The World's Challenging Approaches is back after a short while and we skipped November since the festival of Flightgear was there and thanks to all pilots who flew the last leg to Samos. Though the event started with a flurry of crashes for me, everybody seemed to get their planes safely except a few due to some FDM troubles/FG bugs. With that aside here is the announcement and briefing for the next leg.
This time the airport we would be flying to is Paro (VQPR) in Bhutan.
“Where’s that one airport that really challenges my pilot skills?” If you ever asked yourself that question, the answer is here! Paro, Bhutan is widely considered being the hardest and most dangerous approach in the world. Far more difficult than any airports you would have flown into. Without any navigational aids like ILS or PAPI, all you have for your journey down the small valley high up in the Himalayan mountains is your own pilot skills and the knowledge that you’re one of the only eight (8!) privileged pilots allowed to land at this beautiful place.
When? 23rd December 2017 at 1600Z
Where: MP server : Official FG server Voice Comms : Mumble only.
At a mere 15,000 citzens Paro is a relatvely small town in the western part of the Kingdom of Bhutan. It would probably be known only to a few Himalaya-lovers and mountaineers if it wasn't for the fact that it hosts the country's sole internatonal airport. But of course, that alone doesn't make it the legendary place it is in the minds of every aviaton fan. It's the fact that the airport of Paro is located in a deep valley that wiggles its way through the Himalayan mountains below the majestc 18,000f peaks around it, a fact that makes it impossible to land there the way pilots usually do. In the 21 st century aircraf computers use ILS systems to automatcally align with the designated runway and gently descend untl they safely touch down on an airport that can usually be seen miles and miles before touchdown. Here in Bhutan aviaton is far from the assets of modern technology. No ILS, no PAPI, no runway lights, nothing that could assist with aligning an airliner jet with the small runway down in the valley. And to make things worse – a lot worse in fact – the valley is so narrow it was impossible to build an airport in a way that you could approach it in a straight line, no mater how steeply you descend or from which directon you try to land. To land an aircraft at Paro you have to literally follow the valley, which means you have to ﬂy a daring last-second turn to align with the runway if you don't want to crash your aircraf into the close-by mountain slopes. It's obvious you need a special instructon and certficaton in order to be allowed to steer a 125-passenger airliner jet into that valley. As of today, only a selected eight (8!) pilots have that certfcaton, so if you have what it takes to land at Paro airport you'll be welcomed to an elite club that has less members than the “people who have walked on the moon” party!
The one thing that makes Paro such a dangerous place for every aircraft is its location high up in the mountains, but still deep in the valley, with steep slopes on both sides of the river that runs through it – in numbers: 7,332 ft above sea level but still more than 10,000 ft below the highest peaks that surround it! If you want to land at Paro you have to be able to do a VOR approach in combination with a VFR landing with very limited options. At most times, winds at Paro blow up the valley from the southeast, so the usual active runway is 15. If weather reports suggest an approach to runway 33 pilots usually ﬂy a completely visual approach, following the valley up the river, like in this image:
This approach does not follow any scripted procedure, heading, altitude and descend rate are completely the pilot's decision. Although the final approach to RWY 33 is easier than landing on RWY 15 this approach is more dangerous.
The most common approach to Paro is for runway 15, and this one is even more difficult to learn. If you look at the charts (see Resources above) you will find that the first part of the approach is a typical VOR approach with the aircraft passing PRO VOR (118.4) at 13,500 ft and then turning to 328° to overﬂy the airport, descending to 12,500 ft 5.0 miles outside PRO VOR. The aircraft passes directly above the airport, allowing the pilots to look down to check weather conditions. This is when they decide if a landing is possible or not. If they cannot see the airport because of clouds of limited visibility, they execute a missed approach procedure and return to their departure airport. If the weather allows a VFR landing the pilots ﬂy a visual approach following this scheme:
Immediately after passing Paro airport they turn left to approximately 090°. Note that they do not use their compass for this last part of the approach, instead they completely rely on the surrounding mountains for orientation. As soon as the aircraft gets close to the gorge between the mountain slopes the pilot makes a steep right turn while descending from 11,500 ft down to 9,500 ft. The aircraft gets really close to the mountain ridge and will have less than 2 miles for its 240 degrees turn if it doesn't want to crash into the mountains on the north side of the valley. It is very important to watch the altimeter on this turn as pilots are likely to lose control of the climb rate on steep turns like this. If the turn was executed well the aircraft is now 2,000 ft above the river facing Paro Dzong, the big temple above the river. And this is where things get really interesting...
The aircraft will be now facing Paro Dzong with the mountain ridge very close on the left. It's only now that the pilots are able to see the runway. If they don't, they immediately execute a missed approach and return to PRO VOR. Now the aircraft is more or less ﬂying in the direction of the runway, but with some 1.5 miles offset to the left. That means the pilot now has to ﬂy a precise right-left turn to align with the runway only moments before the aircraft reaches the runway threshold. Pilots usually start executing this turn as soon as they pass the ridge on their left. There is no written procedure on this so the right turn as well as the immediate left turn is nothing but pure intuition and practice. You will notice the aircraft gets really close to the mountain slope on the right and in fact very close to the ground and the big conifers at the river front. If you're lucky (and practiced really hard) you will now be able to align the aircraft with the runway just as the aircraft computer calls out the final 50 meters before touchdown.
But I strongly recommend add TAKTI fix to the route :
Sharp turn and descent from 13500 feets to the valley is not very good idea at 160 kts even on full flaps with A320, all my approaches to Paro was over TAKTI, then turn left to 005 deg and when I had PRO on my left hand, again turn left and dive into the Paro river valley. Here is one of many my flight log : https://fgtracker.ml/modules/fgtracker/ ... ID=6938738