St. Maarten – The Most Interesting Airport Landing in the World

One of the great thrills of science traveling is to experience interesting new places. If you watch any travel programs you may have seen something like this landing:

St. Maarten landing

Yes, that ‘s a real plane and real beach and real road; no photoshop. Maho Beach sits at the base of the runway for Princess Juliana International Airport on the Dutch side of the island of St. Maarten in the Caribbean. The beach has become a planespotter’s paradise because you can almost reach up and touch the landing gear of planes as they land. The History Channel in 2010 voted it the fourth most dangerous airport in the world. Check out this landing:

You can watch a longer series of clips here.

Princess Juliana is the gateway to the leeward islands, where I’ll be starting my sailing cruise shortly. Stops will take us to Barbuda, Dominica, St. Lucia, Guadeloupe, St. Kitts, St. Barts, and back to St. Maarten. The plan is to spend a day in St. Maarten before the cruise and make our way to Maho Beach before flying out.

Warning sign

As exciting as the landings are, the takeoffs can be interesting as well. Despite warning signs, beachgoers are known to stand in the jet blast zone, with not unexpected effect:

I’m not likely to be one of them. What interests me more is the science behind such a flight path. Coming in at a a 3° glide slope angle, the plane’s gear must touch down quickly to ensure a safe landing on the 7500-foot long runway. Take-offs require a quick turn to avoid the mountains rising into the departure path (you can see the mountains in the above video, which has the plane taking off over Maho Beach instead of the normal flight path).

I’ll dig up more science once on the trip. On most of the islands I’ll be doing tons of science-y hikes in the rainforest, snorkeling, kayaking, and more. During the trip I’ll be on complete “radio silence,” with no phone or internet at all, but expect some pre-scheduled posts while I’m gone and plenty of updates when I return.

David J. Kent is an avid science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, now available. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (both Fall River Press). He has also written two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.

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8 thoughts on “St. Maarten – The Most Interesting Airport Landing in the World

    • I’m looking forward to the flight, the cruise, and the exploring on each island. Especially given the nearly 3 feet of snow just dumped on us.

    • It was definitely cool to see. I got right onto the beach and the planes flew right over me. Of course, my own plane flew right over that beach when I landed on St. Maarten.

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