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.