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Friday, December 2, 2016

HKG Kai Tak

I spent about 5 years flying the 747 as a first officer (co-pilot).  During the early years, We flew over water flights to Cologne, Germany, Narita (Tokyo), Japan and Honolulu on our regular schedule and flew charters to Amsterdam and Frankfort.  These flights and flights to Anchorage, Alaska are flown under international operating regulations.

Eventually, we started flying to Hong Kong.  HKG was still a British Colony at that time.  To me, it was an even more exotic destination than Tokyo.  For Tokyo, we flew into the Narita International Airport, which was out in the country, away from the center of the city by a 30 to 45 minute train ride.  At Hong Kong, we flew into the Kai Tak Airport in Kowloon, which was the area of mainland on the other side of Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong Island.  This was big city.

Kai Tak Airport was a landfill built out into the harbor.  It was a single runway, with a parallel taxiway.  It had one of the most interesting and challenging approaches to its favored runway, the famous Checkerboard IDS Approach to Runway 13

The video above gives a good overview of the airport and the approach.  We had to fly this approach during training in the simulator before flying it to the actual runway.  As the video explains, the wind is usually a crosswind from the right side of the runway.  

The approach requires flying a typical ILS approach with course and glideslope guidance, toward a mountain with a big checkerboard painted on it.  We fly that to about 660 feet above the runway, then if we break out of the clouds and can see the mountain and more importantly, the runway, we begin a turn to the right of 47 degrees.  Because of that crosswind from the right, it is important to go to a 30 degree bank angle immediately.  Then you look at the runway to see if the turn is lining you up with the runway.  If you are banking too much, you will be to the right of the runway and you can reduce your bank angle a little.  If you did not get enough bank in initially, you will probably drift to the outside of the turn and be too far to the left of the runway.  The wind will be pushing you that way.  This will lead to some excitement and a need to use more bank angle.  I always liked being a little to the inside of the turn and correcting from that.

While all this is being done, you have to concentrate on allowing the plane to continue descending at the same rate at which you were descending before the turn.  This is hard, because there is a tendency to pull a little back pressure on the controls when banking steeply.  If you level your descent too much, you will be too high and have to go around.  There is a light system next to the runway to provide visual glide path information, but it is hard to use that until you are nearly lined up with the runway.  It is desirable to get the turn completed and line up with the runway ASAP, so that you have as much time as possible to concentrate on the landing flare.  If you are still messing around with the turn too late, the landing will suffer.  You will see some of that in the next video.  The narrator is speaking in German, I think.  There are captions in Chinese and in very tiny English at the bottom of the screen.  Go to full screen.

The first few times I flew this approach, it looked like the wing was going down between the tall buildings.  It is a very exciting and fun approach to fly in a big plane like a 747.

As time passed and I had been flying to Hong Kong for years, I began to fly with captains who were new on the plane and had never flown this approach for reals.  Some of them would ask me to fly it the first time and I was more than happy to do so.  One such guy was Jim Romagnolo, with whom I had flown to Cologne several times.  He had lots of experience on the 74, but this was his first and only bid period flying to Asia.  He hated it and was always talking about eating "fish heads and rice".  Jim always gave me that landing.

Jim lived on Connecticut and had a crazy story about one of his neighbors.  This guy was working on his roof and was afraid of falling.  He tied a rope around his waste and ran it over the hip of the roof, but it was tied to the bumper of his car.  His wife did not know these details, got in the car and drove off, dragging him over the hip of the roof, down to the ground and down the driveway.  He survived, but was busted up pretty badly.  I always bugged Jim to tell me he was joking about this, but he insisted it was a true story.

The following are some of my photos from Hong Kong.

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