Adolf Litzler was born on February 2, 1945 in Unterseen and grew up in Stechelberg, a small village of the Canton Berne which is situated in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, one of the most impressive trough valleys in the Swiss Alps, between gigantic rock faces and mountain peaks. With its 72 thundering waterfalls, secluded valleys, colourful alpine meadows and lonely mountain inns, the Lauterbrunnen Valley is one of the biggest nature conservation areas in Switzerland.
Since his childhood Adolf Litzler had been attracted to aviation. After compulsory school, like many other pilots he completed his four year mechanical apprenticeship with the Swiss Defence Department in Interlaken. He then was employed for one year as a mechanic by Pilatus Flugzeugwerke in Stans.
In 1966 he was employed by Heliswiss in Belp/BE and was trained as a helicopter mechanic. At the same time he decided to obtain the licence as a private airplane pilot, and on June 10, he completed his first flight trained by Franz Gribi of Gribair.
In 1967 he went for the first time to Greenland as a helicopter mechanic. There he was in charge of the maintenance of two Bell 47J Ranger used for geological surveys.
When he returned in Switzerland Toni Durmüller (who was a freelancer employed by Heliswiss and was charged to organize Heliswiss' activities on the terrain) told him that if he desired there was the possibility to begin the helicopter pilot school.
It is interesting to remark that at that time the high training cost of a commercial helicopter pilot were in large part financed by the Federal Office of Civil Aviation. The future pilot had to sign a five years contract with a Swiss helicopter company and be at disposal as a freelancer rescue pilot for the Swiss Air Rescue Guard.
Adolf Litzler enthusiastically accepted the proposal and began the flight school at the airport of Locarno/TI on November 21, 1967. His instructor was Jean Seydoux who trained him on the Bell 47G3B-1 HB-XBT. A week later on November 28, he performed his first solo flight, while on December 20, 1967 with a flight experience of 20h34’ and 195 landings, he passed the examination and obtained his private helicopter pilot licence.
An (un)lucky day
A few months later, on February 23, 1968, the young helicopter pilot was accompanying Jean Seydoux who wanted to show him how to execute spray flights in restricted areas. During a low pass Seydoux underestimated the clearance to the mast of an electric power line and the main rotor hit it. Fortunately the helicopter was flying at low altitude and Seydoux was able to make an emergency landing. The Bell 47G2 HB-XAX was completely destroyed in the accident, but both occupants left the cabin with only minor bruises.
On May 15, Adolf Litzler obtained the Swiss commercial helicopter pilot license nr. 137. At that time he had a flight experience of exactly 100h and 1’150 landing under his belt.
To increase his flight experience, whenever possible he ferried helicopters or made scenic or passenger flights.
That year he went again to Greenland as a mechanic, while the following year he returned there as a pilot. For this reason on May 7, 1969 on the airport of Belp/BE he was trained by Walter Demuth to fly the Bell 47J Ranger.
Adolf remembers that “The flights in Greenland with the Bell 47J Ranger were very instructive”.
After his return in Switzerland he worked at first at the heliport of Erstfeld/UR and later in Samedan/GR where Heliswiss based one or two of its helicopters during the winter season.
During the winter he had the opportunity to transport skiers, passengers and supplies to the numerous mountain huts of the region. Occasionally he also transported VIP, such as, for example, the Italian entrepreneur Gianni Agnelli (FIAT).
His log book shows that he performed his first rescue mission with a flight experience of about 400 hours of flight under his belt. After more than 40 years he still remembers the details of that mission on the Morteratschgletscher/GR at the controls of the Bell 47-G3B-1 HB-XBT. These was also the first time he performed a night mission.
In June 1970 he went again to Greenland and stayed there until September. Then on October 22, he was trained to fly the Bell 206A Jet Ranger HB-XCF.
By January 1971 he was again sent to Samedan/GR where he mostly flew with the HB-XBT.
That same year he had a misadventure during a spray flight in France. While at the controls of the Agusta-Bell 47-G3B-1 OE-AXD he inadvertently hit the cable of a cable-car with the spray bar. Fortunately the helicopter was not damaged. Although very much scared he landed without further incident and went on with the spray flights.
Back in Switzerland he worked at first at the base of Erstfeld/UR and then he went again to Greenland.
To note that on June 28, 1971 he took-off from Belp/BE and ferried the Bell 47G2 HB-XAW equipped with pontoons to Copenhagen (Denmark) using only some road maps. Things at that time were much different than today! He then spent the Summer there along with Silvio Refondini and Peter Rütschmann, both employed as pilots by Heliswiss.
Again in Switzerland he was charged to make taxi flights from Zürich (mainly to Munich and Linz) using the Bell 206A Jet Ranger HB-XDH. The helicopter was rented by Friedrich Jan, the founder of the Wienerwald franchise chain of fast-food restaurants.
Air Glaciers pilot
On November 15, 1971 he logged his 1,000th hour of flight. That same year a mountain guide informed him that Air Glaciers intended to open a new helicopter base in Lauterbrunnen/BE. Adolf Litzler seized the opportunity to return in his beloved valley. Consequently he quit Heliswiss, and on December 1, 1971 he started to work on behalf of Air Glaciers. With this helicopter company he stayed until his retirement in 2010.
From December 9, 1971 on he was trained on the SE 3160 Alouette III by Bruno Bagnoud, Fernand Martignoni and Pierre Pellegrin.
On December 24, Adolf Litzler landed in Lauterbrunnen with the SE 3160 Alouette III HB-XCM. At the beginning the helicopter was parked outdoor and covered during the night. Then Air Glaciers built the actual hangar with the annexed offices.
To note that at the beginning Air Glaciers made rescue flights for the SARG and transportation of passengers and building materials on behalf of Heliswiss. Things then changed by 1972 when BOHAG built its base in Interlaken/BE, which is not far from Lauterbrunnen.
On August 25, 1975 Adolf Litzler was trained by Bruno Bagnoud to fly the SA 315B Lama. With this helicopter he then logged 10'000 hours of flight (around 3'000 on the Alouette III, 1'000 on the Bell 47 series) accomplishing every kind of mission imaginable.
15'000 hours of flight
During his 42 years long career as a helicopter pilot he has logged altogether about 15’000 hours of flight at the controls of the following models: Bell 47 (G, G2, G3B-1 and J Ranger), Bell 206/206L, Hughes 500, Alouette III, SA 315B Lama, EC 120B Colibrì, AS 350B, B1 and B2.
At the controls of the SE 3160 Alouette III he made countless SAR missions in the Eiger (3'970 m), Mönch (4'107 m) and Jungfrau (4'158 m) region, and is among the pilots who best know these famous mountains.
On January 31, 2010, two days before his 65th anniversary, he made his last flight. At the controls of the SE 3160 Alouette III HB-ZEQ he did a rescue mission in the region of Grindenwald/BE.
Adolf Litzler lives in Stechelberg, a small village which is not far from the heliport of Lauterbrunnen/BE.
He cultivates with passion his preferred hobbies such as the interest for nature, mushrooms, motorcycles and music.
"Do you miss your job as a helicopter pilot?" I asked him. "Yes sometimes" he admitted. "This Summer during a trip with the motorcycle I saw a helicopter which was doing some transportation, and for a while in that moment I tough: it would be nice to take again the controls of a helicopter for one hour and make some rotations".