Meiringen air base, also known as the Unterbach military airfield, is a Swiss military airbase located near the hamlet of Unterbach and the town of Meiringen, in the canton of Bern. It is one of the Swiss Air Force’s three fighter aircraft bases, and home to Fighter Squadron 11. The airfield is situated in the steep-sided alpine valley of the Aar river, with its single runway parallel to the river. It is flanked to the north by the main road to Meiringen, the river, and the Brünig railway line. To the south, taxiways connect the airfield to aircraft caverns built within the valley side. In 2004, militia Squadron 8 “Destructors”, equipped with the F-5E Tiger, moved to Meiringen from Buochs Airport. In 2007, professional Squadron 11 “Tiger”, equipped with the F/A-18, moved from Dübendorf Air Base.
Shortly after World War II and the beginning of the Cold War with the possible escalation between the nuclear superpowers of the Eastern and Western blocks, the Swiss Air Force began to develop concepts for defending their neutrality in the case of a conflict. In the 1940s, the Swiss army had already built so-called retablierstollen (re-equipping caves) at some airfields. These retablierstollen consisted of 100m long straight tunnels excavated in the rock, making it possible to store and eventually re-arm small Swiss fighter aircraft such as the then used Messerschmitt Bf 109 and the Morane-Saulnier M.S.406. The dimensions of these tunnels are comparable to an autobahn tunnel. The airfields chosen were Alpnach, Buochs, Meiringen, St.Stephan and Saanen, all located in the Alps with a lot of cover in the vicinity of the runway so that the aircraft could be out of sight within minutes after touchdown.
The Meiringen Air Base started operations on 1 December 1941. The base played an important role in the 1946 C-53 Skytrooper crash on the Gauli Glacier: the rescue operation was launched and coordinated by the Meiringen air base. After World War 2, an aircraft cavern was built in Meiringen. Aircraft cavern, a calque of the German word Flugzeugkaverne, is an underground hangar amongst others used by the Swiss Air Force. In the 1970 years the construction of another cavern tunnel was started for the A-7G Corsair II, but because the A-7G was not bought, this construction was completed as an ammunition storage cavern. With the introduction of the F/A-18 the aircraft cavern was rebuilt again and received another tunnel so the aircraft can go straight in and out at the same time. In the inside maneuvering without crane is now possible.
The airfield of Meiringen is still important for the Air Force. With the closure of Sion Air Base in 2016, it will be one of only three fighter bases, along with Payerne Air Base and Emmen Air Base. It is the home base to two fighter squadrons, militia Squadron 8 “Destructors”, equipped with the Northrop F-5E Tiger, and professional Squadron 11 “Tiger”, equipped with the McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet. Meiringen is the only Swiss airbase that uses an aircraft cavern in daily operations. The runway is equipped with retractable arresting gear devices at both ends. The operation of the aerodrome has for the region and the town of Meiringen, both positive and negative effects: noise emissions by the military jets is for the affected population as well as for tourism businesses. The airfield is, however, with some 190 labor and 25 training places an important economic factor for the region. The airfield has a small museum that is open on Wednesday afternoons from May to October; different pieces of equipment are exhibited as well as an Aérospatiale Alouette III and an F-5 Tiger.