Where are we?
I like discovering places in my Flight Simulator where I have been or I have heard something about before. I got a YouTube-link from a friend of mine about a scary and extremely dangerous landing at a Latin airport. Without making any criticism and evaluation on that video and landing-procedure, everybody can see the difficulties of an irregular approach to a short runway. (Without mentioning the human-factor.)
This is the reason why I was very happy when I happened to find the latest Flight Simulator add-on of the LatinVFR design group. First of all, we have to see and understand where we are exactly.
First of all, I have to make something clear: Tocontín or Toncontín, with 'n'. I spent a lot of time trying to discover the difference and to find out which form is the right one. As I do not speak Spanish, this task was not so easy. The origin of the name of 'Toncontín' is unknown. Experts say that this word derives from the Aztec 'Tocotín”, what is the name of an ancient sacred dance of Yucatan, Mexico. Since the Jeppesen charts I have checked call this airport 'Toncontín' I’ll use this phrase as the official name of the airfield.
History, present, future
To discover Toncontín Airport (TGU/MHTG) on the plains of south Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, we have to look back to the early 20th century. The first landing was in 1921 when Dean Ivan Lamb landed his single-engine plane from the Bristol Aeroplane Company. President Rafael López Guiterrez greeted him in front of a larger number of people and broke a bottle of champagne on the aircraft's propellers.
When the civil war broke out in 1924 aviation seemed to have great future in that area due to its geographical situation. This kind of transport seemed to be a good alternative for transport as well as a key strategic military fact. After a row within the inner political affairs, a Pan American World Airways DC-3 inaugurated the new airport touching the Honduran land. Months later TACA (Transportes Aéreos del Continente Americano) Airlines opened 'Hotel Toncontín' to accommodate its passengers and they outgrew their hangars (Pan American first).
This historical approach of the preface would not be complete without mentioning Toncontín Airport's black days. Here come the major aviation incidents of what happened here:
(source: airdisaster.com database)
A mentionable incident happened when a U.S. Air Force C-130 Hercules overran the runway causing 3 fatalities. Memories of these moments shall increase flight crews' awareness during difficult terminal area operations. Without jumping towards latter chapters, the two key difficulties are (1) the terrain - proximity of high mountains - and (2) the runway length.
Regarding the present Airport, the TACA Airbus accident prompted the announcement by then Honduran President Manuel Zelaya that all large aircraft operations would move to the Soto Cano Air Base. This move would effectively move all international traffic from Toncontín, limiting its use to only domestic flights and small aircraft. The ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) completed a review of Toncontín and made safety recommendations regarding the airport. On June 25, 2008, President Zelaya reiterated his position of severely restricting international traffic to and from Toncontín and announced his intention to form a commission that will oversee implementing the safety recommendations of the ICAO report.
On July 7, 2008, the president finally announced the reopening of the airport at a news conference following a three-hour meeting with businessmen who had demanded commercial flights resume at Toncontín. Zelaya reiterated that all commercial flights will eventually use the new airport being built at Soto Cano Air Base.
Toncontín International was the 7th largest Central American airport in 2008 handling 565,000 passengers. Its asphalt runway is 7,096 feet/2,163 meters long (rather short) with the direction of 02/20. This measure limits the aircraft types to land in Tegucigalpa to a maximum of Boeing 757s. This airport is known as one of the smallest international and most dangerous airports in the world.
Jump into Latin virtual reality
After the long briefing let's see what I am talking about (Insane simmers may jump over the previous chapter). LatinVFR design group's Toncontín International Airport can be downloaded for a price only of EUR 17.84 which is around 24 US dollars. This review, however, deals with the FS2004 version; FSX users may also get their copy compatible to the newest MS Flight Simulator family member. The packages arrive to our hard disk in a 37 megabytes exe file, no special qualification is needed to install it. Just a double click and everything goes on its way.
Now let's see what we have installed. We have a new group in the Start menu called SimMarket\LatinVFR MHTG\. In the latter subgroup we can find the regular icons for repair, remove (do not do that), manual and charts.
Do not forget to add the update which can be downloaded from the same page at SimMarket. Since my original version was the first release, I have no information whether the content of update 1 is implemented to the latest setup file.
The manual is quite basic, only 5 pages. It is, however, rather a fact sheet rather than a user’s manual, I did not miss anything reading it since this add-on is about a small airport with no huge terminals, its complexity does not require many words. This airport is about its approach, not about the ground facilities.
Airport from birds' eye to deep details
As you can see on the screenshots below, the airport texture is relatively well shaped, but not containing overly complicated buildings. Comparing this to a busy ‘mega-airport’, what we are used to seeing day by day, we can feel Toncontín being a bit disappointing the first time. But then, remember: it is Latin America. This scenery really gives us what this fact means: not so crowded surroundings with the feeling of the Latin climate.
Generally, I think this scenery would require better detailed textures. As you can see on the screenshots above, there are buildings which are ‘floating’ with no road connections, etc. These details are not my most important preferences but as a reviewer I have to point to them, because somebody might be interested in these details rather than my preferences.
We can find static ground handling vehicles on the apron (i.e. stairs) and a few cars at the parking area. There is very light traffic on the road passing by the main terminal building. Light means a bus and two cars.
Unfortunately, most of the objects are autogen instead of individually designed buildings. Here you can see the differences between full/non autogen settings.
I did not find anything special to comment about the night textures, here come a few screenshots taken at dusk or night.
An approach by night followed by a missed approach shows the good general quality of lights. There is much in the way of visual aids for pilots, only the basic lights.
Its hardware usage is one of the scenery’s strongest points. Although I spent hours trying to overload my hardware and realize at least a few fps loss, I could not reach that at all. Here are my results, with no fps limit:
As it is clearly visible from this table, LatinVFR's Toncontin Intl. Scenery will not affect your simming experience. An fps-killer add-on (which might be the most detailed and realistic I have ever seen) can easily destroy the joy of flight simming. Sceneries even with the highest level of real textures and buildings do not reach their goal: we are going to remember not the high quality but the fps fall to 6-7 frames per second. LatinVFR saved us from the danger of this feeling.
Except for this kind of test, I always limit my fps rates between 25 and 30. This rate is optimal for the eyes and saves hardware resources for other tasks. I always pull down the autogen marker as I do not need that for my realistic simulation. This scenery is the first I used with full autogen.
Now I think we have discussed enough about the unnecessary eye-candy (or lack of eye-candy) details and technical details, let’s fly! The geographical situation of Tonctontín airport requires good piloting skills. The unique runway 02 approach puts Toncontín to the discussion of the most dangerous airports.
The glide path of runway 02 leads just above the bushes on the ground, some land also had to be removed at the RWY 02 threshold to provide enough safe area for landing aircraft. Anyway, the slope of the hill in front of the runway is like the glide slope, a good visual aid during daytime.
First, I know flight simmers always prefer flying than reading documents so I feel the importance to point out once again what is written in a text file in the ‘Charts’ folder (as advanced users we never read ‘readme’ files).
Unless you want to recycle the material of your aircraft, please refer to the charts. For arrivals, if your aircraft is CAT A or B, you can do a straight in approach to any of the two runways following the PAPI’S which are configured ONLY and SOLELY for these aircraft. Normally a CAT A or B is, for example, a C-130 or an ATR. If you are lucky enough to fly with a CAT C or D aircraft (i.e. 757 or A320) you would have to strictly fly along the RNAV route explained in the enclosed charts. Always but ALWAYS ignoring the PAPI, utilizing visual references for landing always, trying to flare right before the threshold. The airport is closed for type C and D after sundown and open at dawn simply because of this.
If you need some references on how to land at MHTG if you use CAT C or D aircraft check these videos out:
And for those who are unfamiliar with aircraft approach categories, here’s a small short theoretical lesson:
As you completed the approach and aligned with the very short final just above the threshold, try to reduce your flare to minimal. The available runway length is extremely short and your job is not completed with touchdown; you have to make your wheels stop on the runway. If your flare time seems to be longer or you miss the immediate touchdown, do not hesitate, initiate an immediate go-around. Do not do that and it is more than hazardous:
Regarding departures, it is straight forward if you calculate runway takeoff length, airport altitude above sea level, wind direction etc, the runway used for departure is always 02 and normally the wind is northerly making it great for departing and also landing at MHTG runway 02 since it will prove to give great headwinds. Applying full throttle prior releasing the brakes is a very useful method here at take-off.
As you can see on the RWY 02 arrival charts, there are no long straight in finals (neither a short one…), but the area is full with peaks, always be aware of possible obstacles by continuously conducting visual checks of your position and altitude.
Real airmen fly runway 02 approaches here, 20 is for beginners. That’s why we are here and fly :-)
Summary / Closing Remarks
As we are different humans, we like different things in the complex world of flight simulation. Those who have read my previous reviews know that I always prefer the experience instead of the moving baggage trains which are completely useless for me.
Let me summarize what LatinVFR’s Toncontín Intl. Airport scenery is: an inexpensive, friendly add-on that really makes our Latin flights alive. The scenery is compatible with the definite must-have Aerosoft AES (and it is a great advantage), is not recommended for simmers who like moving baggage cars, tugs and other shiny features. But I strongly recommend this add-on for pilots who are interested in challenging (sometimes dangerous) airports worldwide. Those, who like the former Kai-Tak, Innsbruck etc. know what I am trying to explain.
Thank you Ricardo from the LatinVFR team for the technical assistance and help.
What I Like About Toncontin International Airport
What I Don't Like About Toncontin International Airport
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