From clock-making to aviation town
The regional association of Grenchen Aero Club of Switzerland was launched in 1931. At the same time flights started to be operated from Jura Südfuss with a De Havilland Moth. Seventy-six years later Grenchen is among the most important aerodromes in Switzerland.
It all began at 2.00 pm on Saturday, 31 January 1931 in the hall of Rosengarten restaurant. There in Centralstrasse, Grenchen, opposite the Chäsi, where today the massive building of the ETA SA now stands, the meeting to establish Grenchen Aero Club took place. The proactive industrialist, Adolf Schild was able to welcome around 80 people on this Saturday afternoon who were interested in including flying in Grenchen. Adolf Schild informed those present about the plans. At the “southern perimeter” of the small town of Grenchen an airfield measuring 210 x 210 metres was to be created and a hangar erected at the same time. A flying instructor “of great talent” had already been found in the person of Lieutenant Ernst Knab, according to the entry in the minutes. Ernst Knab may also have been important to Grenchen thinking about flying at all. According to verbal accounts, the military pilot who worked in the Grenchen clock industry had continually landed in Witi when he was in his military aircraft. This is how the idea came about to set up a permanent aerodrome in Grenchen. Ernst Knab was then acknowledged for his services on 4 February 1956 with honorary membership to Grenchen Aero Club.
Captain Jean Köhli from Berne spoke on this occasion for the Aero Club of Switzerland. He welcomed the initiative to establish an aerodrome and gave the people of Grenchen their first knowledge of flying.
He already advocated purchasing an “English machine“ by which, as it emerged at the first board meeting on 9 February 1931, was meant a two-seater De Havilland DH-60 Gipsy Moth. Köhli, pointed out that Grenchen had the opportunity to become an independent section of the Aero Club of Switzerland (AeCs), or rather, what he recommended, a subsection to the Aero-Club of Berne. The people of Grenchen then decided in favour of the first solution, which in light of the then economically depressed time confirms the proud stance of the inhabitants of the clock-making town, which as is widely known, prevails until this day. The fact that Grenchen Aero Club and therefore the aerodrome was established can be attributed to the drive of Adolf Schild. His financial donations made it possible at all for initial difficulties to be overcome. For example, he donated the rent for the land, later bought a pupil and in 1933 donated a sum of
4611 Fr., took out a loan for 40,000 Fr. with the Solothurn Handelsbank and used it to buy the hangar and the land for a price of Fr 16,000. The rest of the amount remained as a debt that Adolf Schild later discharged with a donation. Adolf Schild was able to watch the Airport develop. The man born in 1879 later became chairman of the later established regional Airport Jura-Grenchen AG and at the ripe old age of 91, two years before his passing, cut the ribbon at the opening ceremony of the hard surface runway on 4 December 1970.
Leo Wullimann was also among the founding members of Grenchen Aero Club. The engineer, who watches from pictures with a striking bald head and an enormous moustache, was president of the Grenchen traffic association at that time. At the inaugural meeting he spoke in his "usual humorous way,” which is quite easy to imagine from his portrait, about the advantages of the airfield’, ‘the ingress and egress were favourable from all sides (by which was probably meant take-off and landing). Wullimann hoped that the setting-up of an aerodrome would make “our small town thrive and prosper“. At the end of the constituent meeting 57 people joined and confirmed their co-operation with their signature. Today, we would say that the "kick-off meeting" had been a success.
Historical flight line
No Airport without an aircraft
The initiators did not hesitate with the implementation of the Grenchen airfield. The vision was put into action at a speed, the equivalent of which would be hard to find today (and today rendered absolutely impossible by legislation).
Photo from around 1950
The board was already constituted on 9 February 1931 in the Hotel Löwen. Present were Adolf Schild (President), Leo Wullimann (Vice President), Hugo Sallaz (Cashier), Otto Rüefli (Secretary), Walter Leuenberger (PR), Ernst Knab (Flight Manager), Silvio Crivelli (Materials Manager), Ernst Meyer und Ernst Brunner (Owners); acting as auditors: Fritz Grimm und Rudolf Wyss. The list of names reads like a list of "Who is Who“ in Grenchen at that time. Later members also demonstrated: whoever thought anything of themselves was a member of the Aero Club. The board approved the budget for the year 1931 that provided for the investment of 17,500 Fr. to purchase the plane and 12,500 Fr. for the construction of the hangar. The membership fee was 26 Fr. per year. It was made up of a contribution to the club funds of 14 Fr., and contribution to the Aero Club of Switzerland of 4 Fr. and a subscription to the AeroRevue of 8 Fr.
Helicopter visit around 1950
On all the world's aviation maps
At the same meeting, the first annual general assembly decided on the purchase of the aircraft and the architectural contract to build a hangar was put out to tender. The hangar is based on an example that a delegation from Grenchen Aero Club had visited.
This hangar with its characteristic round arch roof stood until the new Airport restaurant was built that was opened in 1974 and was roughly located where the hall of the Airport hotel now stands. The first annual general meeting was held at the Hotel Löwen on 23 February 1931. The meeting approved the application by the board for investment for the aircraft and to build the hangar. The agreement for the lease of the land with Pauline Schild-Hugi was also approved. The words of the President Adolf Schild that “Grenchen would be charted on all the world’s aviation maps thanks to the creation of the aerodrome expressed the pride that the meeting may well have felt at this moment. The Aero-Club of Switzerland confirmed the acceptance of the Grenchen section at its annual general meeting on 28 February 1931, which Grenchen acknowledged at its board meeting on 2 March. Construction work for the hangar was awarded to Wyss, Meyer & Co. (earthwork and masonry work) and Gebr. Emch (cement work) at the same meeting. The preliminary work to open the Airport was pushed ahead at further board meetings on 9, 23, 30 March and 4 April 1931. The meeting of 4 April gave flight instructor, Ernst Knab, the task of collecting the new aircraft from the De Havilland factory airfield in Stage Lane. The overflight from Stage Lane to Grenchen is documented in a report by Ernst Knab and in the log book of aircraft CH 220 that can be found in the town’s archives. The log book can also be seen in the commemorative exhibition. Just eight days later things were already in place: on 12 April 1931 Ernst Knab landed with the Moth CH 220 "Grenchen" at the newly established airfield eagerly watched by the local population. The clock-making town of Grenchen had become a new Airport location in just two and half months. The aircraft and grass runway were inaugurated on 10 May and 10,000 visitors were already amazed by the demonstrations on 26 July 1931 that included a Dewoitine relay.
© Peter Brotschi, 2006