Growing up next to the airfield in Buochs, his fascination with flying was already present as a child. His nickname has also remained with him to this day. During his time at the college, Reto Amstutz was once late for an Italian lesson. “Reto sei in ritardo” was derived to “Retödi” and later to “Tödi”. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Did you want to be a pilot when you were a child?
Yes, I grew up in Buochs, near the airport. My grandfather was an aircraft mechanic and also worked at Pilatus for some time. I knew I wanted to become a pilot way back in primary school!
Why did you become a military pilot and not an airline pilot?
I’ve always regarded military aviation as the absolute best. The dynamics and high performance of the fighter jets, carrying out a demanding mission of 1 – 2 hours – that’s what I wanted to achieve. I’m sure working as an airline pilot is exciting, too, but I simply couldn’t imagine flying straight and level for up to 8 hours at a time on a regular basis!
You flew for the Patrouille Suisse, the Swiss aerobatics team, from 2007 to January 2015. How does a military pilot get into that select group?
Only very few military pilots are considered for selection. You can’t apply, the team chooses its new members. Age and military training do play a role, of course, but character is the most important aspect. Being a military pilot, it’s assumed that the candidate has the required flying skills, and already flies the F/A-18. The chemistry has to be right and the new member has to be a good fit with the team. I obviously felt very honoured when I heard I’d been selected.
What were the flying challenges with the Patrouille Suisse?
Military pilots are trained in formation flying, but never as close or dynamic as with the Patrouille Suisse, and never as a group of six. It was something I had to get used to at first. But flying low was what impressed me most. The first time you fly at 300 feet (100 metres) and see the ground race by from a peripheral angle is very exciting. Normal straight flight with no manoeuvres is possible right down to 100 feet above ground, but that’s not done very often – the lower you fly, the less the folks at the back can see!
What was your best experience with the Patrouille Suisse?
Oh, there were many! The Bodo Air Show 2012 in Norway was definitely a highlight. Bodo is close to the Polar Circle. We had perfect weather and fantastic light. Back in Switzerland, the Lauberhorn Ski Races against the impressive backdrop of Eiger, Mönch and Jungfrau, and all the World Cup skiing spectacle, is one of my favourites. The Air14 air show, with celebrations to mark 50th anniversary of Patrouille Suisse and the 100th anniversary of the Swiss Air Force, was another unforgettable experience.
Had you ever thought about working as a pilot at Pilatus one day?
Pilatus has always been a familiar name to me, of course. I used to follow the PC-9 displays by Bill Tyndall, the former Pilatus test pilot, and his flights with the PC-6, landing direct at the top of the Bürgenstock and then (flying?) back down again along the ridge. In 2006, Reto Aeschlimann asked me if I’d like to join the EF team. But I’d just been selected for the Patrouille Suisse at that time. I finally left the Air Force in 2014, wanting to broaden my flying horizons. I joined the Flight Operations department in February 2015. Civil aviation and all the diversity is really fascinating. I do flight tests, ferry flights, customer demos, photo flights, training for customers, and all that on different aircraft types! In my view, Pilatus is unique in offering that degree of variety.
How do customers react to the PC-21 when they fly it for the first time?
They’re always amazed by the flight characteristics and possibilities offered by the training system. The aircraft can be used for basic VFR or IFR training as well as instruction in formation flying. Students can also learn a large part of tactical operations with the Mission System. Tactical tasks, systems management and information processing have become increasingly important in recent years. With the PC-21, these areas can be covered to optimum effect.
Which features do you like best about the PC-12 and the PC-24?
With the PC-12 NGX, new features like autothrottle, touch screen controller and emergency descent mode are really good. With the PC-24, I like the Versatile Jet characteristics and, obviously, the ability to land on unpaved strips. That’s really something very special. And the fact that Pilatus succeeded in launching such a fantastic business jet in such a short time is very impressive.
What was your best Pilatus moment so far?
The first ferry with the PC-21 to Australia. There’s a huge sense of satisfaction in flying a PC-21 half way around the world for the first time and handing it over to the customer intact. You’re “lonely in the sky”, so to speak, for 11 days, flying many hours over water – with a single-engine turbine aircraft, sitting on an ejector seat. In other words, a real adventure!
Which aircraft would you absolutely like to fly one day?
Flying the F-22 Raptor with its impressive manoeuvrability would be very exciting, but unrealistic as it’s only flown in the American Air Force. A flight in a P-51 Mustang dating from the Second World War would be more realistic. A wonderful vintage aircraft with a superb throaty sound!
Which aircraft would you buy if money were no object? What would it look like?
I’d probably buy an entire fleet if money really were no object! A PC-24, a PC-12, a PC-21, a Nimbus-4 glider and a P-51 Mustang on top! They’d all look elegant and stylish. I’d have the PC-24 painted in simple white with a blue stripe. If it were up to my kids, there would have to be lots of bright colours, with the popular “Paw Patrol” characters on there too!
Reto, many thanks for your time and the great insights!