Let's hope that they have good aim
February 22, 2010 7:10 AM   Subscribe

A runway that intersects with a major road. A short runway that begins and ends with cliffs over the ocean. All in all, the most ridiculous runways you will ever touch down on. posted by emilyd22222 (47 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I don't see what's so strange about the Congonhas Airport in Brazil, or the Mariscal Sucre International Airport in Quito. But then again, maybe that's because I'm familiar with the San Diego International Airport right here in the US.
posted by muddgirl at 7:19 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd love to see a graph that shows whether these runways are more or less likely to see accidents than others. Of course, the stakes are higher when a mistake is likely to test your aircraft's ability to float.
posted by zarq at 7:21 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are cool. On the other hand, BAM! Problem solved.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:21 AM on February 22, 2010

That Netherlands one was pretty crazy. Even the tiny plane in the video almost fell off the end (although they could have touched down earlier and braked harder).
posted by DU at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010

Also, Cygnet told me that one of the airports high in the mountains of Tibet that she took off from is in such thin atmosphere that the runways have to end at the edge of a cliff, because even at the end of the runway the aircraft doesn't have enough lift. This results in an entertaining, stomach-churning drop at the end of the runway while the aircraft essentially dives to get up to cruising speed.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

and of course the George T. Lewis at Cedar Key. People miss this one all the time and end up in the drink, so much so that kids are warned about not fishing in Daughtry Bayou at the north end. they do anyway.
posted by toodleydoodley at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010

Wait...no Male International Airport in the Maldives?
posted by JaredSeth at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010

Also... Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. Youtube has several in-cockpit takeoff and landing videos.
posted by zarq at 7:25 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Welcome to Honduras may we get you a fresh pair of trousers?
posted by Pollomacho at 7:29 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The old Nelspruit airport (now Nelspruit Airfield) in South Africa used to be fairly fun, too.

No passenger jets used to fly from it, but you could catch international flights into Mozambique, before they built the spangly new airport. Always had a fingers crossed moment taking off, and another when you entered Mozambiquan airspace that someone wouldn't try and take a potshot at you from the ground.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:30 AM on February 22, 2010

*pours out a bottle of gin baijiu for the late, lamented Kai-Tak*
posted by xthlc at 7:32 AM on February 22, 2010

See also
posted by edd at 7:39 AM on February 22, 2010

Gibraltar's runway/main road/border crossing is just terrifying.

The fact that Gibraltar is essentially a strange, shambolic and run down outpost of the 1950s doesn't help. Every time I crossed it on foot, I'd end up breaking into a jog at the halfway point, unable to shake the feeling that the technology linking air traffic control and the traffic lights probably consisted of a bloke leaning out of a window and giving a cheery thumbs up, or blowing on a whistle.
posted by a little headband I put around my throat at 7:42 AM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

I was wondering if that was Gibraltar in the FPP! I was there 10 years ago. So random, parking in Spain and wandering across the border (the border guards didn't even look at our passports when we said we were New Zealanders) and having to wait for a plane to land. It was probably my favourite part of the trip.
posted by gaspode at 7:45 AM on February 22, 2010

I'd never seen the St. Maarten one from the air. That one is famous for the pics of the jetliners seemingly landing just feet above the beachgoers. After seeing the overview shot, it's a lot more obvious that is the runway beach, and you would totally expect planes to be landing if you were there.
posted by smackfu at 8:01 AM on February 22, 2010

I don't get the worry about runways terminating into the sea. That's what displaced thresholds are for. Hope you're not afraid of landing at JFK, or Logan, or...

How about Alton Bay? They plow a runway on the frozen lake every winter. Or the Ice Runway at McMurdo?

You can find small airports all over the place - especially in congested areas like the Northeast - that have limited clearances at the ends of the runway. "Distance required to clear a 50 ft. obstacle" is something you really want to calculate before you try to take off somewhere like that.

There's a field in New Jersey straddled on either end of the runway by a school bus depot and railroad tracks. First time I landed there with an instructor, he pointed out the skid marks on the runway... and the section of fence in front of the tracks that had been newly rebuilt.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:06 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, good. Quito's Sucre International is on there. I lived a few miles from that airport and I can attest to it's dangerousness. It's precariously perched on the side of a cliff, with the city literally built up around it on all sides.

You could always tell the American pilots from the Ecuadorian pilots, because the Americans try to land it like a normal American pilot would: slow with an easy, sloping descent. The Ecuadorians however, land the runway fast and straight down.

Even though it looks scarier, the Ecuadorian pilots seem to get it right— they know their home. I'm pretty sure there were fewer crashes by local pilots than foreign. (At least when I was there.)

Also, you could walk straight up to the end of the tarmac with absolutely no barrier. The local kids had figured out that if you wait for a plane (in the tall grass at the end of the runway behind it) to rev up its engines, you could be blown through the air for a distance of at least 10 - 15 feet, depending on the kid's size. Fun times for all.
posted by functionequalsform at 8:09 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

The Gibraltar thing is crazy, to be sure, but really, this is an Island of fewer than 30,000 people, and it's clearly easier to get there from Spain than to fly in. How many flights can they be running through that Airport every day? Two?
posted by Navelgazer at 8:09 AM on February 22, 2010

I'm surprised they didn't put Barrow, Alaska, into which I fly several times a year. A short runway, almost always just *this* close to losing the battle with ice and erosion, oriented northeast-southwest, and terminating at the northern end just short of a gravel road, a gravel pit, and the ice-covered arctic ocean. It can be 60 below in winter, ambient. The ice fog is so thick and so impenetrable that pilots have to drop down to several hundred feet over the tundra (in a 737 cargo combi, if you're flying commercial on Alaska Air) to see if they have a clear shot. I've circled for an hour and then had to fly the hour back to Fairbanks after the pilot gave up in disgust. Or you approach from the ocean, and after dropping through ice fog (not that you could tell where the ground began, since it's usually just sea ice, all white and gray) you are suddenly 50 feet over a gravel pit. Always good and windy too.

For an airport named after a plane crash (OK, it's the Will Rogers/Wiley Post airport, so it's named after the two victims of a famous plane crash that put Barrow on the national radar way back in 1935), that's a heck of a way to fly.

On the other hand, when you land you're in another world There's a sign at the check in counter advising you not to pack whale blubber in anything but sealed 5 gallon plastic tubs, due to a recent in-flight cargo hold accident that grounded a plane for cleaning for 24 hours.
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:16 AM on February 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

backseatpilot: Is that Teterboro Airport, which is bordered by Route 46 on one end? It's a small-plane-only airport, and more than once a plane that didn't make it to take off for whatever reason ended up crossing Route 46 and ending up in the office complex across the street.

(Teterboro itself has a total residency of something like twelve permanent residents, which means a number of local municipalities in the area want to annex it for the huge potential tax base of the airport and the business there.)
posted by mephron at 8:17 AM on February 22, 2010

(And oh yes, Barrow gets 2-3 commercial jets a day, half a dozen to a dozen smaller cargo and regional planes. And they are building a new runway at the moment.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 8:18 AM on February 22, 2010

The two airport in the Oklahoma City area are named for Wiley Post and Will Rogers also. It's a little unnerving.
posted by shecky57 at 8:33 AM on February 22, 2010

Is that Teterboro Airport

I was thinking of Camden County Airport.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I have a friend who did his primary training at Wright-Patterson Air Base, which has a 12,600 foot runway. He said - since a little trainer like a Warrior only needs a thousand feet or so to land - they would do multiple touch-and-go landings in one pass.
posted by backseatpilot at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2010

I can't find a decent picture of it but I'll nominate Sky Bryce, which is located in a valley with hills on either side. Flew there on my first cross-country flight back when I was learning to fly.

Another weird one in Virginia is Hot Springs - Ingalls Field, which is build on top of a shaved-off mountain.

Also Milford Sound Airport, in New Zealand at the end of a fjord.
posted by smoothvirus at 8:34 AM on February 22, 2010

... and in Pakistan, the quaintly colonial Khyber Train Safari crosses the Peshawar airport's runway. The planes get the right of way.
posted by the cydonian at 8:44 AM on February 22, 2010

This is probably the hairiest "runway" I've ever landed on. Not only is the landing strip basically a gravel road, but it's tucked into a narrow valley, requiring a tight, tight turn to line up on it. Once when I was traveling out to Excursion Inlet to work, a landing had to be aborted because a bear meandered across the strip in front of us. Pretty common sort of situation for Alaska, though, where single-engine prop plane pilots are accustomed to landing in all kinds of weird conditions. It always made my spine tingle when I'd be getting into the plane to make that trip and the pilot would say something like, "buckle in tight, it's a little lumpy up there today."
posted by otolith at 8:46 AM on February 22, 2010

Hmm, I think I'll toss in my local airport on the Shetland Islands as a slightly unusual one. The main road intersects the runway and both ends of the east-west runway run into the sea.

Road users used to be warned of impending aircraft by way of flashing red lights but the number of people who didn't bother stopping has made them erect manually operated barriers.

posted by Transparent Yak at 8:57 AM on February 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

The Rochester/Monroe County airport used to have a fuel tank farm right at the end the main runway. I suppose it was scarier for the pilots than the passengers, but still...

Now if you overshoot you end up in the middle of one of the busiest expressways in the area.
posted by tommasz at 9:12 AM on February 22, 2010

Coming in just over the beach? Pah! Just land on the beach - that's what they do at Barra in the Western Isles.
posted by Jakey at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2010

I'll take the bus, thanks.
posted by Mister_A at 9:26 AM on February 22, 2010

Airports? We don't need no stinking airports! (Youtube).
posted by JackFlash at 9:34 AM on February 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I've flown into Tegucigalpa a couple times and it is indeed harrowing.
posted by DieHipsterDie at 9:45 AM on February 22, 2010

Feh. Sure, some of the runways are a little nerve-racking, but at least there's a runway.

My dad was finishing up a bushplane-supported hunt in Alaska, up on a stretch of the Yukon. His bush pilot was an old French-Canadian guy, nicknamed Frenchie. Frenchie landed on a strip of gravel bar, loaded up the plane, then walked up and down the gravel bar a bit, tossing grass into the wind. When the passengers asked what he was doing, he told them that the river had cut into the bend a little bit, cutting about 30 ft. off of the runway since the last time he flew from the gravel bar. He wasn't sure if they had enough space to take off. So he tied a handkerchief to a willow branch about 3/4 of the way down the runway. He told my dad to hit him in the shoulder if they weren't airborne by the time they passed the marker, since it would take them to the end of the runway to stop. Sort of like the watertower in Back to the Future 3. The first time they tried it, they didn't get off the ground in time and slammed on the brakes just before they hit the river. The turned the plane around by hand, taxied back to the start of the gravel bar, and waited for the wind to kick up a bit before trying it again. They took off the 2nd time.

Another time he was moose hunting in Alaska for a couple of weeks, when they were hit with a ton of snow, day after day. One day he returned to camp for a late breakfast when their bush pilot arrived, about 4 days early. He taxied over, and told my dad to get in. "We've got 4 days left out here," my dad replied. "No you don't." The pilot pointed at the floats of his plane, which looked like they had been beaten with a hammer. "All of the other lakes in the area are frozen up. This is the last open piece of water for over 50 miles. You're our last group out; we've got some guys hiking out 20 miles so they can get to a road. You're getting in now, or we're coming back for you on skis in a month." Dad's buddy was still out hunting, and he told the pilot as much. The pilot replied "Leave him a tent, a sleeping bag, and some food. I'm going to fly you to a logging camp, fetch him, and then come back for you." Dad got into the plane, and they flew along his buddy's tracks up along the side of a mountain. They found him. They were flying in Super Cub; a small, single-engined plane that flies so slow you can roll down the windows. They passed low over his buddy, and the pilot yelled "GO TO CAMP" out the window. His buddy didn't hear. The next time around, they dropped low, the pilot cut the engine to an idle, and my dad opened the door of the plane, yelling "GET TO CAMP!" His buddy turned around and headed downhill.

My dad was dropped at the logging camp, and told to kick in a door if the bush pilot wasn't back by nightfall to find food and a sleeping bag inside. Fortunately, he came back, and they were able to get out of the bush.
posted by craven_morhead at 10:13 AM on February 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Midway, aka "The world's busiest square mile"

Is this 'ridiculous' because of the intersecting runway patterns? How do they land/take-off more than 1 plane at a time at that place? I bet it'd be a lot less busy if they put a bunch of parallel runways in instead of the giant X.
posted by metaxa at 10:16 AM on February 22, 2010

Whoops, my link doesn't seem to be working. Here's a different look at the runway, though not quite as dramatic as the one I was trying to link above.
posted by otolith at 10:20 AM on February 22, 2010

Kai Tak was always thrilling to come in to. You could make a mental list of places to go by just watching them out the window.
posted by jiawen at 11:11 AM on February 22, 2010

More here: Popular Mechanics - The World's 18 Strangest Airports (2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 )
posted by Lanark at 11:17 AM on February 22, 2010

This Saturday I was onboard Air France flight landing to St. Maarten. Suddenly engines were powered up and the descent aborted -- few minutes later an announcement about diversion to Guadalupe. Took extra 35 minutes to get there, then an hour or so to refuel and another 35 minutes back to SXM.

Explanation was that no permission to land was given, so they had to divert to get more fuel.
posted by zeikka at 11:39 AM on February 22, 2010

It's not intersected by a major road, but the airport in Goa, India is strange in that while waiting to take off, you watch cars, motorcycles, and dogs make their way up and down the runway only to flee when the plane is ready.
posted by nitsuj at 11:41 AM on February 22, 2010

More here: Popular Mechanics - The World's 18 Strangest Airports

That Inquisitor article is a complete rip-off of this one. It even uses the same photos.
posted by smackfu at 11:54 AM on February 22, 2010

Copalis Beach, only available during low tide.
posted by ctmf at 11:59 AM on February 22, 2010

Also... Kai Tak airport in Hong Kong. Youtube has several in-cockpit takeoff and landing videos.

I had a go at landing at Kai Tak in a proper airline pilot training simulator when I was about 14 (I think it was a Boeing 777) because my dad worked for an airline (not as a pilot, just a manager of some internal department). It was pretty fun, I made it down in one piece. My dad crashed, ha. I think it was the hours playing Secret Weapons Of The Luftwaffe on our 486. Computer game skills FTW.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:22 PM on February 22, 2010

Ever take the Vomit Comet into Butte Montana?
posted by Cranberry at 12:45 PM on February 22, 2010

Is this 'ridiculous' because of the intersecting runway patterns? How do they land/take-off more than 1 plane at a time at that place? I bet it'd be a lot less busy if they put a bunch of parallel runways in instead of the giant X.

Midway can get by well enough on the two parallel runways they have; the Southwest flights get the big one, and the private planes and charters the small one.

The main reason Midway is ridiculous because those runways are among the shortest of any U.S. commercial airport. You definitely notice the pilots are a little harder on the brakes landing there, and when it snows it's hard not to worry that this will be your plane. (Especially when you fly home for Christmas two weeks later and that plane is still sitting at 55th and Central.)
posted by jackflaps at 1:37 PM on February 22, 2010

When I was little, I got to go to the Caribbean, and we got to our destination by a puddle-jumper that made a stop on an island just being developed. The dirt runway didn't bother me; I was used to dirt roads. What made an impression was air traffic control.

The ATC consisted entirely of a single 1970s woody station wagon packed full of equipment and wired with antennae, pulled off a rutted road. There was a Magic-Markered posterboard sign in the window on which someone had drawn a little "desert island", with a basic shining sun and M-shaped birds, and the word WELCOME.

No one was on the island except for surveyors and a few other exploratory staff, so there was nothing else there; we had only stopped to pick up one guy named Steve. At the time, I was frightened of being so far away and so in the wilderness, in an airplane so tiny it didn't even have aisles. But even as we left, I knew it was the single most awesome airport I had ever seen or ever would see.

(Shamefully enough, I cannot even remember its name. I'm sure it's been lacquered over with resorts by now.)
posted by Countess Elena at 6:29 PM on February 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Here's my home base. Yep, those are houses some asshole developer built right at the runway threshold. The other end of the runways has tall trees.
posted by exogenous at 10:21 AM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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