Operation Daedalus 2014 once again combined both Swiss & Austrian Air Force assets to secure airspace for this year’s World Economic Forum (WEF) held in Davos in the Swiss Alps from 22 to 25 January. Steve Comber reports from Sion Air Base, home to the Swiss Air Force contingent for the duration.
An F-5E Tiger II gets airborne; taken from the north side centre line opposite the storage shelter 42 © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
More than 2,500 delegates from 100 countries including more than 50 heads of state or governments attended the forum to discuss issues including the Arab Spring, Global Poverty and a global concern, Climate Change.
From ground level only one shelter from which the aircraft operate is visible at the east end from the south side © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
In addition, the Syrian Peace Conference held in Montreux during the same period required additional airspace restriction enforcement.
F/A–18C J-5019 is seen powering down the runway, this time taken from ladders (tall) on the north side opposite shelter 42 © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
With Austrian Eurofighter EF2000s operating from Graz-Thalerhof in Austria, Swiss Air Force WEF air policing operations work on a three-year rotational basis between Meiringen, Payerne and, once again, in 2014 it was Sion’s turn to ‘make some noise’.
Departure shot of a pair of F-5Es, again taken from the south side from the fence between shelter 42 and the lake © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
Some two dozen photographers from all parts of Europe could be found gathered at the fences, in vineyards and the mountains to document activities.
Evening recovery times varied greatly from day to day, as did the sunshine’s warm tonal values on snow capped mountains. Sion’s east end of runway offers endles positions from north to south side all day and from grassed areas, ladders or the mound slightly south of the approach line © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
F/A-18 Hornets and F-5E Tigers were tasked complex airspace denial and surveillance operations with airspace restricted to a radius of 25 miles around Davos and Montreux and both with a central six mile ‘no fly zone’ strictly enforced.
Almost unique, Sion offers the opportunity to look down on the airfield from a ridge in the vineyards on the north side. Depending on the light, your preference and with some repositioning you can capture take offs & recoveries mid point, look down on F-5s with drag chutes flailing and taxi off runway shots at the west end. All require 500mm plus! This image shows armed F-5E Tigers at readiness being towed to different positions in order to maintain equal flight hours amongst airframes during Operation Dadealus © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
In difference to earlier years and with the increased workload required due to the Syrian Peace Conference the flying tempo was stepped up noticeably. Morning missions launched as early as 0630, instead of 0800 in previous years, and ended around 2300 each day!
Sion Airport’s terminal building has an excellent viewing terrace located north side at the eastern end offering some respite from the elements, a restaurant, shop and comfort facilities. The balcony is open from 0800 every day, and usually during the WEF it is open until 2200 Wednesday to Friday to allow the opportunity to witness night flying activity – a great vantage point all day for those not wishing to wander too far. A tripod is advantageous for night shooting or you can have a go at panning on slow shutter speeds with high ISOs. With plenty of action there’s plenty of opportunity to practise, but make sure you wrap up warm!! © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
In the last two years Sion Air Base has seen new civilian hangars and facilities built on the south side on previously accessible agricultural ground. Sadly, though not completely, some photographic opportunities have been lost but with some imagination and a bit more movement around the base it still proves to be one of the most photogenic airfields in Europe.
The western end of the runway offers exceptional vantage points either from ladders, from an elevated position on concrete posts which have been conveniently stacked by the fence for several years now or through the fence, as this shot was taken. If only I could have been ten feet further forward maybe I could have got a full reflection of one of the three Patrouille Swiss F-5Es that were active during the WEF 2014 © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
With future plans to close the base to military flying I was keen to explore and exploit photographic opportunities to the max. The way things go, this may have been one of the last chances to shoot the Swiss Hornets and F-5s for the WEF at Sion. Who knows?!
With recent construction and completion of general aviation hangars on the south side, regrettably some of the best vantage points and departure shot opportunities have been taken away. Nevertheless with some careful positioning low departure shots can still be had. This F/A–18C J-5012 departure image is captured from the roof of the car. Other shots can be taken standing back on the south side behind the active operating shelters with the electricty pylons directly behind you © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
Having attended several WEFs in recent years I knew how important ladders or at least some elevation would be to maximise photo opportunities around the base at ground level. With the added bonus of living only 40 minutes from Dover, it’s fairly easy to drive down to Sion, offering the benefit of both ladders and a bespoke roof platform on which to stand, allowing the option to rock up at the perimeter fence and instantly shoot subject matter without the faff of ladders off/ladders on all the time.
With a 500mm plus lens you can capture something slightly different from either end of the runway © Steve Comber – www.globalaviationresource.com
The intense mission launch and recovery cycles are at times difficult to keep up with, recalling what’s up and what’s due in every 20-30 minutes; certainly a scanner in this situation would have been most beneficial. The self-enforced 14 hour days outside in the elements proved grueling but very rewarding, get to Sion whilst and if you can!