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The Swiss Transport Museum: An alpine aviation treasure

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The Swiss Transport Museum: An alpine aviation treasure

The Swiss Transport Museum: An alpine aviation treasure
May 10
11:12 2016

Published in July 2016 issue

By Luigi Vallero

The Swiss also have a fascinating history in transportation. They have built daring mountain railways, cable cars, lake steamboats, and quality aircraft of the caliber of the Pilatus products. For decades, Switzerland has been home to Swissair, once regarded as the epitome of excellence in commercial aviation, but now replaced by Swiss International Air Lines, or Swiss (LX).

In the beautiful city of Lucerne, on the shores of the Vierwaldstättersee (also known as Lake Lucerne), the Swiss Transport Museum, also known as the Verkehrshaus der Schweiz, celebrates all forms of transport and communications, from locomotives to automobiles, ships, and aircraft.

The Museum, which opened in July 1959, is the most comprehensive of its kind across Europe. It documents the history of human mobility and communication through more tan 3,000 objects spread over an area of 20,000 square meters, with exhibits that include original crafts, models, simulators, interactive stations, and films. There is also a large collection of works by local painter and sculptor Hans Erni, a planetarium, an IMAX theater, and the Swiss Arena, a 1:20,000 scale walkable aerial photograph of Switzerland.

The Aviation Hall

For the aviation enthusiast, the museum’s aircraft and memorabilia collection offers some unique pieces preserved in mint condition for posterity, and is definitely more than enough reason to make the trip to Lucerne.

In the Aviation Hall are more than 30 historic aircraft and flying machines spanning the complete aviation era and representing both the military and civilian sectors. You will find the Breitling gondola used by Bertrand Piccard in 1998 during his second attempt to circumnavigate the earth and the 4.5-ton EURECA satellite. The more than 300 original artifacts on display include engines, large-scale models, simulators, dioramas, and memorabilia ranging from old timetables to marketing literature, chinaware and uniforms.

For the airliner buff, the highlights are the four beautifully preserved airliners that testify the progress of commercial aviation in Switzerland.

The Fokker F.VIIa

The F.VII was designed by Walter Rethel as a single-engined transport aircraft for Dutch aviation pioneer Anthony Fokker. Five examples were built for KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines. In 1924, H-NACC had the distinction of performing the first flight from the Netherlands to the Dutch East Indies.

Slightly larger than the standard F.VII, and with a revised undercarriage and wing, the classic looking and elegant F.VIIa was considered one of the most luxurious airliners of its era, able to seat up to 10 passengers with an unprecedented level of comfort. The first of the type, flown on March 12, 1925, was originally powered by a 420hp (310kW) V-12 Packard Liberty engine. The remaining 39 F.VIIas had either Bristol Jupiter or Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engines.

Fokker sold three of its F.VIIa to the Swiss Balair for CHF 90,000 each, the oldest of these originally registered CH-157 (c/n 5005) later becoming HBLBO in 1934. CH-157 was the only one of its kind to be transferred to the newly formed Swissair, originating from the merger between Balair and Ad Astra Aero. In 1938, its seating capacity was increased from eight to 10. The following year, Fokker installed a new, more powerful engine and retired the aircraft from scheduled passenger service, using it primarily for schooling purposes and sightseeing flights until 1950.

It then spent the next 16 years on the ground, until restored in 1966 by the Swissair Fokker Team. It has been on display in the transportation museum of Lucerne since 1972.

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The Lockheed 9C Orion

When it entered service, the Lockheed 9C Orion was the fastest commercial aircraft of its time and the only one with a retractable undercarriage. A rare sight in European skies—Swissair was the only airline in Europe to use this unique six-passenger aircraft—the ‘Roter Hund’, or Red Hound, as it was nicknamed due to its distinctive all red livery and speed, entered service in May 1932 on the prestigious Zürich–Munich–Vienna express route.

Although passengers had to pay a 10-franc surcharge for flying the Orion, the aircraft proved so popular that most of its flights were fully booked.

The aircraft on display at the Swiss Transport Museum is the only surviving example of its kind anywhere, out of 35 Orions that were built between 1931 and 1934 at a cost of $25,000 each. Originally built in 1931 as an experimental Altair—Lockheed’s single-engined sport aircraft of the 1930s with a metal fuselage—the aircraft on display at Lucerne was damaged in a belly-landing accident in Columbus, Ohio, in 1933.

It was rebuilt and converted in 1934 by Lockheed’s Orion designer, Richard A. Von Hake, to the Orion 9C standard. Later sold to Shell Aviation Corp. and christened ‘Shellightning’, it was used by Shell’s aviation manager, James ‘Jimmy’ H. Doolittle, on cross-country and exhibition flights.

Once again involved in an accident in St. Louis in 1936, Shellightning was stored there for a couple of years before air-racing pilot and aerial stuntman Paul Mantz bought it. He rebuilt it at Parks Air College in St. Louis, Missouri, this time putting in the more powerful Wright Cyclone engine. In this new life, the aircraft took part in the Bendix Races in 1938 and 1939, coming in third both times. Mantz sold it in 1943; it then went through a series of different owners until Mantz bought it back in 1955, keeping it until 1962, when he sold it again, this time to movie stunt-flying company TallMantz Aviation.

In 1964, the aircraft was sporting the original blueand- white American Airways livery at Orange County Airport, before being purchased later that decade by Swissair. The Swiss airline had it rebuilt once again to flying status by the famous Fokker restoration team, which repainted it in the ‘hot red’ Swissair livery of the era to depict the original CH-167.

After its long and adventurous life, the aircraft is now finally on well-deserved display at the Swiss Transport Museum.


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The Douglas DC-3

No aviation museum could be without a specimen of the most successful transport aircraft ever built. In Switzerland, between 1937 and 1964, a total of 16 different DC-3 airframes bore the familiar Swissair red livery colors on scheduled service across Europe, aircraft of the type are still operating leisure flights to this day.

The DC-3 at the museum, bearing c/n 16645/33393, was built in 1944 as a C-47B Skytrain for the US Air Force, originally flying as 44-77061 before moving to the Royal Air Force as KN683.

Sold in 1947 to Swissair, it began its comercial career by entering service on August 3 of that same year as HB-IRN, inaugurating flights from Zürich to Manchester. It continued flying for the Swiss carrier until 1964. Then, the Swissair Aviation School used it for training purposes until 1969, when it was finally donated to the Swiss Transport Museum.

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The Convair CV-990 Coronado

The centerpiece of the Aviation Hall, due to both its size and pedigree—it was the fastest, most expensive to operate, most luxurious jetliner of its time, often dubbed the Maserati or Ferrari of the air—is a beautifully preserved Convair 990ª Coronado sample.

Swissair was one of the few operators of the Coronado, flying a total of eight aircraft (HBICA to ICH). The unit on display (c/n 30-10-12) entered service with Swissair on January 25, 1962, registered HB-ICC (previous registration N8499H with Convair), and named St. Gallen.

The Swiss flag carrier flew the Coronado fleet on its most prestigious routes to the Far East, Africa, and South America, until prematurely retiring the planes from service in 1975 due to their high operational costs, and replacing them with the more fuel-efficient and larger DC-10-30s.

In 13 years of service with Swissair, the eight Coronados logged a total of 236,000 flying hours, covering some 175 million kilometers (109 million miles), and carrying approximately nine million passengers.

After being retired from service on March 30 1975, HB-ICC was stored at the airline’s Zürich Kloten airport headquarters before being donated to the Swiss Transport Museum. The rather complicated way in which the aircraft was transferred to the museum ground in Lucerne is well documented by an interesting documentary displayed onboard the aircraft: First it was flown the short 60-mile hop from Kloten to the small Alpnach military airport, located on the other side of Lake Lucerne. Then, in the early morning hours of June 2, 1975, it was towed to the museum’s lakeshore location on a barge with its tail and wingtips removed to enable it to pass under the motorway bridge at Stansstad. It was a most peculiar end to the jetliner’s traveling career.

The beautifully preserved original interior of the Coronado is accessible from the second level of the museum’s Aviation Hall. Upon entering the cabin through the rear door, you are transported to a bygone era of leisurely travel, when plush and wide cushioned seats were found in Economy Class, and the First Class cabin had luxurious seating, open overhead racks, and a dedicated forward lounge area offering comfortable seating in which Premium passengers could relax and socialize while sipping cocktails on long-haul flights.

In the aft part of the Economy Class cabin, a couple of monitors show the documentary telling the story of the ferry flight to Alpnach, as well as a 1960s-era promo video of Swissair of the pre-flight preparations, cruise, and the spectacular approach of a Swissair Convair 990 into Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport.

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The world of Swiss

The Aviation Hall section dubbed The World of SWISS is a thematic island dedicated to Switzerland’s flag-carrier. Here, visitors can compete with each other in an aviation quiz or enjoy sitting in a mockup of Business Class or Economy section of an A340 or a replica of one of the renowned SWISS First Class lounges. Interactive displays explain how the carrier operates, and an information station displays real-time data on the position of each SWISS aircraft around the globe.

A recently added flight simulator lets visitors try a real-time approach to Zürich-Kloten airport, using SWISS’s real-time flight plan. The visitor performs the approach at the same time and in the same aircraft that is currently landing at the airport. To mark a successful landing, the simulator sends a Pilot’s license via iPad direct to the visitor’s email account.

All in all, the Swiss Transport Museum is a truly worthwhile trip.

 

 

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Luigi Vallero

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