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|
Orientation: 24/06 (Landing 24, take-off 06)
Length: 450m (approx) usable
Slope: first half 5%, then 15%
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|
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.