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Putin works out in his, President Jiang Zemin found bed bugs in his, while Kim Jong-un is scared to use his. A look at the VVIP jets used by heads of state...
posted by Richard Green on 03/08/2018
 

An artist's impression of Trump's newly ordered Boeing 747-8

In February 2018 the USA's President Trump placed an order for two new Air Force One's at a cost of $3.9 billion - to replace the current couple of 31 year-old presidential jumbos. For that cash he'll get oversized armchairs, dining on demand and a proper bed - oh and in-flight refuelling, guided missile deflection, and a command centre speccy enough to start and direct a war from.

VVIP aircraft for heads of state fly the flag on official visits, and peacock a country's wealth and power. The Shah of Iran and Prince Charles flew their own, President Putin's has a on board gym, the Pope's is dubbed Shepherd One, and George Bush Snr liked his so much he sometimes slept on it the night before an official flight.

Here's the why, when, how and what of government and royal flights...

Why? It's not just self-aggradisement - for rich and powerful countries there is surely a case for specifically designed, maintained and operated aircraft to transport their heads of state. Such a plane offers a secure communications platform, dependability and flexibility free from the vagueries of commercial airline timetables (and cancelations), and can become a command center in a crisis.

Lindon B. Johnson taking his midair oath of office after the assasignation of President Kennedy in 1963.

When? The very first head of state aircraft appeared in 1928, when two Westland Wapitis were stationed at the RAF's West London Northolt base, for use by the British Royal family. These single engined biplanes had a top speed of 207kph with a canvas covered rear section and two open cockpits in tandem.

A Westland Wapitis, as used in the rather rudamentary first Royal Flight.

The then Prince of Wales was a flying enthusiast and bought several aircraft before becaming King Edward VII in 1936. Actually, he was the first British royal to fly when he visited Villaverta on the Italian front on the 27th of September 1918. He got the bug, learnt to fly and bought a de Havilland Gypsy Moth in 1929.

Franklin D Roosevelt en route to the Casablanca Conference celebrating his 61st birthday

Franklin D Roosevelt was the first US president to fly in an aircraft when he used a Pan Am crewed Boeing 314 flying boat for the Casablanca Conference in 1943. The first presidential aircraft specifically bought for the purpose was a C-87A, which was followed by a Douglas C-54 Skymaster that was kitted out with an internal lift to carry the president in his wheelchair.

A pair of Air Force One's, which often fly together for backup and decoy purposes

Where? Private jets for head of state use are surprisingly widespread. Even smaller and poorer countries have them, like say Bosnia & Herzegovina, Malawi and Uruguay. And the richer nations use specially customised versions of the largest passengers planes around. And some like the Emir of Kuwait or Amir of Qatar, have many of them at their disposal. Both of these oil rich rulers have over a dozen jets, including a 747-8 Intercontinental each. This is the largest passenger plane Boeing has ever made, which Lufthansa operates with 509 seats.

This 37 year old Boeing 727 belongs to the Government of Burkina Faso. Photo Jerome/Flickr

Other heads of state with large passenger jet conversions include the King of Jordan, who runs an Airbus A340-600, Mexico's Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Morocco's 747, and Swaziland's King - who rules over a country of 1.3m people and the 164th largest GDP in the world - with an MD-87 and an Airbus A340-300.

Here are some other noteworthy VVIP flights by country...

Argentina, Bangladesh, China, India, Iran, Libya, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, UK, USA, & Vatican City.

Argentina: the Americans call thier presidential plane 'Air Force One', which is technically what any plane in which the US president is flying in on official business is called. It has spawned nick names for other countries. Lebanon's VIP aircraft is known as 'Cedar 1', Kenya's is 'Harambee One', Nigeria has 'Eagle One' (Nigeria), and Argentina's Agrupación Aérea Presidencial (Presidential Air Group) runs an ageing Boeing 757 called, wait for it, 'Tango 01'. The additional ruse there being that the letter 'T' is 'Tango' in the phonetic alphabet used in aviation.

'Tango 01', the Boeing 757 of the Argentine presidency

Bangladesh: following an engine shutdown and emergency landing at Ashgabat International Airport in Turkmenistan in 2016, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was spooked enough to demand her ountry buy two new VVIP planes for government use. She was travelling to a conference in Budapest on board a Biman Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 777 and continued her journey on the same aircraft once it had been fixed.

Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 777-300ER. Photo Brngladesh Airlines

Sheikh Hasina is a controversial figure and her country is poor. Many lists of country VIP aircraft include her implicitly outrageous demand for a dedicated Boeing 777-300ER at a cost of $260 million. However the order never took place and the PM has reverted to using one of two Biman 777s as and when.

China: China's presidential fleet includes 10 737's and two Air China 747s. The latter are used by the national airline, and are pressed into use as the premier's plane when required. There are plans for a dedicated long haul presidential aircraft; perhaps a Boeing 747-8 currently flying with Air China will be given the improved security, inflight refuelling, and an airborne command centre makeover. 

Buying aircraft from the US for such a sensitive role has risks, as Jiang Zemin found out when he ordered a Boeing 767-300ER in 2001. It came with top of the range extras - like a bath tub and a 48' TV in the president's suite - plus 27 unwanted listening devices in the seats, panelling, and toilets. And there were bed bugs too, as at least one device was found hidden in the headboard of the presidential bed.

It was alledged that the CIA jimmied the plane while it was be converted from a regular Delta Air Lines plane in San Antoniio, Texas. Perhaps unsurprisingly the plane was never used for government officals, and was sold to a Kazakh airline in 2014. The fact that the new 747-8 was one of several already ordered and being used by Air China should ensure that it's not bristling with bugs.

India: the president's fleet of four Boeing 747-437Bs are equipped with jamming equipment, anti-missile systems and in-flight refueling. For short haul trips there are also three 737BBJs named Rajdoot, Rajhans and Rajkamal.

Boeing is delivering two new 777-300s later this month, which will have better range, lower fuel burn, and updates systems over the current 27-year-old jumbos.

Iran: Until the early 2010s, the president and other high-ranking government officials of Iran were still using the famous 'Shahin', a special VIP designed Boeing 707 that was purchased by the Shah of Iran in the 1970s. It was initially far more luxuriously outfitted than US Air Force One, but after the Iranian Revolution it was redesigned as a less regal VIP aircraft.

The venerable Boeing 707 'Sahin' as used by Iran till 2016.

An Airbus A321 was bought in the 1990s and is used on medium range trips of high government officials, plus the fleet includes a Dassault Falcon 20, three Dassault Falcon 50s and a Lockheed JetStar.

Forward cabin of the former Shah's Boeing 727. Photo Sam Chiu

The government of Iran also owned a Boeing 727, which is displayed at the Tehran Aerospace Exhibition Center near to Mehrabad Airport. The interior retains its VIP configuration as ordered by Henry Ford II in the 1960s. It was this aircraft that the Shah hiself piloted on January 16, 1979 on the first stage of his journey into excile to Aswan, Egypt.

Libya: Colonel Gadafi had a history of state visit eccentricities - once travelling overland from Tripoli to Cairo, and always taking a massive entourage and his trademark tent.

I was staying at the Sheraton in Addis Ababa when the Colonel stopped by. Large goons moved me away from the swimming pool in the early morning, where I later saw a white tent being erected. Later on the air inexplicably tensed and a motorcade sped down the driveway towards the portico and lobby.

The rebel-held Airbus A340 at Tripoli in 2011, after the fall of Gadaffi.

Gadaffi once flew to Zibmabwe for a onference with three airacfrat and 250 strong entourage, and on a trip to Belgrade in 1989 he arrived with two horses, six camels and a ton of Libyan sand. The authorities allowed him to graze the camels in the hotel grounds, but balked at him riding a horse to the opening of the conference as he had wanted. He departed without the camels, having gifted them to the city zoo.

Mexico: set against all this agrandisement, there is a long established (if niche) tradition of leaders promising to sell off expensive presidential planes. President Joyce Banda of Malawi sold her USD $22m Dassault Falcon 900EX jet and 60 matching Mercedes, and Nigeria's Muhammadu Buhari sold off two jets in 2016 to 'cut down on waste'. 

As for Mexico's governmental Boeing 787 Dreamliner - President Felipe Calderon ordered it, President Enrique Peña Nieto flew in it, and now newly elected President López Obrador has said he'll sell it. The Boeing is one of 18 Mexican government aircraft, but is by far the most controversial and costly - having been leased for 15 years at an estimated USD $300m.

The left wing populist was elected on a pledge to tackle corruption, but other campaign pledges include turning the Presedential Palace into a public park and cutting his salary in half.

Fuerza Aérea Mexicana's Boeing 787-8 Dreamliner. Photo Julio Cesar Hernandez Reyes

Incidentally, through the Army's Auxiliary Aerial Militia Squadron, founded during the Mexican Revolution in 1913, the Mexican Air Force is one of the world's oldest. 

North Korea: Kim Jong un's father and grandfather were terrified of flying - they witnessed their own executive jet explode at a display in 1982, which probably didn't help. On Kim Jong-il's two trips to China and one to Russia he took the train. For the Moscow sumit his 21-carriage armoured train took days to get there and was accompanied by hundreds of troops.

'Air Force Un', meeters and greeters, and a mammoth red carpet. Photo Korean Central News Agency

Current ruler Kim Jong-un appears to have escaped the worst of the family phobia though and uses an Illushyn IL-62 crewed by the infamous national carrier Air Koryo, dubbed 'Air Force Un'.

To ram the point home, he was filmed at the controls of a plane in 2015 - cue rousing orchestreal music and the patriotic tones of Ri Chun-hee, North Korea's newsreader of choice. How knowledgable about piloting an aircraft Un is remains in question.

Yet in May the so called Supreme Leader did risk a 360km flight from Pyongyang to Dalian when he met with China's Xi Jinping, and aboard his aged Il-62 too. This was his first known overseas trip by air. Enormous secrecy surrounded the visit, but a Cold War era Il-62 of Air Koryo was seen belching smoke on take off from Dalian airport after the meetings.  

It may look like an am-dram mock up, but this is the real Air Koryo deal. Photo Koryo Tours

Rumours abounded as to whether Un's plane, or indeed his nerves would stand up to a long flight to meet with President Trump back in June. So Singapore was chosen, in part to be in range of Un's old crate, and also so as not to have the machine overfly mile after mile of open sea, with all the fears of few diversion airports should something go wrong with the aircraft.

However rather than limping into Singapore in a plane thought to have been buit in xxxx, Kim Jong-un actually descended in one of his pal Xi's converted Air China Boeing 747-8s. This kept up appearances of North Korea's strong ties with China, and demonstrated privte plane parity, as it is the same aircraft type used by the US as Air Force One.     

Russia: for Putin's visit to the UK in 2003 he insisted that his 13-strong motorcade be shipped to London with him - including two armoured Russian-made Zil lomos. Russia presedential flight comprises 31 aircraft, including a couple of Airbusses, a couple of Antonovs, a couple of Tupolev 154s and Sukhois, eight Il-62s, eight Il-96s and 13 Tupolev 214s.

Putin's Russian-built presidential Il-96. Photo Dimitry Terekhov/Flickr

Russia operates two Ilyushin Il-96-300PU for the President's use, with all the trimmings, and there are even rumours of an escape capsule, similar to the one featured in the 1997 film 'Air Force One'.

Russian state Il-96 leaving Stansted in March 2018 with 23 'undeclared intelligence officers' on board

Head of state aircraft can be pressed into action for other duties too, as witnessed recently when Russia flew an government flight Il-96 to London's Stansted Airport in order to fly home their expelled embassy staff. British Prime Minister Teresa May had called the 23 'undeclared intelligence offices', and gave them a week to leave.

And so, with a photo of them and their famillies in the embassy being bid farewell by the Russian ambassador, an interview with the ambassador at the airport, and the large state jet, the Russian government capitalised on the PR opportunitites of the event rather effectively. 

United Kingdom: the UK government forked out £10 million to refit one of the Royal Air Force Airbus A330 Voyager fleet for use of the government and Royal family. It's a miitary version of the standard passenger-carrying A330 that operates for the RAF as a fuel tanker, now fitted with 58 business classs style seats, missile defence systems and enhanced comms.

Am RAF A330 Voyager atRAF Brize Norton. Photo Sam Wise/Flickr

The UK's Royal family has form when it comes to actually flying planes too. Prince Philip earnt his wings (a term to mean that a person has completed their RAF flight training) in 1953, and at the time of him hanging up his goggles for good had accrued 5,986 hours at the controls. The Duke of York, Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry are also qualified helictopter pilots.

RAF BAE-146 of the UK's Royal Flight in Sumburg. Photo Ronnie Robertson/Flickr

Prince Charles was a keen flyer too. He started his career with the RAF in 1968. An incident on the Isle of Islay in June 1994 led to the Prince stepping down from active flying. He was at the controls during the landing and approached yhe runway some 32knots too fast and in high winds. This caused tyres to burst and the plane to slew off the runway and halt with the nose gear in mud. 

USA: The so called 'Flying Whitehouse' was begun under JFK. It's said that George Bush Snr liked it so much that he'd get to the airport the night before and sleep on the plane before its early morning departure. And Jimmy Carter remembered his first trip - President Ford lent him the plane to carry his family to the inauguration. Carter said, "I was so excited, when we drove from Plains down to Albany, we forgot my mother," he said. "We had to stop and turn around."

Air Force One departing LAX

No surprise there - he was never going to buy an Airbus (the other airframer that makes an equivilent sized plane to the Jumbo Jet) - though he likes private jets and has a Boeing 757 of his own. He said the replacement of the current and aging Presidential Flight was a complete waste of money while on the campaign trail, but that was then.

Here's what you could have won. A fantasy Air Force One A380

The Reagan era Air Force One, a Boeing 707 that the President visited 26 countries and 46 states in, is on display at the Ronald Reagan Foundation in Simi Valley. The aircraft served seven US presidents from 1973 to 2001, and was where Reagan wroite many of his speeches and signed legislation. Among the other displays is a presidential limo, and a transplanted Irish pub from Ballyporeen, Ireland, which Reagan visited on a diplomatic trip in 1984 - it's now the Library’s snack shop.

Reagan's Air Force One displayed at his museum. Photo Jim Maurer/Flickr

The National Museum of the US Air Force in Dayton, Ohio has an entire gallery devoted to previous presidential aircraft.

Vatican City: Pope Paul VI was the first pontiff to fly - when he made the first papal pilgrimage to Jordan and Israel in 1964.The Pope doesn't have his own aircraft, but instead tends to charter an Alitalia plane for his outward journeys, and then an aircraft from the national carrier of the country he is returning to Rome from.

Pope Benedict arriving in the USA in 2008. Photo Andrews Air Force Base

The media has dubbed his plane as 'Shepherd One', to echoe Air Force One, but it's invariably a chartered passenger jet.

These days the pope is lucky to get a couple of seats in Business Class, but a bed on display at a modest Kansas City Museum shows it wasn't always this way. In the unlikely setting of the Strawberry Hill Museum, in the days before flatbed seating in First and Business Classes, is the full sized bed that the pontiff used on an early trip to the US.

TWA's 'Shepherd 1', used for Pope John Paul's 1995 visit to the US

One More Thing...the most powerful man in the world aboard its most speccy plane, yet on September the 11th 2001, the armour plating, in flight refuelling and swarms of secret service simply wasn't enough.

After the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York on the 11th of September 2001, the then US President, George W. Bush was rushed to a safe room. Not to some super secret bunker deep under the Lincoln Memorial or in a disused Appalacian mine, but instead to the armoured cabin of Air Force One, which was hastilly scrambled from Sarasota, Florida, where the president was visiting a primary school.

At this time US air space had been closed, so pretty much the only plane above America's skies - aside from its escort of F-16 fighters -  was just a pale blue and white Boeing 747, with around 60 people on board, and their Commander in Chief.

George Bush on board Air Force One on 9/11

The 747 lifted off and began heading to Washington D.C, but changed course owing to reports of six or more aircraft still not responding to ATC calls (and therefore possible hijacked targets too).

Following a call from Dick Cheny on the ground in Washington, the President gave the go ahead to shoot down any hijacked aircraft from his in-flight oval office at the front of the main deck.

Communications with the ground and ATC melted down somewhat due to the chaotic circumstances and spike in demand. Bush was minded to return to Washington D.C., but the on-baord secret service team told the president they didn't feel that was safe.

Then a highjacked plane hit the Pentagon and Tillman is reported as saying 'Let's go and cruise around the Gulf (of Mexico) for a little bit".

In the post 9/11 chaos, AF1 only picked up TV feed when flying over big cities

Comms that day on board AF1 were surprisibgly poor, with no email, just two phone lines operational, and intermittant TV reception - only really watchable when flying over large cities.

They flew to the nearby Barksdale Air Force Base, near Shreveport, Louisiana, and were caught by local news reporters, who were nevertheless unaware if Bush was on board. He left the plane via the lower stairs in case of snipers. After refulling, resupplying, and a hasty recorded press conferemce, an hour and 53 minutes after Air Force One had landed, it took off again.

President Bush using the lower steps at Barksdale Air Force Base, in case of snipers

With fuel topped up further with in flight refulling, the aircraft was good for a non stop flight of about 14 hours. But AF1 actually proceeded northwest to Offut Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska - a good thousand miles west of the US capital.

From here, the aircraft continued on its unlikely odyssey, heading for Andrews Air Force Base 20 kilometres outside of Washington D.C. The president and all on AF1 got a chilling view of the Pentagon building disfigured by the crash of Maerican airlines flight 77 and in flames.

On landing Bush was swiftly transfered to Marine One, the presidential helicopter. He finally arrived at the White House some nine hours after hijacked American Airlines flight 11 hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York.


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Deicing demystified; it's expensive, time-consuming and critical for a safe flight...
posted by Richard Green on 26/02/2018
 

Deicing in Detroit. Photo Ian Headley/Flickr

With temperatures plunging below zero and snow falling across Western Europe right now, airport deicing procedures are in full swing.

On a trivial level that means that the odd unsuspecting passengers is being spooked by the sight of blokes in hazmat gear firing coloured liquid alll over their aircraft like a decontamination scene from a disaster movie. Deicing also causes delays due to the extra time needed to spray the aircraft, and it's vital too - as many crashes have been caused by a build up of ice on critical areas of plane's exterior.

Why is deicing so important? The areas of an aircraft that need to be ice free before a flight are the wings, and the horizontal and vertical stabilisers. Ice on these surfaces adds weight, but more importantly it can hinder the free movement of flaps and ailerons, and disrupt the smooth airflow over the outside of the plane, and thereby reduce lift.

That means an aircraft will need more runway length or more speed to get airborne if it has ice on its surfaces. Clearly this can be a cause of disasters.

Deicing close-up. Photo Peter Gronemann/Flickr

How is it done? Sometimes deicing takes place at the gate just prior to the aircraft pushing back in order to taxi to the runway. Though it's increasingly likely that the plane will taxi to a dedicated deicing pad first. This allows the gate to be kept clear for incoming aircraft, clear of slippery residue fluid on the tarmac, and probably collected in special underground tanks to be recycled.

Incidentally the pilot and the deicing crew can speak with each other on a special radio frequency during the procedure.

It doesn't need to be snowing for deicing to be necessary. Photo Clariant International Ltd

Deicing vehicles are specialist bits of kit with a fire-brigade like moveable arms mounted on them and with a bucket to accommodate a member of the deicing team. The process follows a pattern so that nowhere remains undrenched. Deicing fluid is artificially coloured so that the spraying crew can see where's been covered.

They avoid directly spraying the cockpit or passenger windows, the nose-mounted instrument sensors, the engines or the wheels.

What's in deicing fluid? Deicing fluid is a mix of propylene glycol and water, which is sprayed on hot and at high pressure. The most common fluid used is Type I and Type IV. Type I removes snow and ice and then Type IV is applied to offer protection against re-icing.

An American Airlines Boeing 757 being deiced. Photo Whit Andrews/Flickr

What does deicing cost? The pilot decides when a plane needs deicing. Even a small jetplane will need a few hundred gallons of deicing fluid. For larger aircraft - say the Airbus A380 for example - airlines will pay around £10,000 per deice. The kit used in deicing lies unused during the summer months, when staff undergo training. Munich airport for example, has 26 specialised deicing vehicles and at full tilt can deice 68 planes per hour.

Many airports use dedicated areas close to the end of the runway called deicing pads. It makes sense to do the spraying away from the gates so as to free space for incoming aircraft. Also the anti icing agent used has a relatively short 'holdover time' in which it remains effective, and deicing at a 'pad' close to the runway means that engines can be kept running and delays that ight cause a repeat deice can be minimised.

Perhaps surprisingly, the only UK airport with a deicing pad is Southend Airport in Essex, which launched its new area this winter.


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Longest, shortest, most northerly and southerly flights in the world...
posted by Richard Green on 20/02/2018
 

You may be surprised to learn that the world's shortest scheduled flight is over in less time than it takes to boil an egg; that the most southerly flight serves a town in Tierra del Fuego named after a Bristolean; that the longest nonstop slog is 4 1/2 times longer than Gone with the Wind; or that if you head north past the Arctic Circle on the most northerly flight you'll quite likely be sitting next to a coalminer.

Here is a look at the longest, shortest, most northerly and most southerly flights on the planet.

Most northerly scheduled flight

Route: Tromso to Longyearbyen

Flight time: 90-minutes

Cost: from £110 return

Tromso is a handsome town in the far north of Norway, a two hour flight north of Oslo and 350 kilometres above the Arctic Circle. Yet despite it being perched on the north Norwegian coast, its actually at southern end of the world's most northlerly flight.

Point a plane due north from Tromso and after ninety minutes flying bewtween the Norwegian and Barents Seas, you'll get to Longyear Airport on Norway's Svalbard Island, which sitting at 78°14′46″N 015°27′56″E is the northernmost airport handling scheduled flights.

The dramatic setting of Longyearbyen, Svlabard. Photo Visit Svalbard

There is something other-wordly about arriving on Svalbard, thanks to its remoteness, bleak landscapes, and knowing that a place the size or Ireland is home to just 2,600 people. There are more polar bears here than there are people, and tourists head here to see them on organised safaris, to try dog sledding and to see walrusses and wales.

I arrived on a staff travel ticket as I used to work for an airline. I was on a tight budget and with only enough time to explore the main settlement. There were snow flurries, even in mid August, and I remember an ominous message from the governor hanging over the baggage area, informing arriving passengers that if they should stray beyond the little capital of Longyearbyen, they need to take a rented firearm with which to repel polar bears. 

Aerial view of Longyear Airport on Svalbard.

I flew in with SAS from Tromso, but there are also flights from Oslo with SAS and Norwegian Air Shuttle. My flight was full I sat next to a burley young Norwegian student who was flying up to Svalbard to work in the coal mines. He told me that the work is hard, but that he earns good money ready for his next term at university. Although it was once the main reason for countries to jostle in and around Svalbard, the industry is now being wound down by Norway.

The departure lounge at Longyear Airport. Photo alvaroprieto/Flickr

To do the archepelago justice, you'll need time and money, but for an intrepid weekend break Longyearbyen makes for a thrilling travel experience. Head for the excellent Svalbard Museum, the North Pole Expedition Museum, and the bijou Svalbard Brewery runs tours. For more information , see Visit Svalbard

Most southerly scheduled flight

Route: Purto Williams to Punta Arenas

Flight time: 40 minutes

Cost: from £197 return

For the most southerly flight in the world you need to head to Tierra del Fuego; the fabled 'land of fire' that's split between Argentina and Chile. Despite its remote location, the Argentinaian city of Ushuaia is well known these days as an adrenaline sport hotsopt and cruise port, but twinkling away some 53 kilometres southeast across the Beagle Channel are the weak streetlights of the decidedly ramshackle Chilean town of Puerto Williams.

Photo My Bathroom Wall

The settlement lies at 54°56′S 67°37′W and is the southernmost city in the world. It was founded in 1953 and soon afeter became known as Puerto Williams - after the British-Chilean sailor and politician - and is now the capital of the Chilean Antactic Province with a polulation of 2,900. 

I was there at the end of a local cruise through the arcepelago, and rather warmed to the frontier feel of the place.

Street scene in Puerto Williams. Photo My Bathroom Wall

Relatively few tourists make it to Puerto Williams, though there is fine hiking nearby and it makes a great base for exploring Chilean Tierra del Fuego and learning of its unique landscapes and former inhabitants. Known as the Yaghan people, the indigenous race have lived in the area for over 10,00 years, reportedly swimming and fishing naken smeared in seal fat.

Their tragic story is told at the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum. Cristina Calderon is the last living full-blooded Yaghan. She was born in 1928 and lives in a small bungalow just outside of Puerto Williams, and when she dies her race, language and culture die with her.

The departure lounge at Puerto Williams Airport. Photo My Bathroom Wall

The Guardia Marina Zañartu Airport is run by the Chilean Navy is on Chile's Navarino Island. The only flights from the airport are operated by Aerovías DAP to the regional capital of Punta Arenas., xxx kilometres to the northwest. But it's a facinatingly frontier town that really does feel a very long way from normal Chilean or city life.

Aerovías DAP ARJ on the ground at Puerto Williams. Photo My Bathroom Wall

For more information on the region see Visit Chile

Shortest flight in the world

Route: Papa Westray to Westray

Flight time: around a minute

Cost: from £15 return

There are a few contenders bandied about for this spot - perhaps a domestic mountain hop in Papua, or maybe an island hop in Micronesia? But officially the shortest flight in the world is closer to home that I'd thought - as Loganair fly from Westray to Papa Westray in the Orkney Islands, which is a distance of just 2.8 kilometres. Looking at that another way, the flight distance is shorter than one of Heathrow Airport's runways - the shortest one of which is 3.6 kilometres.

The 'terminal building' at Westray. Photo Treesiepopsicles/Flickr

There is an Orkney Ferries service that crosses the Papa Sound from the south of both islands, but that takes 40 minutes. For anyone in a greater hurry, the usual flight times across the sound are around a minute, with the shortest flight time recorded so far at just 53 seconds.

Incidentally, Westray has one of the shortest runways in the world too, at only 234m, and a picturesque 'terminal building'.

A Logainair Britten Norman Islander, as used for the Westray flights. Photo Loganair

For more information on Loganair's Orkney inter-island flights, see - https://www.loganair.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/OrkneyFares2.pdf, and for general tourist info there's Visit Orkney.

Longest flight in the world

Route: Doha to Auckland

Flight time: up to 18hrs 20mins

Cost: from £1,760 return

It wasn't so long ago that flights from London to Japan would have to refuel in Anchorage, Alaska, and flights to Los Angeles in Bangor, Maine. Then advances in technology allowed for longer range airliners and enabled planes to schlepp from Heathrow to the west coast of the US or east to Hong Kong in one bound, which at the time felt about as long as it was sensible to fly without a break.

The Qantas 787 that consertina'd the Kangarooo route to a single bound. Photo Qantas 

Since then aircraft ranges have kept improving, and Qantas have just used Boeing's new 787-9 Dreamliner to begin a totemic scheduled service from Perth to London, nonstop. The flights take around 17 hours and over-fly the brightly lit airports of the Gulf, where the majority of passengers between the two countries currently break their journeys.

The lengthiest scheduled flight in the world changes with each new season's timetables. Up there as contenders have been Air India's flights from Delhi to San Francisco, and Cathay Pacific's from Hong Kong to New York . 

The inaugural Qatar Airways flight from Doha arriving at Auckland. Photo Qatar Airways

So the current longest is Qatar Airways and its flights QR921 and QR920 that operate between Doha, Qatar, and Auckland, New Zealand. It's a distance of 14,535 kilometres, or more than a third of the equator's circumference. The flights use a Boeing 777-200LR, with the Auckland to Doha leg as the longest of the two - thanks to more of the flight facing into the prevailing winds. It comes in at a whopping 18 hours and 20 minutes.

The Qatar Airways Boeing 777-200LR taxiing at Auckland Airport. Photo Qatar Airways


 
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What's it like to be on an inaugural flight? EasyJet's first ever flight To Varna...
  2783 views. First published 08/06/2017
 
Icelandair is at it again; this time converting a plane into a flying glacier...
  2634 views. First published 01/06/2017
 
Alaska Airlines Salmon-Thirty-Salmon livery takes 'flying fish' to new heights...
  2900 views. First published 05/05/2017
 
All you need to know about connecting flights...
  3588 views. First published 06/04/2017
 
Some travel jargon explained; codeshare, seat pitch, private transfers...
  2072 views. First published 28/03/2017
 
Charles de Gaulle, Bob Hope and Indira Gandhi are to be joined by Cristiano Ronaldo, as Madeira Airport has a new name...
  4119 views. First published 25/03/2017
 
How to combat the fear of flying...
  1935 views. First published 07/03/2017
 
London's inner city airport is it's best, and not only for bankers either...
  3785 views. First published 07/03/2017
 
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Well no, it's the painted on beaks of Thailand's Nok Air...
  4224 views. First published 02/03/2017
 
Rossiya's flying Amur tiger livery...
  3809 views. First published 14/02/2017
 
The last Concorde finds a new home in Bristol. How to find it, and the 17 others...
  3263 views. First published 13/02/2017
 
Icelandair's phantasmagorical Aurora Borealis livery
  3744 views. First published 24/01/2017
 
Fifteen hundred 747's took to the skies; now time is being called on the much loved Jumbo Jet...
  3158 views. First published 24/01/2017
 
Before bagsying the best seat on a plane, you need to know which one it is, right?
  1366 views. First published 24/01/2017
 
Seaplanes are safe, scenic and super fun; here's why, and where to fly them...
  3478 views. First published 08/01/2017
 
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