Sure, any airport can be dangerous. What with all the noise, spinning propellers, powerful jet engines that can suck you in from the front or blow you over from behind, and all manner of aircraft and vehicles to avoid and hope they see and avoid you. So what qualities single an airport out to be designated as dangerous?
In this particular title it is not going to be anything having to do with negotiating your way around the tarmac. If you are the type of pilot who relishes long runways, easy climbs and nice straight-in approaches, Aerosoft has put together a collection that you will absolutely hate.
As cigarettes and alcoholic beverages are mandated to provide warning labels attesting to their potential to be harmful to your health, so should Dangerous Airports 1 be required to sport a placard stating “Warning: Not for the novice pilot or the faint of heart”.
What Aerosoft has done is to present three airports that are challenging for takeoffs and extremely difficult to approach and land upon.
Here is the list of suspects:
Matekane Air Strip - (FXME)
Located in Lesotho (I had never heard of it either. It’s a small country completely surrounded by South Africa, and is the only independent state in the world that lies entirely above 1,400 meters (4,593 ft) in elevation. Thus, this lowest point is the highest in the world.
FXME deserves the designation of dangerous as it has the ‘scariest runway in the world’. At 7,500’ elevation the short 1,310 foot runway ends in a massive cliff that drops 4,000 feet to a river. Hot and high operations are the norm here much of the time except for the winter when strong winds and freezing temperatures predominate.
Barra Eoligarry Airport- (EGPR)
Do you like the beach? Well, good because EGPR is located in the bay of Traigh Mhòr at the north tip of the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. It has three runways between 2776’ and 2264’ with generous widths of 150’ to 196’. So what’s not to like?
Oh yeah… did I mention that the runway surface is sand and that you need to pack aeronautical charts AND a tide table because at high tide the runways are underwater?
Mountain Air, Burnsville, NC - (2NC0)
Okay, 2NC0 has a 2,875 feet runway, no problem. It is located at 4400’ elevation, not a big problem. It is situated on a mountain top surrounded by forest, beginning of a small problem. I guess now is the time to mention that the runway is sloped, and that the mountain top location almost guarantees strong winds.
One other thing- hardly worth mentioning- the airport is so small that there is no separation between the runway and the aircraft parking area.
What makes them tricky?
While Barra does not seem to be too bad, the other two airports pose major challenges due to the rugged terrain and their high altitude, mountain conditions. This is a combination that goes beyond merely testing piloting skills and incorporates the need to have a good understanding of high altitude operation and especially density altitude.
Anyone who has earned a government flying license received an introduction and read reference material pertaining to this subject. But unless their training or flight experience has put them at a high altitude airport, this exposure was purely academic and easily forgotten due to disuse.
Entire books have been written on the subject of high altitude operations (and to clarify- we are talking in terms of takeoffs and landings at high altitude, not cruising) so this will not be a discourse on the subject. Suffice it to say that attempting successful operations at FXME and 2NC0 will necessitate an understanding of the subject by the pilot.
Aerosoft strongly takes this position and included in the package is a PDF manual that provides a short but informative discussion of the factors needed to be taken into consideration. Reading these pointers before attempting to fly will certainly not make you an expert but it may save a lot of frustration…and these airports are frustrating enough without attempting to FWI (Fly While Ignorant- an expression I may have just invented) so take a few minutes and read the manual to save yourself some grief.
In a nutshell, high altitude, and in turn, density altitude robs the aircraft engine of power and has a detrimental effect on lift. So, careful consideration must be given to keeping the aircraft weight as low as possible to mitigate these factors. Aircraft choice also becomes key as some just might not have the physical ability to perform in these extreme conditions.
These airports will kick your butt. Takeoffs require very close attention to airspeed and climb performance with a need to climb as efficiently as possible in the mountains to get clear of the terrain.
Trying to execute smooth approaches and landings often involves threading the needle and amounted to some of the most demanding simulator flying I have experienced. The use of an enhancement such as TrackIR to enable smooth and rapid view changes is highly recommended as attention needs to be paid to checking your altitude and airspeed via instruments while maintaining awareness of the location of the airport.
Because of the small size of the mountain airports, and the fact they are practically shoehorned onto mountain plateaus, it is quite easy to lose track of their location as you maneuver. There are no radio navaids or GPS approaches available to rely on for positioning cues.
It will also help to have a fast computer and to have FSX tuned to produce a steady frame rate output. My current machine struggles a bit with FSX, and in precision flying such as this, the lack of continuous fluid motion can be a large hindrance.
Much of this is seat of the pants flying but too much reliance on visual cues will get you into trouble. Indicated airspeed is king. It is the only substantial cue as to whether the situation is nominal or whether abort procedures should be implemented.
The physical nature of the airports renders the usual visual cues to be quite less reliable. The runways are narrow, have irregular surfaces, or in the case of Barra, are for all practical purposes no different from the surrounding beach. So ensuring that you have the proper airspeed will be the primary determinant of whether a takeoff or landing is going to be feasible.
As I mentioned earlier, none of these airports are easy to fly into or out of but practice will help. My first few approaches to Mountain Air were disasters. I flew the downwind to a right base but kept misjudging the proper distance and wound up in too close to make a timely turn to final or having a mountain between my airplane and the runway. However, after flying it a few times, I began to recognize some subtle clues in the terrain that helped me orient myself.
One cannot become complacent about these approaches. The combination of geographical obstacles and tricky winds makes every approach a sweaty palm affair and you truly have to fly the plane diligently all the way until the parking brake can be applied. The flying is difficult but the satisfaction in nailing it is immense (or at least I trust it will be when I eventually get it all figured out!).
This is not your average add-on. This scenery was not produced to be eye candy, even though it does have some nice detailing. It features airports and flying conditions that will test your skills, keep you thinking, and ultimately make you a better pilot through mastery of the techniques needed.
If you tend to crash and burn as spectacularly as I did, it will humble you and make you aware that this flying business can be quite complicated and that you need to work at it to consistently get it right.
The fact that it is titled Dangerous Airports 1 suggests rather strongly that Aerosoft will be producing at least one additional offering of this nature. The concept certainly has the potential to be an extensive series and I have little doubt that more will follow.
What I Like About Dangerous Airports 1
What I Don't Like About Dangerous Airports 1
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