St. Moritz 2017 - Airshow
Better late than never. The event took place almost two months ago but I'm not really fast when it comes to editing. Now I think I have enough photos for a small 'trip' report.
First, I hate big crowds. And Ski World Championships are definitely a crowd magnet. So I was looking for a place with not that many people and a good view on the flypasts. The first thing I did (and usually do when looking for a new spot) was checking suncalc.net to sort out locations where I'd be facing the sun (avoiding backlit shots). This however turned out to be inevitable and so my idea was to get as high as possible (*insert pun here*) to observe the scene from above and therefore get as little sky as possible in my photos. Because - you might have experienced it yourself - editing backlit sky shots is very annoying. My choice fell on a peak near the start of the races called Piz Nair. It's an impressive 3'057m (10'030ft) high and reachable by cable car.
Day 1: Thursday, 9.2.2017 - Training
Thursday was the first training day for the CS100 and the Patrouille Suisse and also my turn to check out the location. I only had my 200-500mm lens and a teleconverter with me to reduce weight. My back was thankful.
After a 4-hour train ride I arrived in an astonishingly empty St. Moritz. The women's downhill training didn't seem to attract that many people and so I decided to walk from the train station to the funicular station, past the famous Badrutt's Palace. If you walk through St. Moritz in winter, you'll encounter a very special tourist species: rich, female and mostly Russian. The richer, the more fur they wear. Often more than their four-legged friends...
Anyway, I then took the funicular from St. Moritz to Corviglia and from there the cable car to the top of Piz Nair. I was a bit early and had enough time to enjoy the view (and regret not having my wide-angle lens with me).
It was sunny all morning until shortly before the airshow training was scheduled. Then the fog came rolling in...
Meanwhile, the CS100 had taken off from LSZH and was heading south. On FL100, flight LX7517 changed from civil ATC to military ATC and switched to VFR. Flightradar24 had some problems tracking it as it flew close to the mountains so I had to wait with my camera always ready to shoot. Also, the first few flypasts were planned without the Patrouille Suisse so you couldn't hear it approaching (the CS100 is extremely silent).
The fog disappeared just in time and the CS100 was starting its descent. A few minutes later it came soaring into the valley and made a first turn over the race courses.
After a 180° turn over Celerina it made another flypast and then disappeared where it came from.
The next flypast was closer to the opposite mountain range so it would be able to perform a 180° turn inside the valley.
In front of Piz Languard (3'262m / 10'702ft)...
... past the fogged-in Bernina Valley...
... and banking over the also fogged-in Lake Silvaplana.
While heading towards Samedan Airport where it'd be joined by the Patrouille Suisse, the CS100 repeated its first flypast. I later noticed that there were people walking on the frozen lake in the back so I cropped this photo quite heavily. The quality suffers but I like it anyway...
When it returned with the Patrouille Suisse in tow, we (the guy next to me, who I bet didn't regret bringing along his camera, and I) thought that something was missing. In fact two things. Apparantly the PS was flying with only four instead of the usual six jets. Tiger Nr. 4 stayed on the ground because the pilot - Gunnar "Gandalf" Jansen - wasn't feeling well (or he had to fight Sauron that day). No idea, however, why the 6th jet wasn't flying.
Looks strange with two Tigers missing:
This is therefore the only photo I edited of this formation taken that day.
Next up was the Patrouille Suisse display:
So... the first training was over and silence returned to the valley. I had found my photo location for the airshow on Saturday and was (and still am) happy with the results.
Day 2: Friday, 10.2.2017 - On board the CS100
Zurich Airport, Operation Center 1, 13:00. Together with two local aviation journalists and a video journalist I was waiting at the entrance of OPC1 for a SWISS employee. We were the four lucky ones who got invited to be on board during the second training flight. After passing the security gate, we met the crew: Captain Emeri (former Hunter pilot), Captain Müller (serving Super Puma pilot) and Senior First Officer Vogel (former F-16 pilot). During airshows, there have to be three pilots in the cockpit - two pilots flying and the third one checking the instruments. SWISS also requires the cockpit crew for airshows to have a military aviation background.
Since there are no passengers allowed on board during airshows, we were registred as crew members (max. 4 per flight besides pilots) and received a special boarding pass.
After we'd signed the boarding pass and some papers, first officer Vogel explained the flight procedure to us, using two maps of the area. I'll show you one of them and try to explain it, as good as possible.
First phase (red): Approaching the valley from between Piz Julier and Piz Nair (yellow star) and descending from 13'000 to 9'000 and finally 8'500ft
Second phase (blue): Maintaining 8'500ft between the start of the ski course (A) and the finish line (B). After a quarter of the 360° turn over Lake St. Moritz, climbing to 9'000ft, flying a semicircle, descending back to 8'500ft and completing the circle
Third phase (black): Heading towards Samedan Airport and joining the Patrouille Suisse on 9'000ft
With these interesting informations we proceeded to the security checkpoint where I first triggered the metal detector and then the "explosives" alarm. Turned out one ingredient of my moisturizer can also be used to build a bomb. Good to know... Apparently captain Emeri used to have the same problem in the past as he told me on the way to the crew bus.
Meanwhile in St. Moritz, the weather was getting worse - fog, clouds and even snowfall. Not knowing if we'd even take off from Zurich, our bus was approaching HB-JBA, the first delivered CS100, parked on D09.
While the pilots were feeding the bord computers, we chose our seats and took some photos of the cabin.
The weather was still very unpleasant and so we joined FO Vogel on the walk-around. We spent almost 30min outside where he showed us every little detail and shared his knowledge. The most impressive thing about the CS100 are definitely the huge PW1500g engines.
After our extended walk-around, we were invited to the cockpit. Captain Emeri was busy talking on the phone (with the guy in St. Moritz who was responsible for our flypasts) and so it was captain Müller's turn to explain his office just as detailed as his colleague on the tarmac before.
And the view from seat 0A through the head-up display (HUD)...
While we were taking photos, Captain Emeri entered the cockpit and informed us that the flight had been cancelled. So just like in January during the Lauberhorn ski races, the weather fooled me again. Maybe next year...
Day 3: Saturday, 11.2.2017 - Airshow
Third airshow day of the Ski World Championships and I was once again on my way to St. Moritz together with a colleague. Although we left as early as possible, the train was particularly crowded with people that were either still drunk or already drunk... festival-like atmosphere. And unlike on Thursday, St. Moritz was just as jam-packed as the train before. So we didn't spend much time in the village but took the funicular and the cable car to the top of Piz Nair where we arrived 30 minutes later.
Near the start of the race course (downhill that day), they built a temporary heliport. I've never seen that many helicopter movements in less than an hour. Every minute there was a heli taking off or landing. Before the airshow started, they had to be either on the ground or outside the restricted area as the airspace over St. Moritz (up to FL200) was closed for one hour. That's when these photos were taken:
Then the airshow started. First, the CS100 made some flypasts while the Patrouille Suisse was on holding somewhere nearby.
It approached the valley about 1000ft below us and the fog in the background makes it look like an air-to-air shot somewhere on cruising altitude.
After demonstrating its capabilities to the nearly 40'000 people on the ground, the PS joined in and greeted the crowd with a low flypast and flares.
They then left the valley, flew a loop around the nearby peaks at 11'000ft and descended back into the valley where the CS100 made its first appearance at the beginning of the airshow.
Now it was time for the solo performance of the Patrouille Suisse and so the CS100 left the formation and headed out of the valley the same way it entered.
The second photo of these three is probably my favourite shot I've ever taken.
Now it was the Patrouille Suisse's turn to show their skills. They never fail to leave an impression even if you've seen them 20 times before.
Through the fog...
... and in front of clear blue sky.
After a fantastic display (as usual) they said goodbye with some flares and thundered out of the Engadin Valley, heading home.
The last photo of this post shows what a great and busy February it's been in St. Moritz: the Ski World Championships, the White Turf Horse Races (and Snow Polo) and some great airshows.
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