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Leg 58 Part 2 - LIRP San Giusto (Pisa, Italy) to LSZE Bad Ragaz (Switzerland)

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Leg 58 Part 2 - LIRP San Giusto (Pisa, Italy) to LSZE Bad Ragaz (Switzerland) 

This, the second part of this leg takes me from Pisa north to the Alps, and over them to the ski resort of Bad Ragaz.

I was still a bit shaken from the first section of this leg, but I was in one piece thanks to the plucky little Harrier, and I was pleased to find out I was to continue my journey with the same aircraft. For those of you who read it, there is probably a lucrative pilots vacancy in Henchmans Weekly after my drama in the first part of this leg.

However, Jasmin had stitched me up for this section as she had arranged for me to take part in an exercise with the Swiss armed forces. I was to act as a ‘hostile’ aircraft and would try to penetrate the Swiss defences and do a mock attack on Bad Ragas of all places.  Clearly the Top Brass didn’t want their skiing holidays interrupted in time of war. The Swiss would try to detect and intercept me on my run into to the resort town. I drew up an aggressive flight plan that would make all attempts to evade their radar, and if detected avoid interception. My defeat would be signalled by a successful intercept and my victory by a very low pass over Bad Ragas.  All flying at Bad Ragas had been suspended for the duration of the exercise to ensure low level flight safety. My alternative airport would be LOIH, Hohenems-Dornbrin.

There was little chance of another attack by Temperance as although the location of their airfield hadn’t been found yet, the Italian air force was up in strength and patrolling the Tyrrhenian Sea between the Italian mainland and the islands of Corsica and Sardinia. There was also a US aircraft carrier in the area.


Planned Route.

If the Swiss don’t detect me then Temperance haven’t a chance so I was not too worried anyway. It actually sounded like it might be fun, so how could I refuse. I had intended to fly high until I got to the Alps and then attempt the Swiss airspace penetration at low level but given the Temperance attack I opted to go low for the whole trip. It would make it just that little bit harder for the Swiss if their radar covered any part of Italy, which I found out later it did.

As it turned out I had a free day in Pisa as the Harrier had to have some minor maintenance done on it.  So I went off into Pisa to improve my mind.




The leaning tower of Pisa

So I went into the town of Pisa and found a hotel. Once settled in I set off to see the leaning tower of Pisa. Originally designed as a bell tower, and already leaning before it was completed it now leans at an angle of 3.97 degrees. The reason for this is poor foundations, so it’s a monument to ‘cowboy’ builders the world over. I also had a stroll along the banks of the river Arno, looked at the Palazzo dei Cavalieri in the Knights Square and wandered around the Borgo Stretto. 


The Borgo Stretto

The last of these is a group of buildings that have fine architecture and contain very high end shops. This is a very Italian thing, shops with glitzy things in them that cost a lottery winners prize and always have no one in them. Every major Italian city has them and they always seem to have no customers in them.  It must be a state sponsored thing to advance the Italian image, I can’t see any way they stay in business.


San Giusto Airport Pisa

I awoke early for my flight to Bad Ragaz and arrived at the airport an hour earlier than I needed to. It was just as well. I went over to the Harrier only to find her in bits, and RAF team all over her like a rash.’

‘What’s up’ I ask the Sargent in charge of the maintenance team.

‘I think putting this old girl through her paces yesterday has caused a couple of issues. She won’t be going anywhere for a couple of days.  Sorry’

This was a problem. The Swiss were expecting an exercise today and I had no plane to do it in. Furthermore I needed an aircraft that was capable of staging a mock attack and landing at a short airfield. I got on the phone to Jasmine and started to explain the situation.

‘Calm down’ Jasmine said, ‘there is a backup plan and I know about the Harrier.’

‘Glad to hear it’ I said.

‘Where are you now?’ jasmine asked

‘I am with the Harrier at the main parking area’ I replied.

‘Ok, get yourself to the parking area nearest to Runway 04 left, it is between taxiway A and B and on the same side of the runways as you are now. Call be back when you get there.’

I said I would, ended the call and set about finding my way to the area Jasmine described.

Eventually I got a lift in a battered old Land Rover and headed out to what was a remote parking place. As we approached I could see there was an aircraft parked out there, and as we got nearer I could see it was military. The nearer I got the clearer it became and suddenly I realised what it was.


Royal Navy F35B Lightning 2

The aircraft was a Royal Navy F35B Lightning 2. She had been loaded on an American aircraft carrier that was now patrolling the Tyrrhenian as part of the US task force there.  I called Jasmine as promised and she confirmed that I was to fly the aircraft on my exercise.

Well I had the perfect aircraft for the job I was to do today, better than the Harrier as I had stealth on my side. However I did reflect on the fact that this aircraft might have made the encounter with the Temperance fighter less stressful, but maybe fighting with a proven platform was better than with a new and unproven one.

Before I was going anywhere I had a briefing to go to. My mission on this part of the leg was to penetrate the Swiss early warning radar undetected.  I had to learn more about the systems I was up against.

Radar coverage in Switzerland is challenging. The country is full of mountains and valleys providing plenty of radar shadows blind spots and so on. To combat this the Swiss have an S band Radar system called FLORAKO. This consists of a four site military radar system named FLORES which is joined with civilian Radar installations all over the country using a coms system called KOMSYS. This is integrated with RALUS, a system that manages the coordination of all the radar sources.  Across this system is a warning system called LUNAS-E2, and this is the system I was trying to evade. This can be augmented by mobile ground units as well.


One of the Swiss mountain top Radar stations.

There followed a further briefing on how to make the best of the aircraft’s stealth capabilities and how to apply these capabilities to the flight plan all highly classified stuff so that’s all I am saying

This aircraft was ready to go, so I did a longer than usual walk round to remind me of the external aspects of the aircraft and then settled into the cockpit to take my time remembering how it all works.  It’s a much easier task to do this than for a Harrier. A shed load of work is now done by computer and this makes the aircraft so much easier to fly, almost like having a second crew member.


Testing the VTOL configuration.

I would be performing a conventional take-off as Pisa has ample runway length, but my landing at Bad Ragaz would be a short or vertical landing as the airfield was short.  I would have to get my fuel right for this trip. I was taking no payload other than the baton so that would help with getting the aircraft’s weight right as this would be critical to my short or vertical landing at my destination.


Taxi to Runway 04R

I was given taxi clearance to runway 04 right and started my taxi to the runway, the wheels thrumming and the aircraft nodding gently as I crossed bumps in the taxiway. I arrived at the runway threshold and was given take-off clearance straight away.


Ready for Take-off

I set up the aircraft for a conventional take-off and opened the throttles. The aircraft roared down the runway, taking care of flaps and gear itself and I was soon away. Hmmmm… I thought, a lively bird she climbs well.


Conventional Take-Off

I started as I intended to continue and stayed fast and low. I was going to fly the easy long and straight parts at 630 kts. and 500 ft. going through the mountains I would have to slow down but I would still be looking to keep my speed up as much as I dared.

I passed through the hills of the Parco Nazional dell’Appenennino Tosco-Emiliano to the north of Pisa and then over the wide Po valley to the Alps beyond.


Crossing the planes and the river Po.

Having had some experience of the Mach loop I was confident I could handle the valleys of the Alps, but they would be somewhat different in scale. If I was to remain undetected then I would have to keep my head down and caress the valley floors. But first I must fly the length of Lake Garda which was my route into the Alps.


Low and fast over Lake Garda

Lake Garda behind me, the mountains started to rise up around me. As I entered Italy’s portion of the Alps, again hugging the valley floors helping out the aircrafts stealth properties by using the mountains to mask my progress.


Penetrating the Swiss border

I crossed into Switzerland near the small town of Madonna di Tirano, with my aircrafts defence systems still silent, watching for radar signals and finding none.


Mach Loop on steroids


Very scary!

The further I flew into the mountains I went the more tortious the valleys and mountains became. It was not the same as the Mach Loop, it was far harder and far more lethal, one error and I would become a mountain side fireball.

I was less than 40 km from my target when the aircraft’s warning systems lit up. I was flying through the reach of an S Band radar. But just as quickly as it had started the warnings stopped.  The radar had scanned across me and not seen me, this stealth stuff really works. I was glad I wasn’t in the Harrier, it would have been game over.


Final high speed ‘attacking run’ on Bad Ragaz runway.

My Speed at 630 Kts and my radar Altitude 230ft, 40 Km was gone in a flash and soon blasting along the line of the runway on my mock bombing run. RAF 1 Switzerland 0. A good result for me. Perhaps worrying for the Swiss Defence Minister or equivalent thereof.



Bad Ragaz chart.

I slowed right down, looped back the way I had come and made a vertical landing approach. I went into a hover to the right of runway 2 and then side slipped on to the runway before setting the aircraft gently down.


Hover approach

After a perfect landing I left the runway and ……


Vertical Landing

…..taxied the aircraft to the small apron and shut the aircraft down.  After climbing out I met a Royal Navy ground crew and Pilot who would take over the aircraft from me.





All done with the handover, I said my goodbyes and went off in search of Steph to hand the baton over. As I walked to the terminal building I thought about this part of the leg. The mission probably wouldn’t have been successful in the Harrier as the F35’s stealth properties no doubt prevented me from being detected, and the computer co-pilot may well have helped me from becoming one with the Alps. But on balance I preferred the Harrier.  It’s more of an aircraft than a computer, which can’t be said of the F35, or should I call it the Lightning 2?


Enough of that.  Sadly the last of my ATWC 7 legs was complete. I always look forward to the adventures it brings. Time to start planning for next time.

I think the bar is through these glass doors.

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