THE FLIGHT FROM THE TOP OF THE BARN | Sharon Henry
The last time we clambered onto ‘The Barn‘ the airport runway was only partially laid, today – 18 April, 2016 – we’ve scrambled up to watch an actual aeroplane land on that completed piece of gleaming concrete. And not just any aeroplane, we went to see a spanking new Comair / British Airways 737-800 Landing On St Helena for the first time, emblazoned with British Airways livery in the red, white and blue of the Union Jack.
It’s the first passenger plane to touchdown on the new landing strip, the BIG one after the three smaller calibration flights before it.
Taking A Risk Or Two
Photography is often all about different angles; we also like to add a little adventure and for today’s special shoot we spiced it up with some altitude. That is to the dizzying 616 metre height of ‘The Barn,’ one of St Helena’s most challenging (and may I add dangerous) hikes.
The Barn is a hulking brute of a rock that from ground level seems to jut scarily close into the flight path of approaching aircraft. We decided last minute it would be a great spot to get a different angle and maybe even reach out and touch the plane!
It was one of those things though that sounded like a good idea at the time. However, in the cold, cloudy light of dawn it lost some fizz when I thought of the two hour plus walk we had ahead of us. I should also mention that The Barn is notorious for unpredictable cloud cover that can accumulate suddenly. One minute there’ll be glorious sunshine the next a complete white-out. We were taking a risk and after a hard slog we could end up with an empty memory card.
The St Helena Weather
There was already a fluffy layer of cloud on The Barn when we set off on the dot of 8, lugging cameras, telephoto lens, heavy-weight tripod, sandwiches and birthday cake. Our godson’s 10th birthday was to be marked with this milestone.
Not wanting to get caught out by missing status updates, we tuned into SAMS Radio 1 for changes in the flight schedule. The ETA had moved from 11.40 to 11.50am. The weather ran through a repertoire of dullness, splashes of blue sky, spots of rain, swathes of mist then a miraculous turn to clear skies and sunshine.
By the time we’d eaten our picnic and licked our fingers of cake crumbs we had an hour of playing the waiting game.
Darrin, having learned from his error of missing the fly-pass of the first plane to land on St Helena‘s a few months ago due to chatting, was now a stickler for preparedness and constantly scanned the skyline whilst listening for jet engine sounds.
Comair / British Airways 737-800 Landing On St Helena
Then at 11.52 the shiny tube of ZS-ZWG popped into sight from behind us and it was action stations; camera on rapid burst and video camera rolling.
The pilot did a brilliantly skilful fly-by skimming just 50 feet above the runway, much to our delight and I’m sure the large population of onlookers, including the island’s school children, who had congregated around the safety zones of the brand new St Helena airport. Darrin being a ‘Top Gun’ nut was ecstatic.
Then after it had circled around and come in on a second approach, this time with landing gear down, we had a heart-stopping moment. Just as the wheels were about to kiss the runway, the aircraft suddenly pulled up hard and fast and leapt back into the sky. Not sure if it was a planned test or a problem with landing but it certainly was dramatic.
Check out our video of the first Comair / British Airways 737-800 Landing On St Helena:
The third round was less so and the airplane touched down at 12.08pm with a textbook landing. A happy pilot no doubt and contented photographers; we had three chances to capture some excellent shots especially with the awesome backdrop of King & Queen Rocks and Prosperous Bay House.
The Only Way Is Up From Here
I still find it astonishing that we have an airport here on St Helena. And today is particularly poignant thinking of the loved ones who did not live to enjoy this moment with us. Crazy though, that finally we are entering the world of air travel. I’m getting a head rush from the excitement coursing through my veins thinking of the easier and cheaper travel options soon to be available for Saints.
Mind you, that head rush might also be attributed to thoughts of our two hour return journey. But coming here was definitely worth the effort of adding more amazing albums to our adventures in photography.
Everything you need to know about St Helena’s scheduled air service, operating since October 2017.
The plight of St. Helena Airport seems to be similar to the Norwegian Airport VRY (IATA Code), which was closed due to similar wind probems in 1990 ( see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wider%C3%B8e_Flight_839 ).
A great moment for all saints, wonder when we will see the next big passenger plain…nice pictures
OMG that is truly amazing! Hope the pilots are well trained!
Well done Sharon and Darrin….the pics and write up are amazing. What a momentous time for our lovely island . Thanks for sharing. …just so incredible !!
Thanks for the comment Denise, much appreciated. Amazing times to be living through for us all 🙂
Bravo! I took the liberty of sharing your website on one of our plane spotting FB pages here in Montreal, Canada!
Excellent – thank you for sharing 🙂
We are looking for someone who can host a small ADS-B receiver that will help Flightradar24 track flights to and from St Helena. You can find more information and apply on https://www.flightradar24.com/apply-for-receiver. The receiver will use about 10-20 MB of data per month.
As always amazing photos, capturing moments like this which are shaping our future! 🙂
Definitely was a special moment in our island history 🙂
Wow what a landscape.
Must have been a challenging construction in that landscape, on an island in the middle of nowhere.
It certainly was, which involved a monumental landfill of a deep gully along with a long list of other crazy construction feats. Well done to Basil Read Construction!
Fantastic photos, thanks! This must be a truly amazing and emotional time for Saints. The whole world is watching you right now. I’ve been following this story from the UK with much interest and can’t wait to visit, your island looks amazing. Well done to everyone involved in the project.
Thanks Nick. This really was one of those surreal moments when you had to pinch yourself to prove that it’s real! It’s been many years in the making and finally air travel is (almost) here just waiting for the flight schedule to be published and we’ll be flying high. 🙂
Fabulous images and great video! Thank you for letting us share some of those feelings through your pics and vids. Very emotional watching this from afar! Hope that it won’t be long before we can get home this way too!
Watching a full-sized airplane land evoked a lot of emotions for many of us – especially when the realisation hits that ‘home’ is just mere hours instead of days away. Looking forward to seeing you around sometime 🙂
Love the Risk Taking! Really captured the moment
Yeah totally could have gone the other way! Risk-taking with a double-whammy of great exercise. Aching today though. 🙂
Excellent guys!!! Really enjoyed the read and pics, thanks X
Thanks Michelle – such a fun and historic occasion to share. Still pinching ourselves!
Awesome photo’s, nice seeing it from a different angle. 😀
Thanks Sinead – who would have thought the backside of an aeroplane could look so good!
Great photos guys, capture the moment brilliantly
Thanks Kenickie it’s totally awesome to see this modern technology mingle with St Helena’s rugged and aged landscape.
I’m very proud of you both for your ambitious adventures ambling the rocky mounts to gather operational data of angle views on the flight approaching her first landing on St Helena’s Airport. Fantastic Photos.
Thanks Pat – and especially for the brilliant photos you ‘lent’ us from a closer vantage point of the airplane landing. Priceless 🙂
Fantastic! Great viewpoint and worth all your efforts 🙂
Thanks Teeny – made a lucky call on the weather! 🙂
So excited about the new airport and flights now available. It means we will be able to visit our daughter Sarah who is soon to join the nursing staff at the hospital in Jamestown.Thanks Darrin and Sharon for the great update.
The airport now opens so many possibilities for travel to and from St Helena. It’ll be a special experience touching down first time on the island. I’m sure you’ll enjoy your stay.
Thank you for the fantastic coverage & the huge effort you put into getting to such an advantageous vantage point. Just looking at your wonderful shots made my knees ache from thoughts of the climb.
Ha thanks Roger! Our knees also ached especially scaling down the dreaded ‘knife edge.’ But it really was worth the effort.
A great choice to head to the Barn for this. Terrific photos and reporting, made me feel like I was there watching with you! Thank you.
Thank gawd it paid off! Could have totally gone the other way and have our heads caught in the clouds – phew! 🙂
Absolutely awesome photos once again guys!!! 😀
Thanks Andrea and awesome work achieved by all you Basil Read guys – a well deserved pat on the back is in order. 🙂
Lovely photos….I particularly like Mr Pats’ 😊
Yes thanks to ‘Mr Pat’ we managed to cover extra angles! Love the touchdown photo with Basil Read contractors in the foreground looking at the amazing feat they’ve collectively achieved. 🙂
Just got back from St Helena last week having spent 18 days on the RMS and on the island. Great pictures and the “Barn” is absolutely an unpredictable beast of a mountain that we didn’t quite pack into our trip. Next time. Thanks for sharing.
Thanks Steve – that’s great you’ve experienced a journey on the beloved RMS. When you visit next be sure to put tackling The Barn on the top of your list.
Dear both,I rarely comment, but I think the first photograph is brilliant, Nigel
Agreed Nigel – and how great it is to see an airplane with BA livery against the backdrop of Prosperous Bay House ruins.
A day that we will never forget,
i was one of the lucky ones and was at the Airport
It was the BIG one and one for the history books – seeing the BA colours land is such a reality check. We have an airport!
Nice work guys. Spectacular photos and video, well worth the hike up the Barn
Thanks Paul – also from that angle it’s amazing to see how well the runway blends into the landscape.
Great article and stunning pics. Thanks for sharing the experience with those who were not able to be there! Have done the Barn myself, so smiled at your “Head Rush” thought!
Thanks Derek – we were counting our lucky stars that the dreaded cloud shifted in time. Otherwise the ‘head rush’ would have taken on a whole new meaning 🙂
Thanks Darrin and Sharon for sharing. Great viewing!
Thanks Shirley – The Barn certainly gave us an excellent vantage point.