Monday, 19 November 2007

Hong Kong Landing in a 747

I have had more than my fair share of air travel. Extended air travel comes with it's own bunch of incidents, oftentimes retold in dramatic terms that make them seem worse than they really were. My personal favourite was landing in a 747 at Hong Kong Airport, (the "old runway"), in the early hours of a windy and rainy morning. First visit to Hong Kong, and had no warning as what to expect. Afterwards I figured out that an aircraft has only one approach to the runway. Irrespective of weather conditions. Aircraft approaches, makes a sharp right and dip at a massive chevron on a mountain side, then lands on a runway that extends into the sea.
I can vividly remember approaching the runway, flying between massive buildings on either side, that appeared to be apartments. The reverse thrust, or whatever it is that slows the aircraft down, was as bad as a 737 landing at East London. Having the sea right next to the runway was an added concern.
A clip can be seen here
Back to the 737. Arguably the most fun to fly in. Steep take offs, sharp and fast turns etc. In Chile they fly them differently. Low and fast, my perception after about a dozen local flights. It was a Chilean Air Force guy who made the statement that "737's were designed by a man who wanted to design fighter aircraft, and flown by Pilots who wanted to fly fighter aircraft". Fun stuff. About a week or so ago an engine "fell off" a SAA 737 on take off at Cape Town airport. The aircraft managed to land safely. Could find no mention as to where the engine landed. Most probably stripped and sold as scrap metal by now. The 737's must have reached their "sell by" date
A number of "incidents" that I can remember vividly.
1) A bomb threat on a Lufthansa flight from Johannesburg to Windhoek.
2) Flying from Santiago to Beunos Aires, and into a terrible storm over the Andes, even the cabin staff were visibly scared.
3) The Hong Kong landing
4) A trip from Nelspruit to Johannesburg in an 8 seater during a serious Highveld thunderstorm,... all the way. Only myself and another lady passenger. White knuckle stuff. After we landed the relieved pilot said, "Ons het so pas op Johannesburg lughawe neergestort" (Untranslateable)
5) "Falling" a couple of thousand feet , between Richards Bay and Johannesburg, with absolutely no warning, in a 58 seater turbo prop aircraft, the name of which I cannot remember.
6) An "aborted" landing at Johannesburg, in a 737
Fun stuff if all ends well.

Visuals that made a lasting impression
1) Flying over Greenland, the contrast between black and white. I cannot explain in words.
2) Flying over Algeria early in the morning and looking at towns built in circles, with roads radiating out like spokes on a wheel.
3) Flying over Rio de Janerio at night. There are millions of lights. One gets the impression that you cannot find a space big enough between the lights to place a pin point. And, in this sea of lights, the highly visible soccer stadiums.
4) Sao Paulo, looks like horizon to horizon of massive grey buildings.
5) The Andes, awesome.
6) Lesotho, flying reasonably low in a light aircraft. The mountains are spectacular. I am sure there are places there that nobody has been to.
8) Landing at Seattle, Seatac, with planes "stacked" in front and behind for landing. The control staff at this airport must be special.

What triggered this rambling? This image of an SAA aircraft, I know not where, when how or why.

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