It’s not every day a helicopter operator hits 100,000 flight hours on a single helicopter type. Since 2010, when the country’s 20 H135s became fully operational, the Swiss Air Force has clocked 100,000 flight hours with the multi-mission helicopter type. The helicopters are stationed at several locations in Alpnach, Bern-Belp, Dübendorf, Locarno and Payerne throughout the year. At the Alpnach, Dübendorf and Payerne sites, the H135s are used for pilot training, as well as the training and deployment of certified pilots. At Bern-Belp, the two H135s are available for VIP transport. During recruit training in Payerne, the ground organisation of the militia is also trained on the H135 for work on the flight line, so that upcoming missions can also be carried out in troop service.
“Due to the versatility of the H135 helicopters, we are fortunate to have a varied daily routine – which also means that you have to master many different procedures. In the morning you might be searching for a missing aircraft, and in the afternoon you might be flying a surveillance mission with the Border Guard Corps. The Alps are located in our area of operations, thus good flight preparation and weather forecasting is very important,” says Swiss Armed Forces’ chief pilot, Michael Wirz.
“One of our main tasks is to train helicopter pilots. We train around five students per year on the H135, before they move on to large aircraft, such as the Cougar or the Super Puma. We also use it for a wide range of other missions, including border surveillance, ensuring our air safety, and patient transport. A few weeks ago I was called away from another mission to help a glider pilot who had problems with his radio. I intercepted the glider and the problem was resolved. The glider pilot was able to return safely to his airfield, ” says Michael Wirz, Chief Pilot at the Swiss Armed Forces.
The H135 is a twin-engine light utility helicopter produced by Airbus Helicopters (formerly known as Eurocopter). It is capable of flight under instrument flight rules (IFR) and is outfitted with a digital automatic flight control system (AFCS). The H135 can be used in many different roles and a range of attachments (e.g. rescue winch, rope down device, load beams, and ski pads) can be fitted in a short time. This makes the aircraft extremely versatile. In addition, the helicopter can be flown with only one pilot under instrument flight conditions, making it possible to reach destinations throughout Switzerland, even in challenging weather conditions. The H135M, certified under the name Eurocopter EC635, is a military variant.