A trip to Tenzing-Hillary Airport

A trip to Tenzing-Hillary Airport

Author: Thorsten Renk

One of the most dangerous airports in the world, Tenzing-Hilary Airport, also known as Lukla airport, hugs a small plateau in the Himalayan foothills. It is the gateway for trekkers into the Sagarmatha national park and climbers trying to reach the summit of Mt. Everest. The runway has a length of 460 m and a 12 degree slope – it needs aircraft with STOL (short takeoff and landing) capacities to operate from it. Usually DHC-6 Twin Otter or Dornier Do 228 aircraft, weather permitting, connect Kathmandu and Lukla. Today we will make the trip with the Beechcraft 1900D, a more modern commercial twin-engine turboprop which is also up to the task ahead.

Preflight preparations begin at Kathmandu airport. We will take off before dawn and experience the sunrise in-flight over the mountains. The route is about 70 miles due east from Kathmandu, just along the main mountain range. In good weather, several major summits are visible. Lukla itself is not equipped for instrument approaches, so we have to approach in VFR flight.

Many airports in Flightgear have a set of night textures, making the models visually appealing not only during day but also when it’s dark. Similarly, for many airplanes the cockpit lighting is modelled in some detail. Here, I have switched on the main panel light to illuminate my cockpit during flight preparations. The aircraft models also usually have strobe, nav, taxi or landing lights simulated.

Today, we have broken cloud cover over Kathmandu. As we climb, dawn approaches and the sky brightens, outlining the towering mountain ranges. Kathmandu has an elevation of 4300 ft, Lukla of about 9300 ft, but even this altitude is not even halfway up to Mount Everest with a bit above 29.000 ft. In fact, since the B-1900D is only certified up to 25.000 ft, we wouldn’t even reach the summit at top altitude.

At sunrise and sunset, Flightgear models the different level of light available on the ground and in the air. While it may still be dark on the ground, more light reaches the plane at higher altitude.

A few minutes later, the sun comes above the horizon and sky and cloud lights up while the terrain is still in deep shadow.

For this flight, I am using a development version of Flightgear which experiments with an improved modelling of atmospheric haze layers and shading of the terrain during sunrise and sunset. The result are quite impressive views of the sky. Presumably, this feature will become available with the regular release of Flightgear 2.6.

As we reach Lukla valley, the sun is up and some morning fog hangs in the lower foothills of the mountain ranges.

Now we turn into the approach, and Lukla valley is right before us. There is some fog in the upper valley, but the airstrip itself is clear (it can barely be seen just below the left windshield wiper).

We fly close to the left valley edge to have more space for the final approach. This means crossing some ridges at low altitude and sets off terrain warnings.

Many planes in the Flightgear world have instrumentation which warns about insufficient terrain clearance or potential collisions with incoming traffic.

Now it’s time to turn right into the 060 final approach. The wind is bad – it comes almost right from the rear, but as you’ll see shortly, the approach to runway 30 isn’t exactly available.

Here we are, lined up with the runway. Time to get the gear out and to decelerate a bit.

Some wind drift as we come in – last minute corrections. Lukla is not an airport for missed approaches or second chances – there is a solid rock wall right behind the runway and no chance to pull up. We have to hit the runway now, no matter what happens.

This fairly detailed model of Lukla is an addon to the official Flightgear scenery.

And… here we are, braking real hard.

Welcome to Tenzing-Hillary airport. We hope you enjoyed the flight with us!

In case you find the idea that Air New Zealand would operate in the Himalaya a bit odd, Flightgear offers The Livery Database where many more liveries from all over the world can be found for popular aircraft.

15 Replies to “A trip to Tenzing-Hillary Airport”

  1. Hello Thorsten, I really like reading your writeups and I’ve tried to fly the same flight. Unfortunately the wonderful Custom Scenery for Tenzing-Hillary Airport is not available with TerraSync and no longer available for download; I’ve looked around for it and couldn’t find a copy anywhere. Would you happen still to have a backup copy that you could publish somewhere? Better yet, make it part of the official scenery in TerraSync?

    Secondly, I have been unable to find the main panel light to illuminate the cockpit of the Beechcraft 1900D. This green light in the first picture looks awesome. I searched for it in the property browser, even grepped the .xml files and, apparently, it is not in there. Instrument lights are there all right but they are insufficient to find most of the unlit knobs and switches. Were you using a custom version of the b1900d? If so, where can I find one with proper cockpit lighting?

  2. SO i love this take off i recently ascended just over the summit of Everest in a Cessna Skymaster!!! Absolutely wonderful, and very hard! However like many i have not been able to find the detailed airport, granted i have the cut out an asphalt but its shorter than this one. considering making one just wanted to rekindle this.

  3. Could you point where can be downloaded scenery of Lukla Airport with slope? Every official sources have non-sloped runway and it’s quite annoying. Every article says “460 m and a 12 degree slope” when it isn’t true.

  4. I really enjoy these chronicles by Thorsten Renk: this one or the others such as “Carrier ops” or “Reconnaissance with the SR-71 Blackbird”.
    They give in a few words a glance about Flightgear capacities, make the parallel between the simulator and real life and give people the urge to try !
    I think it would be a very good thing to translate them so that many people can discover Flightgear.
    Where do you think that contributors could publish translations in other languages ?

    1. I’m not sure – the obvious place would be corresponding Flightgear sites in other languages, but I don’t really know what is available.

  5. Nice topic ! I feel like trying !

    Just one thing : you’re talking about runway 060, I think you’d better say runway 06.
    And then you introduce the approach to runway 30, I guess you wanted to talk about “runway 24”, which is actually, as you say, not exactly available !

    1. You’re right of course. I shouldn’t have tried to finish the writeup in a hurry… this invites this kind of mistakes.

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