunter had a very long career in Swiss Air Force from the late 1950s until they were retired in 1994. The Swiss Air Force operated 160 aircraft, both new and second-hand. The Hunter was upgraded several times and was used mainly as an attack aircraft by militia squadrons in the last decades of its service life. The retired aircraft had a ready market as a warbird and for use in target facilities operations.
Selection and deliveries
In 1957, the Swiss Air Force evaluated several aircraft for a prospective purchase; competitors included the North American F-86 Sabre, the Folland Gnat, and the Hawker Hunter. Switzerland was also conducting an independent project to produce an aircraft, the FFA P-16. Swiss officials responded positively to the Hunter, thus an extensive evaluation was conducted in Switzerland with two loaned aircraft. In January 1958, Switzerland chose to place an order for 100 Hunters, similar to the Royal Air Force Hunter F.6, to replace the existing fleet of de Havilland Vampires; further development of the indigenous P-16 was discontinued.
The first 12 Hawker were F.Mk 6s formerly in service with the RAF, and were upgraded to Mk.58 standard. Further aircraft deliveries were straight from Hawker's production line, the deliveries took place from 3 April 1958 to 1 April 1960. Swiss adaptions included new radio equipment, and the adaption of outboard pylons for the carriage of 400 kilogram (880 pound) bombs. Hunters were then operated as interceptors with a secondary ground-attack role, the outboard pylons having been modified to carry two AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles. A contract for a second batch of 30 Mk.58A Hunters was signed in 1971; deliveries took place from December 1971 to April 1973.
The Hunter survived the procurement efforts of several aircraft promising to be superior; in the case of the Dassault Mirage III this was due to excessive cost overruns and poor project management. A second competition between the Mirage III, Fiat G.91YS (a proposed variant for Switzerland, equipped with two extra Sidewinder missile pylons) and the A-7G Corsair II concluded without any contract being awarded.
A further 22 F.Mk.58As were ordered in a third contract signed in 1973; a fourth contract in 1974 purchased 8 Hunters of the T.Mk 68 configuration. The majority of the 60 Hunter Mk.58/68 were formerly Mk.4s, some were converted Mk.6s and T.Mk.7s. All the Mk.58As were fitted with the Avon 207; the Mk.58 had their Avon 203 replaced by the 207 as well.
The Swiss Hunters had some important upgrades, known as KAWEST (from Kampfwertsteigerung - German: "Increased Operational Performance"). In 1963, the Sidewinder missile was added to enhance the Hunter's air-to-air combat capability. Swiss Hunters featured several armament changes, such as the integration of SURA and SNORA 80mm rockets, as many as 32 rockets could be fitted on underwing rails. Operationally, Swiss Hunters could be armed with napalm bombs in addition to conventional loadouts.
A significant program of upgrades, under the name 'Hunter 80', was carried out in the early 1980s. A US-built AN/APR-9 Radar Warning Receiver was installed in the nose, along with AN/ALE-39 chaff-flare dispensers. The number of underwing rails for rockets was increased from 8 to 10, and adaptions were made to allow for the deployment of new munitions such as BL755 cluster bombs and AGM-65 Maverick missiles. A Hunter could typically carry a pair of AGM-65s and as many as 20 rockets in a combat mission. Some T.Mk 68s could be fitted with T-708 Vista ECM pods, containing several jamming devices and chaff dispensers. Another simple but effective improvement for landing the aircraft in icy conditions was the addition of a brake-parachute.
To supplement the Hunter's interception capabilities, Switzerland purchased a surface-to-air missile (SAM) defence system from the United Kingdom, closely based on the Bristol Bloodhound II. High-altitude air defence was maintained by these SAM batteries and Dassault Mirage III fighters, while medium-to-lower altitudes were patrolled by the Hunters.
In case of unservicable airstrips, Swiss Air Force Jets would take off from adjacent highways, using them as improvised runways. In 1991, during a major training exercise involving eight Hunter Mk.58s and eight F-5s, up to 4 kilometers of guard rails had to be removed from public roads to enable aircraft operations. Typically, Switzerland maintained about 150 Hunters in an operational flight-ready condition.
The Patrouille Suisse flight demonstration team flew the Hawker Hunter for several decades. Squadron aircraft were fitted with smoke generators on the engine exhausts and, later on, were painted in a distinctive red-and-white livery. The group officially formed on 22 August 1964, and used the Hunter as its display aircraft until it was withdrawn from use in 1994.
By 1975, plans emerged to replace the Hunter in the air-to-air role with a more modern fighter, the Northrop F-5E Tiger II. The Hunter continued its service in the Swiss Air Force after the introduction of the F-5; similar to the RAF's own operations, the Hunter became the primary ground attack fighter, and held this role for two further decades until Switzerland purchased 32 McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornets in the late 1990s. The Swiss Air Force lost the capability to carry out air-to-ground operations when the Hunters were withdrawn from service.
In 1990, there were still nine squadrons equipped with 130 Hunters: the 2nd at Ulrichen, 3rd at Ambri, 5th at Raron, 7th at Interlaken, 9th at Raron, 15th at St.Stephan, 20th at Mollis, 21st at Turtman, 22nd at Ulrichen and St.Stephan (with T.68s). They were almost the half of the first line (19 squadrons, 6 with F-5s and 3 with Dassault Mirage IIIS/RS), while one more aircraft was used by the experimental aircraft unit.
The Hunter F.Mk.58A were phased out first, as there were problems with the wing's structure.[clarification needed] The last Swiss Hunters were phased out of service in 1994. That was a year earlier than planned, but the Hunters were becoming too expensive to maintain. Towards the end of their time, some were given diverse colour schemes, one such being the "Paper Plane" of Fliegerstaffel 15. This machine was painted all-white, the names of squadron and aircrew members written across the fuselage, and the left underwing insignia featured a hybrid design between the Swiss white cross and a paper airplane.
Overall, the Swiss Hunters had a very active career lasting over 30 years. Many of first contract Hunters flew 2,400-2,500 hours, but several of them logged 2,700 hours and few 2,800. The most active was J-4023 which logged 2,860 hours with 1,567 landings (the average mission time seems over 1-1.5 hours, despite the short endurance of the Hunter). The first batch was the most used, while the 1970 fighters/trainers topped around 1,200-1,500 hours each. As British aviation writer John Lake put it: "If the Hunter had not existed, the Swiss would have had to invent it".
In the course of operating the Hunter there were 32 crashes, causing the deaths of 14 pilots. In consideration to the overall accumulated flight hours of 313,508, the loss ratio is roughly 10 losses/100,000 hours. In one incident on 20 October 1982, a Hunter was accidentally shot down by a wingman, crossing its gunfire path during a live-fire exercise at Cherroux near Payerne Air Base. A near-incident happened when a Swiss pilot managed to land his Hunter in thick fog, landing with only 50 litres of fuel remaining.
During training, Hunters would typically carry only a half load of ammunition for the Aden cannon to allow for spent cartridges to be retained rather than ejected.
The last flight of the Hunter in Swiss service took place on 16 December 1994 at Dübendorf. This final flight was flown by J-4001, originally delivered to the RAF on 23 February 1956, before transferring to Switzerland in early 1958. It flew a total of 2,541 flight hours, and had conducted 1,330 landings. J-4001 was restored to 1960s conditions before being preserved at Fliegermuseum Dübendorf for static display.
Retirement and preservation
A considerably high number of Swiss Hunters were conserved, including many in flight-worthy conditions. Several Hunters are used in North America; one is used by a private contractor for the French Navy. Others are owned by aviation companies like ATAC and Hunter Aviation International Inc, Newark, United States. A British company, the Hunter team, claims its fleet is capable of operating at speed up to Mach 0.95, up -3.75/+7.5G for 90 minutes up to 185 km from their base, simulating air-to-air and air-to-surface threats for military customers, at a low operational cost compared to modern fighters. Lortie Aviation is another customer of the former Swiss Hunters, and claims to have flown 8,500 hours since 2002, with military missions lasting up to 2.5 hours (with four auxiliary tanks).
There is also a Hunter Swiss civil association, Amici dell'Hunter, that perform acrobatic activities. Some of the last Swiss Hunters are available for jet-tourism; one operator charges almost 7000 euros for a 40-minute flight.
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