Please introdue us yourself, and tell us you carrier in the Swiss Air Force (German: Luftwaffe; French: Forces aériennes; Italian: Forze aeree).
I’m Maj Gunnar “Gandalf” Jansen, the leader of the Patrouille Suisse. I started my career at the age of 20 in the Swiss Air Force in 2004. After completing the ATPL course at the Swiss Aviation Training facilities, I first flew the Pilatus PC-7 Turboprop in the pilot school of the Air Force. After this basic training, I was part of the last pilot class on the Northrop F-5 E/F Tiger (…which was afterwards replaced by the jet-rainer Pilatus PC-21). In 2009, I became operational fighter pilot on the Boeing F/A-18 C/D Hornet, before I joined the Patrouille Suisse in 2010 as #3 left wing. Flying in the team for 30% of my flying hours, I participated several courses and campaigns on the Hornet. After five years as #3, I changed my position in the team in 2015 to #4 slot for another two years. Then, in 2017, I became the team leader, which was certainly the highlight of my career so far. On the other hand, I quit flying the Hornet the same time. Today, I work as Chief Air Defense in the Air Operation Center and flying only the Tiger for the trainings and displays with the team.
Give us a little history of the Patrouille Suisse.
The Patrouille Suisse was founded on 22 August 1964. The idea of establishing a display team with professional pilots, however, dates as far back as to 1959. At that time, the Air Force Surveillance Wing was tasked by the Federal Military Department with training a double patrol, consisting of four of their aircraft, for display purposes. These initial formations flew the British Hawker Hunter Mk 58 fighter.
With a view to Expo 64, the national exhibition held in Lausanne, and the 50-year jubilee of the Swiss Air Force, formation flight training with the Hunter double patrol was stepped up. Naming the team Patrouille Suisse was a spontaneous decision, inspired by the French aerobatic team, Patrouille de France. The then Federal Military Department was convinced that the formation flights would appeal to the public and so decided to make the Patrouille Suisse the official national aerobatic team.
In 1965, the team had their first scheduled season with four air shows. In the following years, the programme was constantly improved and the precision of individual manoeuvres perfected. In 1970, another aircraft was added to the team. Due to Switzerland’s policy of neutrality, however, the team was not permitted to perform abroad at the time. This changed in 1978, when the Swiss aerobatic team was invited to the 25th anniversary of the Patrouille de France and was allowed to demonstrate its flying skills – now with six aircraft – over Salon-de-Provence, France.
For the 700-year anniversary of the Swiss Confederation in 1991, the appearance of the Patrouille Swiss Hunters was changed: the lower wing sides now shone with the Swiss national colours, red and white. Three years later, the Patrouille Suisse pilots flew the Hawker Hunter Mk 58 for the last time, and in 1995, transferred to the faster and more agile American F-5E Tiger, which brought new flight capabilities after 30 years.
In addition to their displays at most important air shows in Europe, the ambassadors in the skies have performed several times at the International Aerospace Exhibition ILA in Berlin. In Germany, flight displays with jet formations are subject to strict legal limits. As a result, the flight programme for Berlin had to be adapted, in cooperation with the authorities, so that it could be performed before the enthusiastic spectators. The crowd was enthralled and the Patrouille Suisse was awarded an original piece of the Berlin Wall. The team has shown again and again how physical limits can be overcome and walls can be torn down.
The political decision taken in 2016 to continue using the F-5 Tigers as aggressor and target aircraft will allow everyone to admire this marvellous and elegant aircraft being flown by the Patrouille Suisse for some years to come.
photo credit Patrouille Suisse
What type of jet the team use, and personally how good it is?
The Northrop F-5 E/F Tiger is in spite of its age a very reliable and easy to handle fighter jet. As one of very few display teams around the world, the Patrouille Suisse is very proud of flying with an supersonic capable, afterburner equipped fighter jet. Its flying abilities are very good for formation flying. Specially, because the lack of a fly by wire system. On the other hand, flying inverted can be difficult and the exhaust and vortexes behind the aircraft must be avoided at any time! This limits our formation changes and maneuvers for the solo pair.
What colors the jets are painted, and why?
Of course are the aircrafts painted in our national colors red and white! At the tail and under the fuselage, the Swiss Cross stands for “swissness” like the beauty, safeness, improvements and traditions of Switzerland.
Could you summarize the 2018 year? Where did the team performed?
We started with two new team members, “Pepe” and “Mac”, into the season 2018. With this young team, it was a great pleasure to display during dawn over the lake of Zurich in Rapperswil and overhead the international Airport Zurich, a true highlight! Although we only had tree airshows abroad, it was manifold. In Aalborg Denmark, the weather was sky clear for training and at the very minimum during the public day. In Radom Poland, we were situated very close to the crowd, great to meet the fans after the flown display. Last but not least, flying at the beach of Jesolo Italy is one of my personal highlights. Something we miss in Switzerland, the sea…
What can you tell of the 2019 season? Any plans you can share us?
This year’s season is our jubilee! The Patrouille Suisse is celebrating the 55th anniversary in August 2019. We have no changes in the team, which gives us the ability to adjust some formations in the display program. I’m looking forward flying again during dawn over the Lake of Murten in Switzerland and visiting the airshow Airpower in Austria.
Are you in contact with the other Swiss Demo teams, solo display? Do you perform together?
As we are not that many pilots in the Air Force, we do know each other very well. We perform displays together but these occasions are rare. The idea behind different display elements is, that they participate on as much events as possible. But for example during the last jubilee, the Air14 in Payerne, we performed a display with the PC-7 Team. It was unique, as 9 PC-7 and 6 F-5 were performing a single show ending with the tunnel flown by the turboprops having the 6 jets crossing in between them!
How do you put together the program?
During our training course around Easter, we have two week time to train our program. New elements have to be implemented during the first few days, to have enough time to train the new formations. With this limitation, we change only two to four formations per year.
During airshows, do you try to meet the other nation demo teams? Do you share experiences with each other?
Yes we do, usually we meet the Frecce Tricolori, Red Arrows and Patrouille de France once a year during a show where we all participate the same time. We meet than for a barbeque at the Swiss Camp having time to chat and exchange each other. A part from that, we enjoy meeting other teams during hangar parties or official dinners. As we are doing all a similar job, it is always a pleasure to meet teams from abroad.
Where does the team usually perform, besides airshows?
In Switzerland, there are only one or two airshows per year. So we perform most of the time for other events like the famous downhill ski race Lauberhorn in Wengen, Concerts and city or lake festivals.
Probably a hard question and still in the future, but what will happen with the team when the F-5 retire? Will it change to the Hornet?
That is a difficult question. I think the Patrouille Suisse will last for a long time. But which aircraft will replace the F-5, I do not know…
The year 2019 will mark the 55 anniversary of the team, and 25 years since the team transitioned from the Hunter to the F-5. Are you going to celebrate this?
Sure! Visit our social media (twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube) or www.patrouille-suisse.ch and let us entertain you!
Any other demo team from the World you personally like?
One of the first international display team I saw as a child, were the Red Arrows. Since then, I always looked up to them and I personally think that they are performing one of the best shows worldwide. Especially since I’m a display pilot and know how difficult some of their maneuvers are.
Personally favourite Patrouille Suisse moment from your career? A feedback, a great memory?
One of my favorite moment was the Nordic tour in 2012. During this marvellous tour through Denmark, Norway and Finland, we presented a display by the light of the midnight sun at 11 p.m. as part of the Midsommernight Airshow in Kauhava (Finland). Unique!
Any airshow you would perform with the team?
I really like to perform at the beach. Might be because we have none in Switzerland…
Any website the fans can reach you?
Visit our social media (twitter, facebook, instagram, youtube) or www.patrouille-suisse.ch.
Thank you very much, any final words to our readers?
Hope to see you one time at an airshow!
We would like to thank for the interview Maj Gunnar “Gandalf” Jansen
Main photo: Patrouille Suisse