Skip to main content

Bärfuss Ulrich (Ueli)

Ueli Bärfuss was born in Zurich on February 28, 1935. In 1937 along with his family he moved to Thun/BE where he attended the compulsory school. He then started an apprenticeship as a draftsman and later improved his knowledges as a planner in an engineering office in Zurich.
In the Spring 1956 he started in Spreitenbach/AG a training course on sailplane, while during the Summer he started in Kloten the aeroplane school flying a Piper L-4.
On June 19, 1957 he obtained the sailplane pilot license n. 1437 e few days later, on June 23, the aeroplanes private pilot license n. 4437.
The following year he obtained the qualification as a sailplanes istructor. While working in the Bergell Valley he meet Fredy Wissel, a glacier pilot pioneer, who managed a hotel in St. Moritz/GR. Wissel introduced Bärfuss in this new aviation discipline.
During the Winter 1959/1960 Bärfuss attended a course organised by Hermann Geiger where he had the opportunity to learn the glaciers landing technique. While working in Zurich he continued his training as an aeroplane pilot and on August 31, 1963 he obtained the aeroplane commercial pilot license n. 819. This license enabled him to transport commercially people and goods on behalf of the local Aero club.
In that period he married his wife Silvia. The couple had four children (the two boys Hansueli and Thomas are also helicopter pilots).
As an expert climber and member of the SARG he had occasionally the opportunity to fly as a passenger in one of the Heliswiss' helicopter. However at the beginning he did not get particularly enthusiast for the small helicopter. The (Agusta-)Bell 47G2 performances and place in cabin were in fact quite limited. It also happened that for the reasons mentioned he was forced to descend by foot.
However he later changed idea when he had the opportunity to fly with an instructor who introduced him in the helicopter's piloting.
In 1964 he moved in Samaden/GR where he lived. That same year, which was decisive for his aviation career, along with Markus Burkhard he was chosen by Heliswiss to become a commercial helicopter pilot.
In August he started the helicopter school in Belp/BE piloting (Agusta-)Bell 47G2s or G3B-1s. After the ground school he improved his flying techniques with stages in Lausanne/VD and Samedan, mainly trained by Jean Seydoux.
On November 2, 1964 the Federal Office of Civil Aviation issued him the commercial pilot license n. 79. From 1965 he started his commercial activity as commercial helicopter pilot on behalf of Heliswiss. At the beginning he mostly piloted the (Agusta-)Bell 47G3B-1.

During the Spring of 1966 and 1967 he did measuring flights in the Sahara's desert. In the meantime he also started his activity as a SARG pilot.
On January 13, 1968 Bärfuss did a particular SARG mission. In that occasion in fact he not only rescued one old men who lived isolated after an heavy snow fall, but for the first time in SARG history he also rescued his pack horse. That was the first time that the SARG saved the life of an animal by helicopter.

On July 15, 1969 he obtained the qualification as an instructor and contemporary the type-rating on the new (Agusta-)Bell 206A Jet Ranger.
In 1971 SARG opened a new helicopter base in Samaden to serve the Engadin Valley and the neighbouring regions. Consequently Bärfuss was charged to pilot the new SE 3160 Alouette III HB-XDF, the first SARG helicopter wholly purchased with the money of the contributors (this helicopter is now exposed in the Swiss museum of transport in Lucerne).
Until his retirement from the activity as a SARG pilot (1993) Bärfuss performed over 3'000 SAR missions.
During his long aviation career he experienced a lot of nice experiences but also some moments of apprehension. One of these is indelible in his memory. On September 4, 1984 while he was working in Peru at the control of the SA 315B Lama HB-XNC he was forced to autorotate after a sudden technical problem with the transmission. After the flare, when he was few feet from the ground, he applied the collective to reduce the descend. Suddenly the transmission along with the rotor head separated from the helicopter flew away. "It was a matter of fortune!" he said.
The following year Bärfuss, who still had a considerable flight experience, decided to left Heliswiss and to found his own helicopter company along with his friend Leo Caminada. Toghether they created Heli-Bernina which officially started its activity in June 1985 with the SA 315B Lama HB-XPD.

After his retirement he continued to provide his help at Heli-Bernina's heliport. His huge experience was always very appreciated. His son Hansueli is actually Heli-Bernina's director and chief-pilot. When necessary his brother Thomas (who is a Rega pilot and is based on the same airport) helps him. Both sons inherited the passion for aviation.
Their dad who have done every kind of job using helicopters can be undoubtedly considered a pioneer of the rotary-wing in Switzerland. Ulrich Bärfuss died in the comfort and presence of his family at his home on January 14, 2020, victim of a serious illness the he patiently endured.

This video from the archives of the Swiss television (dating back to 1968) shows Ulrich Bärfuss during a very special SAR mission:

HAB 01/2020