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The Northern Isles - On the Edge of the Air

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The Northern Isles – On the Edge of the Air.
(Scheduled for August 29, 2020)

We shall spend a late summer's afternoon enjoying the Orkney and Shetland Islands. These low-lying archipelagos are windswept and largely devoid of trees. Rather than marveling at grand scenery, our emphasis will be flying "on the edge of the air," hopping into and out of the small airports that are scattered around the islands. The combination of modestly-sized runways (many are less than 2,000 feet) and breezy conditions will make for an engaging experience.


We begin on Orkney's largest island Mainland at Orkney's main city (10,000) Kirkwall [EGPA]. We depart to the northwest toward the small isthmus separating the Loch of Harray and Loch of Stenness. We turn at the famous Ring of Brodgar [BRODGAR]. Brodgar is a henge and stone circle, similar to Stonehenge, whose Neolithic (2000-2500 BC) origins are yet to be understood. The structure's proximity to the nearby Ness of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Maeshowe tomb provide an interesting and rich pattern for archeologists of this early period.

Heading south, we pass over Stromness [STROM], Orkney's second town and its historic harbor. Then over Hoy Sound to the island Hoy (Norse for "high") and south along the dramatic western coast with its elevated cliffsides. The most photographed point is the Old Man of Hoy [OLDMAN], the tall red sandstone stack. First climbed in 1966 (and again in July 1967 on a live BBC broadcast seen by 15 million), it remains popular with climbers. Fashioned by the winds and sea gales and hydraulic action at the base, the stack is likely less than 250 years old and may soon collapse into the sea.

With Radwick Bay on the left, we cross the southern part of Hoy to see Lyness. This small village was the headquarters site for the Royal Navy's anchorage at Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars, at one time housing 12,000 personnel. The islands of Mainland, Hoy, Flotta, South Ronaldsay and Burray encircle the bay to make Scapa Flow is one of the great natural harbors in the world – with enough space for several navies. (In June 1919, the interned German Fleet dramatically scuttled itself to prevent being appropriated. A number of wrecks remain and they attract divers from the world over.)

We cross the small channel to execute a touch-and-go (or low pass) at Flotta [FLH]. The small island hosts the Flotta Oil Terminal for pipelines connecting directly to the Piper and Claymore oil fields in the North Sea. Its roadstead allows for the transshipment of crude oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to the rest of the world.

Crossing Scapa Flow, we approach to land at the private airfield at Lamb Holm [SCO3], operated by local legend
Tommy Sinclair. Note the rock causeways that now connect the eastern islands. These are the "Churchill Barriers" built as maritime defenses by Italian prisoners of war (from the Desert Campaign). On Lamb Holm, the prisoners also built the highly ornate Italian Chapel (adapted from a pair of Nissen huts) to serve their spiritual needs. The chapel has been preserved as a place of worship as well as a tourist attraction. Worth a quick look.
We head east over Auskerry [AUSKY], with its lighthouse and one of the last flocks of Orkney's unique North Ronaldsay seaweed-eating sheep. Then over Stronsay, the "island of bays," to land at Stronsay Airport [EGER].

Next a quick hop to touch-and-go (or low pass) at Eday London Airport [EGED] (with Loganair connections to Kirkwall). We proceed north to make successive landings at Westray [EGEW] and Papa Westray [EGEP]. These two constitute the world's shortest scheduled airline route. The distance is 1.7 miles, about the same length as the runway at Edinburgh airport. (The twice-daily Loganair route is scheduled to one-and-a-half minutes in a Britten-Norman Islander. The fastest flight record is 47 seconds. It would be irresponsible for visiting GA pilots to race against the record.)

We then head "out to sea" via North Ronaldsay [EGEN] and Fair Isle [EGEF], both of which have regular scheduled air service. With its high cliffsides, two lighthouses, and sloped runway, Fair Isle is an interesting spot. We arrive at the Shetlands' international airport Sumburgh [EGPB]. The airport is unusual in that it has a 1800 ft helicopter runway as opposed to the usual helipad. For pilots, the Shetlands' zephyrs can be refreshing.

Then on to Tingwall Airport (LGET) that serves Lerwick, Shetland's only burgh (7,000). (This is local air service. Longer connections go through Sumburgh.) Suitable weather conditions may provide the landing pilot an opportunity to
practice airmanship. Lerwick and the Shetlands have close ties with Norway and Scandinavia. The annual Up Helly-Aa fire festival, at the end of the Yule season, involves a climactic torchlit procession of a thousand Norse-costumed participants who culminate the event by burning a specially-built Viking galley.

Next a choice of either Whalsay [EGEH] or Outer Skerries [OUK] on Grunay Island. Most pilots will choose to land at Skerries [OUK]. The lure is the chance to master one of the world's shortest paved runways (1200 ft). Whalsay [EGEH] itself is plenty interesting (at 1530 ft) with drop-offs one either end. Note that Whalsay is in default P3D while Outer Skerries is represented only in the payware Orbx Scotland or Orbx Britain North TE.

We fly to Unst, the northernmost of the main Shetland Islands. (We overfly Fetlar Island – you can do a low pass over Fetlar [FEA] but there is not much to see.) We land at Unst Baltasound [EGPW]. The airfield was opened in 1968 and became a busy mainstay of the burgeoning North Sea Oil industry both to transport personnel and to operate helicopters to the oil rigs. However, in 1996 most operations were consolidated out of  Scatsta (EGPM) and the Unst airfield was put in mothballs. It remains the United Kingdom's northernmost airport, but it is unstaffed, without services, and largely unused. (The simulator scenery depicts the busy period of the airport's history.)

We continue further northward (past the Saxa Vord RAF radar station) to circle low and close to the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse [MUCKLE]. This is (more-or-less) the northern tip of the United Kingdom.

And then back southeast to the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, the largest transfer point for British North Sea oil. We end our flight at Scatsta Airport [EGPM] which has serviced the work at Sullom Voe for over forty years. Recent upgrades include large hangars for helicopters, a passenger terminal, and a new control tower. However, in a recent turn of events, a new consortium has won the service contract with the oil companies and intends to move aerial operations to Sundburgh. Despite the airport's announced closure, we shall enjoy the facilities before we return home.

The flightplan can be found here.

The route is 236nm with plenty of short hops and short runways. This is an opportunity for low and slow flying. Let me suggest a small aircraft such as the Alabeo C-170, Carenado C-185, Carenado Commander 114, or one of the A2A classics C-172 Skyhawk, C-182 Skylane or PA28 Piper Cherokee. Pilots who prefer a transport aircraft might choose a Britten-Norman Islander. This week I shall pick an old favorite, the A2A Cherokee in the handsome Ron Attwood "G-ARYR" livery. As ever, fly what you like.

The flight looks great with the payware Orbx Scotland scenery package and even better with Orbx True Earth Great Britain North. Orbx Europe Landclass does the job well enough. In order to have all the airports, you will need to install a scenery package from Scotflight. (At Flightsim.com
here or search for scotisles_vol1.zip.) This is the same package that we used for the Western Isles flight in July. Watch your email inbox for details and further suggestions.

Time and Weather
For takeoff on Saturday, set the simulator at 4:30pm local for August 29, 2020. We shall prefer to fly real weather. (If we need an alternative weather date, you might select August 25, 2020, at 1600 UTC.)

Date and time: August 29, 2020. 1800 UTC
Where: AVSIM RTWR Teamspeak - Casual Flights Channel
Teamspeak Server Address: ts.teamavsim.com
Cross-Platform Multiplayer: JoinFS. Latest version is
here. (FSX, FSX-SE, and P3D)

If you want to help others enjoy the multiplayer experience, don't forget to enter your aircraft details on the multiplayer spreadsheet (linked
 here). Your courtesy will save others a lot of time and effort.

  • Like 1

--Mike MacKuen


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