All aviation enthusiasts have knowledge of the difficult and dangerous airports out there, and even though they scare the heck out of us they nevertheless hold a fascination.
For sure, the majority of us mere mortals will never (thankfully) have to pilot an aircraft in or out of one of these terrors - I suppose if we are really lucky (unlucky?) we may experience them as a passenger at some stage.
Perhaps the most infamous of all was the now defunct Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong, and I must say here and now that I’m disappointed that I never got to experience this ‘scary place’, either from in an aircraft or on the ground watching aviation magnificence unfold at the hands of immensely talented pilots.
Apart from Lukla (the tiny airfield with a sheer rock wall at one end and a huge drop-off into a chasm at the other) in the Himalayas, one other that rates highly as a difficult approach (and departure) is Princess Juliana airport on the island of Saint Maarten, in the Caribbean.
Perhaps some of you may have seen emails showing stills or video of this airport, or heard of stories of people (or cars!) being blown off the tiny beach situated right at the threshold of the runway.
Well folks, unlike Kai Tak, this one still exists – flying in and out of Princess Juliana in something small to medium is exciting to say the least.
To do it in some serious heavy iron (like a 747 or 340 – they fly there every day) is enough to make your hair stand on end.
As is usually the case, simulation software companies have produced some amazing scenery add-ons for these difficult and dangerous airports.
This review is on the Fly Tampa St. Maarten package, which includes the airports of Princess Juliana, St. Barts (now this place really is scary, even though it is restricted to STOL prop aircraft) and Saba.
I have previously seen some real-life pictures of aircraft landing at St. Barts and from my recollection of those photos, the reproduction of the terrain in the software is not as difficult as the real-life situation.
I flew my first approach into St. Barts in my FSD Pilatus Porter (a legendary STOL aircraft that I have many hundreds of hours on) and I still had problems – this is not an airfield for the faint-hearted!
It is my understanding that the airfield is open only to pilots from a specific airline, probably flying Twin Otters (I need to do some more research here).
Cost of the package is 29 Euros (no VAT payable) and for that you get a terrific package that includes downloads for both FS9 (2004) and FSX.
This review covers the FS9 version because my FSX is currently unusable due to interference from a software package that I expected better of – such is life.
I will need to re-install FSX to resolve the situation, and with the add-ons I have put into the program it is going to be a BIG job (that’s why I’m putting it off until I have enough time to do it all together, re-boot of FSX plus re-installing all my add-ons).
Not looking forward to it.
The Fly Tampa people have done a magnificent job with this software, including such niceties as moving traffic (only seen before by this simmer in FSX) including cars, motorcycles, cruise ships and even windsurfers.
I watched a motorcyclist go by at St. Barts and I would swear the rider actually leaned the bike over as he went around a corner!
The approach to St. Barts is over high ground, so you have to literally aim to fly down the slope of the high ground toward the relatively short runway, watching your touchdown point, timing your flare and keeping your airspeed spot on - it’s a real challenge.
Princess Juliana is famous (infamous?) for not only the approach, but also the departure.
Approach entails (for heavy iron) carrying out a long straight-in approach, aiming to roar over the beach/road/fence missing everything (including the game thrill-seekers on the beach who go there to watch these huge aircraft pass over their heads, missing them by a few metres) and touch down at close to stall speed, then going to full brakes and reverse thrust in order to stop before the end of the relatively short runway.
Taking off is just as hairy, with high ground immediately ahead – there are options for a right turn after lift-off that gives some respite from the rising terrain, but it is fairly adventurous flying for heavy iron.
An engine failure on take-off from this place would have to be a pilot’s worse nightmare.
St. Barts (Saint Barthelemy) is, as previously mentioned, quite difficult due to the high ground immediately before the threshold. And you do not want to land long here, because if you do not stop in the available runway you will end up in the Caribbean Sea.
Saba is another scary place – if you like the concept of aircraft carrier landings then this is the place for you!
Both ends of the runway drop off sheer cliffs into the sea, so let’s not fall short or over-run the end of the runway, OK?
Apart from some ‘terrain elevation problems’ at St. Maarten (more likely caused by my system that badly needs a tune-up) I would have to say this is one of the best scenery add-ons I have had the pleasure of installing on my poor over-worked FS9.
The level of detail is stunning, the extras (like moving traffic) are just great, and the fun involved in learning to use these airports (in a variety of aircraft) just adds to the package.
Have fun, try not to scare yourself too much, and let me
know how you go – or just drop me a line to say g’day at email@example.com.