Wangbe airstrip is quite typical of a number of airstips in Papua as it was constructed by the local villagers in the hope of attracting air traffic. There is another, larger Missionary airstrip just around corner in the next valley called Beoga which was built first and is of much better quality thanks to the fact it was constructed to the Missionary’s standards. There’s only about 4nm between the two airstrips but I’m told it takes a day to walk between them.

I believe the villagers originally wanted Cessna Caravans to be able to land on their airstrip but I think they ran out of enthusiasm once they’d gotten it to a state where pilots can land Porters on it. That’s also pretty typical of airstrips in Papua. Once one type of aircraft can land there (and that’s usually a Porter) there’s little incentive to increase it’s length for larger aircraft.

Approach into Wangbe, Papua

Runway statistics


Orientation: 24/06 (Landing 24, take-off 06)
Length: 450m (approx) usable
Elevation: 7300ft
Slope: first half 5%, then 15%
Surface: grass/mud

CAUTION: pronounced crown and large undulations towards the upper half. Land centre and at the beginning to prevent going over undulations at high speed.  Slippery when wet. Top third unusable due large cracks in surface and subsidence.

Wangbe airstrip from above looking downhill

Pilot notes

The above statistics are from my little notebook in which I note down various things about each airstrip I go to. Using a handy app on my iPhone, that can measure distances and slope, I am able to get very accurate statistics and often have to update notes I’ve gained from other pilots, as airstrips change in Papua fairly often.

Weather wise, it’s not uncommon to find fog lurking in the valley in the early morning but the airstrip is usually above it. Due to the altitude and up-slope alignment of the airstrip, the wind will start to blow up the slope from 10am onwards making landing after this time undesirable unless you enjoy landing with 15kts tailwinds.

First thing I do when arriving at Wangbe is to fly overhead and check it looks ok from above and that there’s no people having a picnic on the airstrip. I then overfly the village which is located in the valley just below the airstrip to let the villagers know I’m coming in. I do that in the hope someone will come up to the airstrip and help me unload the aircraft!

Parked up at the bottom of Wangbe airstrip

As the runway’s aligned towards up-sloping terrain, you’re committed to landing on short final. Up until that point you can abort by turning out left or right into the valley for another attempt.

Due to the undulations that start about half way up, I like to land right at the beginning of the airstrip and be slowed to walking pace before I roll over them towards the area near the top wide enough to turn around in. That point is about two thirds the way up on a 15% slope. It can sometimes prove impossible to turn around at all up landing weight on the soft ground after heavy rain. In those cases I just stop, park facing up-slope and unload there. The top third is unusable for aircraft and you’d get stuck if you tried to taxi up to the very top with a full aircraft.

View looking down Wangbe airstrip

Sometimes, and especially if no-one is about, I’ll turn around after landing and roll back down to the bottom to unload. Usually by then a few of the more keen villagers will have shown up and can help me unload the aircraft.

For take-off, I’ll only use just over half the length available as the undulations are not good for the aircraft to roll over at any speed. They can also throw you off centre which is not ideal when you’ve unleashed 550HP of P&W PT6 turbo-prop on a down sloping runway. Once you’ve started rolling and got any kind of speed, you have to get flying really. If you did have to abort the take-off roll for some reason, turning off to the left or right is preferable to going off the end, as there’s a reasonable drop into the trees there.

Lined up for departure 06 Wangbe, Papua

Everything written in this article are opinions of the author and should not be taken as sole reference for attempting a flight into or out of the aforementioned airstrip.

Matt Dearden

Matt Dearden

English born professional pilot, writer, blogger and columnist. Currently flying the Pilatus PC-6 Turbo Porter in Papua, Indonesia.

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5 Responses

  1. Jon Grace says:

    Hi Matt,

    Another great post mate. I can imagine your tail wheel not liking the undulations and a few corrective mearures are probably taking place on take off!! To be fair looking at the picture, looking down the airstrip, the first time having to land there I bet was a little nerve racking?

    The good news here is that the weather is beginning to realise that it should be spring, and I have managed to get a few more hours under my belt. Still not as many as I would like, but last week I managed to fly as many hours in three days as I had the whole year up to that point.

    Anyway safe flying mate and keep up the great posts!!


    • Matt Dearden Matt Dearden says:

      It certainly can take a decent amount of rudder to keep it vaguely on the centreline, even to the point of having to brake a wheel along with a boot load of rudder.

      I relish the challenge of new airstrips now but you’re quite right, there’s always a few nerves the very first time I go to a new place, especially if another pilot’s mentioned a scare they’ve had landing there…

      Happy landings :o)

  2. adi dayu says:

    Hi Matt, greetings from HLP.

    I’m really interested in your plane the Pilatus porter and cessna caravan. I’m wondering what is it there at your left wingtip? rounded, black, bulked it a weather radar? and how you determine the length of the runway in the first time you land there? how you make sure you can land there? i know its hard to find that information especially that was a airstrip! thanks for answering it capt. I really interested in bush flying technique.

    • Matt Dearden Matt Dearden says:

      Halim hey? Flown into there a few times over the years!

      You are quite correct about the black dome on the left wing, it is indeed a weather radar which comes in very handy when flying thought the muck trying to avoid big CBs.

      Thus far I’ve always landed on runways where another pilot has gone before, so have known that the Porter can get in and out ok. However, sometimes the runway length figures I’ve been given have been a little out.

      It’s always good to overfly airstrips before landing to check the general layout and condition of the airstrip. If going somewhere for the very first time, it’s always best to go in to the airstrip with no load on board because with an empty Porter you barely need 100m to get into the air, so if the runway looks long enough, it probably is. The more places you go, the better you become at judging runway length from the air.

    • adi dayu says:

      You can touch me when you land here at Halim Sir, it’s been about 2 years since I always been seated side of the GA apron awaiting of my instructor to fly with. 🙂 Here is my email, Feel free to mail me sometime when you free, I really interested with your fascinating story of flying in the beautiful jungle of Indonesia. I’m lucky to found your blog Sir! keep posting and have safe flight!

      Best regards.

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