Simanaitis Says

On cars, old, new and future; science & technology; vintage airplanes, computer flight simulation of them; Sherlockiana; our English language; travel; and other stuff


THE DISCOVERER BLOG has carved itself an online niche of travel information: fascinating destinations, critical things to bring with you, how to behave once you’re there. With many of us limiting our travel these days to the armchair variety, The Discoverer Blog is welcomed fun as well.

A recent topic was “The World’s Most Dramatic Airport Approaches.” Here are tidbits on three of the article’s eight that I’ve actually experienced, together with comments about my flight simulator virtual adventures I’d call dramatic as well.

Funchal, Madeira. I’ve visited Madeira, with SimanaitisSays documentation of this and other airports at “A Sharp Right, Then Set ’Er Down.” 

The Discoverer observes, “On the island of Madeira, the local authorities can be forgiven for not moving the airport to a more suitable location—there isn’t one.”

Funchal, Madeira. Because of prevailing winds, a Funchal approach comes toward us in this photo. Image by Unomos from The Discoverer Blog.

Fortunately, prior to my real visit, I had already fooled with the Funchal  approach on my flightsim. Thus, its abrupt right U-turn over town came as no surprise.

Telluride, Colorado. The Discoverer reports, “Telluride’s airport perches on a high-altitude plateau surrounded by 14,000-ft. peaks…. Turbulence caused by the surrounding mountains as well as a strong downdraft caused by the cliff at the end of the runway combine to make this a landing as tricky for the flight crew as it is breathtaking for their passengers.”

Telluride, Colorado. The airport somewhere down there is the highest commercial one in the U.S. Image by Yaya Ernst from The Discoverer Blog.

Yeah, just what I need: complicated breathtaking at Telluride’s 9078 ft.

Saint Maarten, the Caribbean. “Plane-spotting,” The Discoverer notes, “becomes an extreme sport on Maho Beach on the Caribbean island of Saint Maarten…. As jets make their final approach into Princess Juliana International Airport, they pass over the beach at an altitude of 100 ft.” And at a speed of around 170 mph.

Princess Juliana International, St. Maarten. Image from lonely planet. “The World’s Most Dramatic Airport Approaches” at The Discoverer has a video.

KLM no longer flies Boeing 747s to St. Maarten, but they were there during my visit back in the 1970s. I recall the hot blast of jet fumes as the aircraft passed over Maho Beach. Little did I know at the time that I was destined to experience an even closer encounter with a Saab Viggen fighter at a Swedish airbase.

Barra, Scotland. I’ve not had the pleasure of flying to the Scottish island of Barra and experiencing its sand runway. The Discoverer notes, “This is the only commercial airport in the world where pilots have to contend with the tides as well as the weather.” 

Barra, Scotland. Image by EyesTraveling from The Discoverer Blog.

My favorite Scottish flight is the shortest commercial flight in the world: the 1.7-mile hop in the Orkney Islands between Westray (in airport lingo, WRY) and Papa Westray (PPW). 

In the foreground, Papa Westray; 1.7 miles away, Westray. Image from

I’ve not flown WRY/PPW in real life, but it’s a good adventure on my flight simulator, especially when I need just a short fix.

Other Flightsim Adventures. The old approach into Hong Kong was legendary. You descended toward a checkerboard pattern on a hillside, then abruptly turned right, with the buildings of Hong Kong only a few hundred feet below, onto Kai Tak runway 13.

Kai Tak closed in 1998, replaced by Chek Lap Kok International, some 19 miles to the west of Hong Kong. 

My Miles M.57 on Kai Tak approach. Note the checkerboard beneath the aircraft.
I have yet to master this approach with a Boeing 747.

Another flightsim favorite is the approach into Ísafjörður, in northwest Iceland. Because of terrain and prevailing winds, it’s another U-turn experience. 

My de Havilland Rapide explores scenic Ísafjörður, Iceland.

Thanks, Discoverer. What with one thing and another, I haven’t traveled by air in a while. But thanks to The Discoverer Blog, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and GMax, I’m doing just fine with my armchair. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2020 


  1. Edgar W Shaw
    January 10, 2021

    The 2 airports that I found the most sketchy in my travels were La Paz Bolivia because the cabin needs be De- pressurized on landing because it’s at 13,300 feet elevation and Commercial aircraft are normally internally pressurized for 8,000 feet. so you can’t open the door at the jetway untill the pressure has equalized with the external pressure.

    The airport is Paro, Bhutan. It’s not only at 7,300 but when we landed there, it had only a single 6,000 ft runway – and no taxiway — and it’s located at the far end of a Box Canyon. The approach is down a winding valley with large scars on the surrounding mountain side which are either avalanche culls or previous failed landing attempts.

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