Schlepp or the Alpine Aneater Ground Attacker

From 1971 to 1987, the Swiss Air Force operated the F+W C-3605, also known as “Schlepp” (“Tug”) or “Alpine Anteater,” primarily for target towing. Developed in the late 1960s by the Swiss Federal Construction Works (Eidgenoessische Konstruktionswerkstaette) (EKW), which later became Farner Werke (F+W) in 1972, this aircraft was a modified version of the existing C-3603.

The Schlepp was initially designed for ground attacks and target towing. After the first successful prototype conversion in 1968, a total of 23 aircraft were transformed for this purpose from 1971 to 1973, with two of them still operational under private ownership.


Origins and Development

The F+W C-3605’s origins and development are rooted in the pragmatic and innovative approach of the Swiss Air Force to adapt and upgrade existing military equipment.

In the 1960s, Switzerland, adhering to its long-standing policy of neutrality, sought to optimize its defense capabilities without excessive expenditure. This led to the transformation of the existing C-3603, a ground attack and target towing aircraft, into the C-3605.

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Developed by the Swiss Federal Construction Works (Eidgenoessische Konstruktionswerkstaette), later renamed Farner Werke (F+W) in 1972, the C-3605 was a strategic response to changing military needs.

This initiative was part of a broader post-WWII Swiss strategy focused on maintaining a capable and efficient air force by modernizing and repurposing existing equipment. The C-3605 project aimed to provide the Swiss Air Force with a versatile aircraft, primarily for target towing, but with capabilities extending to other roles as required.

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The C-3605’s design and development were marked by an emphasis on practicality and functionality. The project was a testimony to Swiss engineering, showcasing how an older aircraft model could be effectively converted to meet contemporary military needs.

This approach not only saved resources but also ensured that the Swiss Air Force could quickly adapt to the evolving landscape of military aviation in the post-war era.

Schlepp Design and Features

The F+W C-3605 was distinguished by its robust and functional design, tailored to meet the specific needs of the Swiss Air Force. As a converted aircraft, the C-3605 maintained the fundamental structure of its predecessor, the C-3603, but with significant modifications to enhance its new role as a target towing aircraft.

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One of the most notable features of the C-3605 was its unobstructed rectangular fuselage, which was designed to maximize internal space. This design choice made it capable of seating a small crew comfortably and allowed for easy loading and unloading of cargo, including vehicles, a feature that underscored its versatility.

Napier Eland aircraft engine on display at the Helicopter Museum, Weston Super Mare.
Napier Eland aircraft engine on display at the Helicopter Museum, Weston Super Mare.

The incorporation of double-clamshell doors at the rear of the main cabin further facilitated this functionality, enabling the aircraft to be used for various logistic purposes in addition to its primary target towing role.

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The aircraft was equipped with a large, four-bladed rotor, a key component that contributed to its stable and efficient flight capabilities. Powering the C-3605 were two Napier Eland N.E.L.3 turboprops, mounted under each of the fixed wings. The choice of these engines was indicative of the period’s shift towards more advanced and reliable propulsion systems.

Ground Attack

The rotor blades of the C-3605 were a testament to advanced engineering. They featured a symmetrical aerofoil structure around a central load-bearing spar, carefully constructed from a combination of steel and light alloy.

This blend of materials was strategically chosen to manage the aircraft’s center of gravity effectively. Moreover, the compressed air, crucial for the operation of the rotor blades, was channeled through steel tubes within the blade, leading to tip-jet combustion chambers made of high-grade materials like Nimonic 80.

The design and features of the F+W C-3605 were a clear reflection of the Swiss Air Force’s emphasis on functionality, efficiency, and adaptability. The aircraft’s transformation from a ground attack and target towing aircraft to a dedicated target tower with potential for other roles demonstrated a practical and resourceful approach to military aviation needs.

Schlepp Goes Operational

The operational use of the F+W C-3605, from its introduction in 1971 until its retirement in 1987, showcased its versatility and reliability as a military aircraft. Primarily, the C-3605 was employed by the Swiss Air Force for target towing.

Schlepp at the Aviation Museum in Dübendorf, Switzerland.
Schlepp at the Aviation Museum in Dübendorf, Switzerland.

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This role was crucial in providing realistic training exercises for air-to-air and surface-to-air missile crews, allowing them to practice on moving targets. The C-3605’s ability to tow targets was a key factor in maintaining the high standards of accuracy and efficiency expected of the Swiss military forces.

Apart from its primary role in target towing, the C-3605’s design allowed for a variety of secondary uses. Its spacious cargo area, facilitated by the double-clamshell doors at the rear, made it suitable for light transport duties.

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In the conversion from radial to turboprop the new engine is probably so much lighter it has to be out there for balance.

It could carry small payloads, equipment, or even personnel, providing logistical support across different Swiss Air Force operations. This multi-role capability underscored the Swiss military’s preference for versatile and multi-functional aircraft, especially in the context of the country’s varied and often challenging terrain.

Schlepp Robust Design

The C-3605’s operational life also highlighted the aircraft’s durability and ease of maintenance. The Swiss Air Force’s rigorous maintenance standards, coupled with the aircraft’s robust design, ensured that the C-3605 remained a reliable asset throughout its service life.

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Even as newer aircraft technologies emerged, the C-3605 continued to be a valuable tool in the Swiss Air Force’s arsenal, reflecting the effectiveness of the initial decision to upgrade and repurpose the existing C-3603 airframes.

The Swiss Air Force notably utilized the F+W C-3605, showcasing its efficiency and adaptability. Its primary function in target towing, along with its capacity for transport and logistics, highlighted its operational worth. The aircraft’s commendable service record reflects the success of its design and conversion, as well as the Swiss Air Force’s strategic emphasis on optimizing the use and longevity of its aviation assets.