Friday 16th August - Saturday 17th August 2019
Zigermeet 2019 had the potential to be a visual spectacle like no other. Located at an airfield surrounded by mountains in a country with a reputation for dynamic displays and stunning scenery. With its connection to the Air 2030 fighter acquisition program and the airfield's historical ties to the Hawker Hunter, the 2019 edition of the airshow promised to be a rollercoaster ride of power, precision and skill.
travelled to Switzerland to attend Zigermeet on behalf of UK Airshow Review, photography by the author.
Nestled in a deep valley surrounded on three sides by the towering mountains of the Swiss Alps is a small airfield known as Flugplatz Mollis. A now mothballed military airfield which from 1939 to 1994 was home to Fliegerstaffel 20 with their D-3800 Morane, P-51D Mustang, DH-100 Vampire, DH-112 Venom, and their final mount, the legendary Hunter. As with many military airfields in Switzerland, the aircraft operated from a complex of hardened aircraft shelters and caverns predominantly carved into the adjacent mountain side. The aircraft having to cross public roads when taxiing to and from the runway. The airfield is now home to Rega - the Swiss Air Rescue service - who operate a variety of helicopter types from its limited modern hangar facilities however, every three years Mollis plays host to the Zigermeet airshow which, thanks to its stunning surroundings represents a completely unique experience for even the most hardened international airshow traveller, one that has to be seen to be believed.
Thanks to the mountain hangars, the layout of the airfield suffers from limited dispersal and taxiway areas. This constrains the static display opportunities open to the organisers of Zigermeet who choose to concentrate on providing a small but quality static gathering, whilst dedicating the remainder of the available dispersal space to flying participants. Thus, allowing visitors up close and personal with them as the crews depart and arrive from their perspective display slots. Making their presence known this year were the German Luftwaffe who not only provided their Tiger Schemed Typhoon from TLG-74 “Bavarian Tigers” but also provided what was perhaps the largest ever military static aircraft at the event, an Airbus A400M. Which, upon its arrival the day before the show, was expertly reversed under its own power into its parking spot from the runway. Other rarely seen gems in the static line-up included the Pilatus PC-24 prototype and a new PC-21 from the French Armee-de-l’Air.
With such a stunning natural background, the enthusiast doesn’t visit the Zigermeet for the static display opportunities but rather for the spectacle on offer in the air. With excellent weather on the Friday and more variable conditions on the Saturday, the 2019 instalment certainly excelled itself in this regard. Initially operating from their respective home airfields, all three Swiss Air Force displays (Super Puma/Cougar, F-18C Hornet and the Patrouille Suisse) appeared in turn throughout the day. Surprisingly with the exception of the Patrouille none of the home team used flares as part of their display, which seemed unusual judging by displays performed elsewhere.
However, the confines of the valley at Mollis meant that display pilots had to adjust their display to fit especially when there was not enough airspace to safely perform a minimum radius turn in front of the crowd. Whilst displays accomplished this with varying degrees of success throughout the show, the Swiss home team provided the others with a masterclass in mountain air displays. The Patrouille Suisse in particular utilising the valley mouth to the North in order to perform their dynamic set pieces whilst then flying over and around the mountain to reposition for their formation low passes in front of the crowd. All at the same time as keeping the crowd constantly entertained - professionalism at its peak. The Patrouille were not the only military display team in town with the appearance of the popular Wings of Storm from the Croatian Air Force who continue to impress. As ever, the team were supported by a Mi-171 which was unfortunately hidden away on the active ramp away from the static display all weekend.
A variety of warbirds and civilian teams represented the bulk of the flying display, however, not once could anything be called the same, all the acts flew different types with completely different displays. To witness well known civilian displays such as the Swiss Classic Formation performing their display in such tight confines was an awesome sight; as was the remarkable show by Christian Moullec who, flying his microlight achieved a precise formation demonstration with his flock of Geese no less. The history of the airfield was also represented by displays from the MeierMotors provided P-51D Mustang “See Me Later” and the Tiger-schemed Hunter T.68, although it was disappointing that the advertised appearance by MeierMotors Sea Fury did not also appear. Finishing up this line-up and providing a somewhat soothing display both days was the Baltic Bees team in their L-39s although their display was largely ruined by their commentator's annoying method of slowly speaking in English in what almost sounded like a fake American accent.
The majority of the warbird and civilian proportion of Zigermeet 2019 were eclipsed by the appearance of the Swedish Air Force Historic Flight's recently restored two-seat SAAB Viggen in its splendid splinter camouflage scheme. When this aircraft displayed, the ground and your bones shook from the power of its Volvo RM8 engine, a feeling many had missed. It was such a shame however to then see this gem of the European warbird scene be displayed at a relatively high altitude away from the crowd.
The undoubted highlights of this year’s show came courtesy of the Swiss Air Force's modernisation program to find a replacement for the venerable F-5 Tiger - known as Air 2030. Presently, there are five types being evaluated for the contract; the Lockheed Martin F-35A, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon and SAAB Gripen E, with Mollis being the largest show in Switzerland this year solo examples of them all except the Super Hornet and F-35 took part in the flying display being provided by the Swedish Air Force, Armee de l’Air and, a rarely seen, German Typhoon display from TLG-71 "Richtofen". Whilst on the ground, all five manufacturers were trying to sway public opinion through copious amounts of free gifts, mock ups (in the form of the F-35 and Typhoon) plus display stands either for the public or VIPs to visit. The event also gave the manufacturers the opportunity to highlight their types compatibility with the Swiss mountain facilities with their aircraft being stored in them each evening.
Again, the close proximity of the mountains would prove a challenge and, if this competition was being won by the aircraft that performed the most dynamic and tight display in the conditions, then the Rafale would have easily won the order with the Typhoon coming in last of the three attendees. It did make one wonder if a more established display from either the RAF or Italian Air Force would have faired better in the conditions.
Dates for a future event are yet to be announced, however the next show will likely be in 2022. With the airfield being less than an hour from Zurich it is certainly easy for the international traveller to attend. We would recommend bringing some food and drink with you, as we found that the catering could not cope with the sheer number of visitors to the event for most of the day. Good stout footwear is also a must as the walk from the public car parks is a fairly significant distance. These however are small prices to pay to witness some of the most breath-taking scenery on the planet whilst at the same time watching an airshow.