Saturday, May 16, 2009

St. Bart's - Saba / Cessna 182RG Skyland (N7126H) / VFR

In so-so weather, I decided to make a short but fairly challenging flight from St. Bart's to Saba, home of the world's shortest commercial airport runway. It's only about a 20-mile trip. The one runway of the airport at Saba is officially closed, but I got my virtual waiver to use it, anyway (normally only aircraft of the government-owned airline Windward Air—Winair—are allowed to use it).

The flight was mostly easy. I flew only about 1500 feet over the water so I didn't worry about my altitude too much. I do have survival gear on board but since I'm surrounded by inhabited islands at close range, hopefully I'd be rescued promptly if I went down.

The challenging part was at Saba. The tiny runway at this nominally international airport is only 1312 feet long, and ends in steep cliffs that drop to jagged rocks at either end.

Prior to making the “real” flight, I had “simulated a simulation” to practice at the airport. I had survived all of my practice take-offs and landings, including one go around that I was constrained to do after I was unable to stop on the runway and rolled off the cliff (by immediately selecting full throttle I was able to pick up enough speed to avoid a crash). So by the time I made this “simulated real” flight, I was reasonably ready.

The key was simply to go slowly and touchdown as early as possible. The wind was pretty strong and gusting from the south, although visibility was good. I touched down over the numbers at about 60 knots and braked as strongly as I could, and came to a stop just beyond the (only) turnoff to the tiny terminal. With this airstrip you feel as though you should have an arresting hook hanging from the airframe.

All went well and I taxied over to the terminal. The FlyTampa scenery for this island is a dead ringer for the real airport; the resemblance is astonishing and it's hard to tell the two apart (I looked for some YouTube videos of real landings and I had to watch each of them for a bit in order to make sure it was truly a real aircraft and not just a simulation with FlyTampa scenery).

The aircraft was also a pleasure to fly; Carenado's Cessna 182 is great.