|Location:||Switzerland, canton Berne|
Out of three active military airbases in Switzerland, Meiringen is by far the most photographically atractive one. It combines easy access from both sides of the runway, no (or minimal) barriers, friendly staff and great mountains all around. Essence of Swiss spotting
The easiest way to get to Meiringen is the train. First, you need to get to Brienz (most of the express trains stop there) and then, take the regional train to Meiringen. Note: the airbase is traditionally called 'Meiringen', but you need to get out one stop earlier, at the Brienzwiler train station. Alternatively, you can have a refreshing, 5km walk.
There are three possible ways of entering the area:
- Driving from west - follow the fast road 8. Just when it's about to turn left and start climbing the hills, quit on the Brienzwiler exit and immediately turn right towards the small farmer's hut.
- Driving from east - follow the regional road 6/11, until you get to the roundabout. Turn left and soon you will find yourself crossing the runway.
- Alternatively, you can just take the small, village roads, finally arriving at the south-eastern side of the base
Around the airbase there are some parking possibilities, most notably: public base visitor's parking, just at the entrance, the dedicated spotter parking (!) on the northern side of the Unterbachstrasse. There is also a good place on the unused taxiway, convenient for staying around the centerpoint of the runway (but park your car on the grass, so it doesn't obstruct possible military traffic).
If possible, avoid parking your car in other places than these. While there are few more spots, some of them damn convenient, keep in mind that most are on the private grounds. The villagers are generally friendly towards the spotters, it would be a bit pity if this was about to change
Meiringen / Unterbach are not that much of the tourist places. If you plan to spend more time there, you might find some local accomodation - this page might be a good start. But otherwise, there are plenty of places in Brienz, with a good train connection to the airbase area.
Swiss airbases have quite regular flight schedule. On the official page you can find the recent edition of the Flugplatznews and there, a detailed timetable for both Hornet and Tiger flights. In particular, watch out for:
- Truppenbelegung WK und RS - twice a year there is an intensive training of the ground troops, which also results in the higher flying activity
- Piste gesperrt - during one month, usually August, the runway is closed for maintenance.
- About once every two years, in late January, Meiringen provides aerial coverage of the World Economic Forum in Davos. When it happens, there are few days when the aircrafts are flying 24/7 with live ammunition. The airbase gets slightly more guarded by then, but nothing that would prevent photography. Actually, WEF is one of the biggest gathering of spotters there
- .. and of course... Fliegerdemonstration Axalp
Usually, you can expect at least one flying session in the morning (9am+) and in the afternoon, after the lunch break (2pm+). You can always ask at the gate, the guard on duty is usually friendly and well informed.
About three times a year, the airbase organizes an open day. Provided the excellent public opportunities around the base (see below) it might not be too attractive for somebody looking for the dynamic pictures - however, if you're after some insider shots, visiting the hangars etc, it might be of an interest. There are no fixed dates - just call the airbase, phone number is listed in the heading of the Flugplatznews
Meiringen offers an incredible range of photo opportunities, from any possible angle. It's certainly the most attractive Swiss airbase and, arguably, the best one in Europe. Situated in a narrow valley, with either colourful vegetation or the snowy mountains as a backdrop, with some spots on the surrounding mountains, aircrafts within reach of a hand - and all of this fully accessible from the public places, with spotter-friently staff. I've seen many people who, coming for the first time, couldn't believe what they saw.
- Runway crossing (southern side)
First classic spot. You are <50m from the taxiing aircrafts and just a bit further from the main runway. Offers great possibilities for takeoffs from RWY10 (you see the planes few moments after the rotation) and for landings on RWY28. Just stay close to the barrier. It's good for most of the day, as soon as the Sun crosses the runway axis.
- Public terrace on top of the restaurant
Views are pretty similar as the ones from the above spot, but: a) you're tad farther from the runway, b) you're slightly elevated and c) you have some perspective to the preparation area and a view for the taxiway to the caverns There is no entrance fee, just enter the building and search for the stairs up (2 floors).
- Small road (south centerpoint)
A perfect place at about the centerpoint of the runway, good for takeoff from both sides and for taxiing in both directions (you have a pretty wide, unobstructed angle of view).
- Western crossing and end of taxiway
First, you can take the photos of the aircrafts landing from the west - hang around the barrier, they are just few meters above the ground at this point.
Then, one of the better spots: you can carefully approach the small hut on your right and have a beautiful, en-face view of the taxiing aircrafts and then, experience the roar of the afterburners from a close proximity.
Note: Status of this place is not entirely clear. During the Axalp 2006, there was a crowd of people just aside the taxiway and it was OK with the security (well, we were finally thrown out, but it was because of some people that behaved badly and it annoyed the land owner). But since then, it often happens that you are told to get back to the street.
BIG FAT WARNING: if you are lucky and get past the small hut, the noise during the takeoffs is extremely high. Don't try this without ear protection - even the small earbuds do the job. Don't worry, you'll 'hear' everything with your every bone anyway
- Small road (north-western side)
Once you're at the farmer's house, just after the exit from the motorway, you can, to some extent, follow the small road along the runway. Don't go too far - at some point you will hit the military installations, base personnel won't be too happy about it. But some 50-100m should be fine, just to get a slightly better angle at the landing aircrafts. Most of the day you will be against the sun, but it's quite nice during the summer mornings/evenings.
Quite often you will meet a guy in the small car, looking a bit as a minature control tower. (he doesn't actually control anything, he is there just to report what's going on). He might not be too keen about you following that road too far - you might even hear the usual story about a Tiger that had a broken tyre and got out of the runway there Explain politely that you just want to take a round of photos of a single wave of landing Hornets and then, you'll go away - it works most of the time.
BIG (even bigger) FAT WARNING: If you go down there, you'll be as close as possible to the Hornets engaging the afterburners - less than 30m, even closer than the above one. You better know what you're doing.
Try to move around the place, to find your perfect spot. For the landings, you may want to back off to the elevated part of the road to have more clear view.
- Runway crossing (northern side)
Another classic Meiringen spot - if you stay behind the barrier, you are around 50m from the aircrafts landing/taking off on RWY28.
Starting from this place you can also follow the small road along the runway leading east. At some point you will have a nice face-to-face view to the two F/A-18 Hornet hangars (if they happen to be operating).
- East end of the runway
If you follow the above road to the end, at some point you'll be able to cross the creek and eventually, you'll arrive to the runway axis. Some nice ambiance shots are possible from there, especially the aircrafts starting east, with the emergency stop net raised.
- Taxiway crossing
When the aircrafts operate from the caves (which is: most of the time), you can have a nice almost-face-on shots from there and then, enjoy the Hornets passing by just few meters from you standing at the gates.
- Southern mountain
From the southern surroundings of the airbase, drive east, until you get here (there should be a Zaun road sign. Then, turn right and just start climbing. Google Maps is not really precise in this area, but there is not much possibility to lose the way... at some point you will see a small, wooden bridge on your left. Find yourself a place to park your car (you might need to go a bit up/down for this, there is not a lot of space in the direct surroundings). Cross the bridge and approach the edge of the mountain. Between the trees, you should find few good spots.
You will have a great overview of the airbase, including the road to the caverns, with an angle of view of about 45 degrees. Note: you need a really long lens here. Anything below fixed-focal 500mm will give you more the overviews than some real action - and in any case (unless you go above 1000mm) some croping will be required.
The road towards the bridge is a narrow mountain one. DON'T LEAVE your car blocking it! If necessary, find a place a little bit away and have a walk. It seems quiet, but the locals do use it.
- Western hill
What you get here is
- View towards axis of the runway, perfect for the aircraft departing west - long lens required!
- Direct proximity of the Hornets/Tigers landing from direction Brienz
- Road A8 and
Exit the airbase and start climbing the curvy road on the northern mountains. Once in a while, you will find some small parkings on both sides of the road - they seem to be just made for the people wanting to admire the airbase as there is no other logical explanation for them.
Follow the signs to the Brüningpass. But once you actually arrive to the Brüning village, turn right, following the signs to Hasliberg. From there, for around 3-4km you can search for some good spots with a view. Again, long lens is mandatory.
Alternatively, you can take the lower section of Brüningpassstrasse
It's a small village, so no first class facilities there... just some notes:
- About 100m west from the airbase entry there is a small restaurant. Prices are reasonable and, in the summer, the garden offers partial view to the runway
- Airbase has an open restaurant too (or rather: buffet), just below the viewing terrace
- In the same building you will find an open, public toilette.
Last updated: 31-12-2010, 21:55