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IIkami's Blog

IIkami's Blog: Leg 16: Sakhalin to Kamchatka

Leg 16: Sakhalin to Kamchatka

Start: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Oblast, Russia (UHSS) 46°53′13″N 142°43′19″E

End: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky Airport, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Kamchatka Krai, Russia (UHPP) 53°10′3.72″N 158°27′12.96″E

Start Date: (Sim Time): 17/11/2010 2:05pm (flight on same day in real life, but not same time)

Flight Duration: 1.9 hours (day), 2.4 hours (night), 1.4 hours on instruments.

Flight Distance: 821 miles (713 nautical miles)

Estimated Burn 133.2 gals

Actual Burn 111.0 gals

This marks the first touchdown on the massive Eurasian Continent, the largest land-mass on Earth and home to 72% of world's population! When thinking about landing here, my first thought was that I could jump on a train and in a few weeks time find myself in Paris, but unfortunately there is no road or rail access between the cities and towns on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the rest of Russia. This isolation has been a feature of Kamchatka for all of it's history. The native people are the Koryaks who numbered around 12-25,000 before the region was mapped by Russian explorers in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of those explorers were killed by the Koryak people and this resulted in a number of punitive raids. By 1820 their population was reduced to around 1,900, mostly as a result of disease and attacks by Russian settlers. Today their number is around 8000 compared to the over 300,000 Russian residents.


The city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky was established in 1740 and for a while was an important transit point on journeys between the more populated areas of Russia and the Russian colonies in North America. In 1854, the city was the site of a battle in the Crimean War when an Anglo-French force of 2600 men in 6 warships with 218 cannons attacked the Russian fort defending the city. Despite having only 920 men, 67 cannons and one frigate, the Russian defenders successfully repelled the larger force and inflicted five times the casualties they received. Today the city has a population of 268,000 people and for reasons that will become clear below, has an active tourist industry.


With the sale of Alaska to the United States, the region became less strategically important for a while and was spared attack in WWII. However the cold war once again made Kamchatka militarily important and the Soviet government established a number of military sites, including the main Russian submarine base in the Pacific (which still exists today). I can imagine the frequent encounters between US and Russian aircraft near Kamchatka, as the US spy planes probed the Soviet defenses (and patience). After WWII, casual travel to Kamchatka was prohibited for both Russian and foreign citizens alike.

As the Soviet regime collapsed and relations between the superpowers began to improve, Kamchatka was once again opened to casual travel. Russian citizens were allowed to travel there from 1989, and foreigners from 1990. It was quickly realized that the isolation of Kamchatka during the Cold War had meant that it suffered little from human development. Vast portions of the peninsula consist of pristine sub-arctic forests with large populations of seals, wolves, arctic fox, bighorn sheep, moose, reindeer and other animals. In fact, Kamchatka is famous within Russia for the size and numbers of bears living there. It is also a breeding ground for Stella's Sea Eagle, one of the largest eagles in the world. Importantly, it has a large variety of salmon species and it is estimated that between a sixth and a quarter of all Pacific salmon originate in rivers in Kamchatka.

Another natural wonder in Kamchatka are the spectacular and numerous volcanoes. The Kamchatka River is flanked by no fewer than 160 volcanoes with 29 still active. The largest volcano is Klyuchevskaya Sopka which at over 4700m is the largest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere, while Kronotsky is famous for it's beautifully symmetrical cone, similar to Mount Fuji in Japan. 19 of these volcanoes are listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, recognizing them as having "...outstanding cultural or natural importance to the common heritage of humanity."



According to the map, the trip from Sakhalin to Kamchatka is the longest so far, but unlike the previous leg, I was vectored on a fairly direct approach to the airport and ended up burning less fuel. I also flew at a slightly lower altitude of 8000' (compared to 11000' in the last leg). The effect on fuel efficiency seemed to be negligible, however the more direct approach no doubt helped in that regard. I traveled through a fairly dramatic storm over the Sea of Okhotsk, but it cleared up before reaching Kamchatka. This was a very bumpy ride, but not as bad as the trip from Tokyo to Sakhalin. The sun began to set slowly around 3:30pm and by the time I arrived it was night. As we proceed northward in winter, we can expect the days to grow consistently shorter. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky tower requested that I land on runway 34L, despite the fact that runway 34R was much better lit and had an ILS system and would seem the logical choice. Whether this is a bug, or just a reflection of parallel runway operations, I don't know. The visibility was fine and I was close enough to 34R to use it's ILS for guidance on the rate of descent. There was a small crosswind, but it didn't present a problem for the landing.

Leaving Sakhalin:

Leaving Sakhalin

Kamchatka at night:

Kamachatka at night

A nice screen-grab of me leaving the bad weather over the Sea of Okhotsk, just as the sun sets.

Sea of Okhotsk

Here's the route:


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Last Updated (Friday, 09 March 2012 21:58)


IIkami's Blog: Leg 15: Tokyo, Japan to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia

Leg 15: Tokyo, Japan to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia

Start: Chofu Airport, Tokyo, Japan (RJTF) 35°40′18″N 139°31′41″E

End: Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk Airport, Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin Oblast, Russia (UHSS) 46°53′13″N 142°43′19″E

Start Date: (Sim Time): 15/11/2010 9:11am (flight on same day in real life, but not same time)

Flight Duration: 4.8 hours (day), 1.1 hours on instruments.

Flight Distance: 791 miles (687 nautical miles)

Estimated Burn 133.8 gals

Actual Burn 114.2 gals

Welcome to Russia, the largest country on Earth! In particular, Sakhalin, a large island off the East Coast of Russia, just north of the Japanese island of Hokkaido.


I really didn't know too much about Sakhalin before researching this blog entry, but I was surprised to discover the island's turbulent history and the unexpected link between this island, an aviation tragedy, and an aspect of our daily lives that many people take for granted.

Sakhalin has been inhabited by humans since Neolithic times. The indigenous people of the island are the Ainu to the south (the same ethic group as the original people of Northern Japan), the Oroks in the central part of the island and the Nivkhs to the North. The first mention of the island in recorded history seems to have been when the Mongols started to conquer the island in 1264AD. It later fell under a tributary relationship with the Chinese, before the Japanese established a settlement in 1679. Europeans first visited the island in 1643 and the Russians are first recorded as arriving in 1805. Apparently alarmed by the sudden European interest in the island, Japan declared its sovereignty over Sakhalin in 1807, despite the fact that the Qing Dynasty in China also considered the island to be part of their domain. There followed a period of intense competition between Japan and Russia over control of the island, with both Russia and Japan establishing settlements in defiance of the other's claim. Japan called the island "Karafuto". Control of the island shifted, between a North-South division with Japanese control in the South and Russian in the North, and complete control by Russia in exchange for Japan controlling the Kurile Islands. The Russians also managed to force the Chinese to relinquish their claim to the island before the defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War handed the southern part of island back into Japanese control. The former Russian settlement of Vladimirovka was renamed Toyohara and made the capital of the Karafuto Prefecture, eventually reaching a population of over 400,000. In the final days of WWII, with Japanese military might collapsing after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviets took advantage of the situation and launched an attack on the southern part of the island. Despite initial heavy resistance from Japanese forces, the Soviets eventually prevailed. Possibly as many as 20,000 civilians may have died in the fighting. In the post-war agreements, Japan renounced its claim of sovereignty over Sakhalin and most of the Kurile Islands. Eventually the majority of Japanese and Ainu inhabitants of Toyohara were re-located to Japan. Toyohara was renamed Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and became the administrative center of the Sakhalin Oblast.


Yuzho-Sakhalinsk has experienced substantial growth since the collapse of the Soviet Union due to the discovery of large oil and gas deposits, however it still has the highest rate of juvenile crime in Russia. Foreigners wishing to leave Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk for any other part of Sakhalin require special permission from the Russian Federal Security Service.


The last time Sakhalin figured highly in western news was when on the 1st of September 1983, Korean Air Lines Flight 007 was shot down by Soviet Sukhoi Su-15 fighters just south of the island. The events of that night are still not completely clear, but what is definite is that the Boeing 747 with 269 passengers and crew bound from New York, USA to Seoul, Korea took off from Anchorage, Alaska and proceeded off course, eventually violating Soviet Airspace near the Kamchatka Peninsula.


In those days and under normal circumstances, aircraft on that route headed out from Anchorage with the autopilot set to follow a specific heading before the autopilot was switched to follow a course guided by the Inertial Navigation System (INS). This was before the days of the GPS system, and the INS system tracked the aircraft's position by the use of accelerometers and gyroscopes to add up all the small movements of the aircraft and in this way estimate where it was at any one time. It only works if you accurately know the point at which the system starts summing up the motions, once you get lost, switching on your INS wasn't much of a help.


It has been determined that for reasons unknown, autopilot on KE 007 did not switch from heading guidance to INS at the appropriate time and without (friendly) radar coverage in that part of the world at that time and no navigation beacons on the ground nearby, it is possible that the pilots did not realise that the aircraft was off-course. The Soviet military however did notice the aircraft and after a failed attempt to intercept over Kamchatka, managed to intercept the 747 when it headed back into Soviet airspace near Sakhalin. What happened next is way too complicated to describe quickly in this blog entry, so please read the link above if you are interested. In short, after some attempts to contact the aircraft, KE 007 contacted Tokyo ATC and requested a change in altitude to a higher level. Permission was granted (although the controllers in Tokyo had no radar contact with the aircraft and assumed that it was in the correct position) and the 747 began to climb. The Soviet fighters interpreted the resultant slow down of the aircraft as it climbed as an attempt to evade them and launched two air-to-air missiles which struck the aircraft causing it to crash into the ocean just north of Japan with the loss of all lives on board.

You may be wondering about the connection between Sakhalin and many people's everyday lives that I mentioned earlier. Well in the early 80s, when the KE 007 disaster occurred, the US Department of Defense was working on a system that would revolutionise navigation. The Global Positioning System or "GPS".


Unlike dead-reckoning navigation based on headings, or INS relative position-based navigation, the GPS promised instant absolute position information over the entire planet, without the need to be in range of ground beacons. In response to the KE 007 shoot down, US President Ronald Reagan issued a directive that once GPS had been established as a working system, it would be freely available for civilian use, to help ensure that similar tragedies would be avoided in the future. However, it would not be until 1994 that the system would become fully operational.

Astute readers of the last blog entry may have noticed from the images of Tokyo that aside from dodgy residential zoning near the airport, something else was different compared to previous images from this trip. The images of Tokyo looked a bit cold and miserable. All this flying through the topics we have done so far has hidden the fact that it is late autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and in this part of the world winter is approaching. Since I need to head further north to cross the Pacific ocean at the Bering Strait, the fact that we are heading into winter is a bit of a worry. I would probably have flown from Tokyo to Sapporo in Hokkaido for a stop-over if it wasn't for the fact that I don't want to be too far north when winter really hits (the fact that winters in the Northern Hemisphere tend to be colder than those in the south at an equivalent latitude, isn't helping either). So I decided to test the limits of the aircraft yet again and make a monster run to Sakhalin, right at the edge of the plane's range. It seemed a good opportunity to get a better idea of fuel consumption without too much risk as Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk is not too far from plenty of airports in northern Hokkaido that I can divert to if fuel looks like a problem en-route. I need to get to a particular airport on the Kamchatka peninsula in order to be in range of airports in the Aleutian Islands, but the next run from Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk to Kamchatka will be a big one and I will not have any airports to divert to, so any data I can gather on fuel consumption will help to judge its feasibility.

I took off into a slightly foggy, but otherwise clear cold morning and proceeded on course north over Honshu. Here's a last look at Mt. Fuji.

On to Russia

I cruised at an altitude of 11,000', which seems to be pretty good for fuel consumption in the Baron. The weather was pretty good until somewhere over northern Honshu when I wound up in a mountainous area moving in and out of cloud. The turbulence and wind shifts were the strongest that I had yet experienced on this trip and the Baron got knocked around pretty good. At times I noticed that the autopilot could not correct back to the right heading after being knocked off course before the next gust hit it again. A few times I needed to disengage the autopilot and try to handle the situation myself, but that quickly got tiring. Sometimes it was easier to just let the autopilot handle the wind gusts while I adjusted the throttle whenever a gust drove the aircraft up or down in addition to sideways. At times I began to wonder whether diverting to another airport would be a good idea. If I was in a real aircraft, it would have been a gut-wrenching ride. In addition, the ATC system insisted on bumping me from one frequency to another (often back and forth between two or three channels). Each time required that I acknowledge the changeover on the old frequency. Switch to the new and contact the ATC on the new channel, only to be sent to a different one 5 minutes later. This seems to occur when you fly over heavily populated regions with lots of small airports and different ATC zones, and doesn't really feel realistic to me. I am beginning to dread the idea of flying over the US, simply because as the world's densest airspace, this problem would have to only get worse.

By the time I crossed the Tsugaru Strait and passed over Hokkaido, the weather had improved greatly. After checking the fuel efficiency, I realised that I was still doing well and decided to continue to Sakhalin. The weather over Sakhalin was nice and clear, but very snowy. Quite scenic, actually. To think I was in tropics a few "days" ago!

On to Russia

I wasted a fair bit of gas when the ATC insisted on vectoring me right around to runway 19, instead of the more direct approach to runway 01. This turned out to be a lengthy diversion, adding a good 20 minutes to the trip! Landing was not a problem, but my first encounter with an icy taxiway took me a bit by surprise and I managed to almost spin the Baron 180 degrees while turning too quickly to avoid another aircraft taxiing nearby. There was a fair bit of AI traffic at the airport, which is always a nice touch. The airport has a giant 11000+ft runway which I suppose may be to help large aircraft come to a stop in icy conditions.

I arrived with 29.8 gallons of fuel left. At a cruising fuel consumption of 12.5 gallons per hour on each engine (25 gallons per hour in total), that gives me over an hour of fuel left for aborted landings etc. This seems a decent margin (actually, I think I read somewhere that 45 mins reserve fuel is the norm). An hour's fuel left even with the bad weather and wide approach vectors. The Kamchatka leg is actually slightly shorter than this one and looks doable unless the weather is really bad.

Here's the route:


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Last Updated (Thursday, 03 November 2011 22:54)


IIkami's Blog: Leg 14: Iwo Jima to Chofu, Tokyo

Start: Iwo Jima Airbase, Iwo Jima, Japan, (RJAW), 24°47′03″N 141°19′21″E

End: Chofu Airport, Tokyo, Japan (RJTF) 35°40′18″N 139°31′41″E

Start Date: (Sim Time): 13/11/2010 10:18am (real-time and en-route weather from 14/11/2010)

Flight Duration: 3.9 hours (day), 1.5 hours on instruments.

Flight Distance: 758 miles (659 nautical miles)

Estimated Burn 128.3 gals

Actual Burn 101.8 gals

I consider this to be an important milestone in my journey. Not only have I reached my goal of making it to the Japanese major islands, this is the first place on my journey since leaving Coffs Harbour that I have actually visited in real life. Although it lacks the attraction of giant fibreglass fruit, Tokyo remains one of the major cities on the planet and one of my favourite places on Earth.


Tokyo started off as the rather small and unassuming fishing village by the name of "Edo". The local Edo clan of samurai used the town as their base and built a small castle there in 1457, but as the Edo Clan never had a great degree of power in feudal Japan, Edo was not yet an important place.


It might have become a mere footnote in Japanese history were it not for one man; Ieyasu Tokugawa.


Tokugawa was a emergent major warlord in feudal Japan. He was a brilliant general and shrewd politian. In 1590, Tokugawa and his more powerful ally, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, were fighting the last independent warlord in Japan, Hōjō Ujimasa. Hōjō controlled the fertile, but still relatively isolated Kanto Plain region of Japan, containing Edo. As victory over the Hōjō clan looked assured, Hideyoshi offered Tokugawa an extraordinary deal. Tokugawa was asked to give up the five provinces that he controlled (including the province of his birth) and assume control of the eight provinces that were about to the taken from the Hōjō. Hideyoshi and Tokugawa had an uneasy alliance and had fought each other only 6 years previously, so Hideyoshi may have planned to side-line Tokugawa by isolating him from his traditional lands and placing him amongst a recently defeated (and no doubt resentful) enemy. Whatever the reason for the offer, Tokugawa accepted and moved into Edo Castle. Far from being side-lined, Tokugawa grew from strength to strength and thirteen years later defeated the descendants of Hideyoshi and became the ultimate ruler of Japan, receiving the title of "Shogun" from the emperor. The subsequent period in Japanese history was one of unprecendented peace and is called the "Edo Period" after that tiny fishing village that had now become the seat of power in Japan.

During the Edo Period, the Emperor in Kyoto had merely become a figurehead, while the Shogun in Edo held the real power. Tokugawa spent the last years of his life expanding Edo Castle until it was the largest castle in Japan, and during the Edo period the population of Edo grew to make it one of the largest cities in the world. By the time that the shogunate was toppled and Imperial power restored in 1867, Edo had been the heart of political and economic power in Japan for so long, that the Imperial Court relocated from Kyoto to Edo and took up residence in Edo Castle. Edo was renamed "Tokyo", meaning "Eastern Capital" and became the official capital of Japan.

Tokyo has not always enjoyed continual growth and good fortune. During the Edo period, Tokyo suffered from a series of fires, earthquakes and other disasters at regular intervals. Tokyo sits on a geological structure known as the Boso Triple Junction, where multiple fault lines converge, so earthquakes are always an issue.


During the 20th century, Tokyo was leveled by the Great Kanto Earthquake and an estimated 105,000 people were killed in the Tokyo area.


Although earthquakes are still a constant threat, the building codes today in Japan (and Tokyo in particular) are very strict and together with an advanced automated early warning system, Tokyo is as well prepared for an earthquake as it is possible for a major city to be. Many elevators in Tokyo are equipped to receive broadcasts from the earthquake early warning system. The warning often proceeds the quake by between 30 seconds to a minute, which does not seem like a lot of time but is enough time for the lift to stop at the nearest floor, open the doors and warn occupants to exit, potentially saving thousands of people from lengthy periods trapped in lifts after an earthquake. However, not all of the disasters in the past have been natural. During the final stages of World War II, Tokyo suffered horribly under the weight of allied bombing raids. Knowing that much of Tokyo was still built with wood, US forces used firebombing to devasting effect. During one raid on the 9–10 March 1945, over 100,000 civilians died, more than the immediate deaths that resulted from either the Hiroshima or Nagasaki nuclear attacks.

(I should warn you that the following link contains images that may disturb some readers)


Tokyo has rebounded from these disasters and today is a bustling, clean, high-tech metropolis with extremely low crime rates for a city of it's size. It is the economic, technological and cultural heart of modern Japan. The standard form of the Japanese language prescribed by the government is based on the Tokyo regional dialect. In Tokyo you can visit a serene Shinto shrine, jump on the extremely efficient subway network and half an hour later be on the streets of Akihabara ready to purchase the latest electronic gadget. Japanese consumers are always eager to test out the latest products and Japanese electronic companies often test their more radical ideas on the local market first. Want an electronic dictionary with a full colour TV tuner so that you can watch your favourite programs between looking up words? Japan is the place to get one. Tokyo is also a great place if you love fine food, with millions of restaurants serving food from around the world, all competing on the quality of their offerings, a great meal is never far away. Just like with electronic goods, the Japanese consumer is always eager to try new tastes and convience stores stock mind-boggling arrays of differently favoured snacks and drinks. Ever had "Wasabi" or "Western Cheese" flavoured Kit Kats. If the answer is yes, then chances are you've either been to Tokyo or have a friend that's brought some back. Add to all this, the Japanese emphasis on customer service and politeness, and Tokyo is a joy to visit. I can highly recommend it.

This trip is even longer than the last one from Saipan to Iwo Jima. However, this leg is not nearly as risky as the previous one. Between Iwo Jima and Tokyo lie a series of islands, and although I'll need to keep a close eye on fuel comsumption, there's no shortage of airports to divert to if something goes wrong.

There are two major airports that service Tokyo; Haneda and Narita. The biggest one of these is Narita which is located around 60km north of Tokyo. Haneda is older and located in Tokyo Bay very close to the city, but relative to Narita, has much less traffic. Both Haneda and Narita are not really General Aviation airports and so I chose to try for Chofu Airport. A small, single runway general aviation airport just outside of the central "23 wards" part of Tokyo. It is close to the headquarters of JAXA, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (basically the Japanese equivalent of NASA in the US). Not only is Chofu a more appropriate airport for a light aircraft, it also is a key airport for small regional airlines serving the islands between Tokyo and Iwo Jima.


My trip started off in cloudy weather and continued to be bumpy and cloudy most of the way up to Japan, although cloud cover was generally below the 8000' cruising altitude I chose. As I was nearing Tokyo, I managed to catch the occasional view of Mt. Fuji, the magnificent stratovolcano that is not only the highest mountain in Japan, but a symbol of Japan itself.

Tokyo from above

As I was vectored toward the airport, I noticed a thick layer of smog/fog blanketing Tokyo that made visibility poor. Strictly speaking I should probably have diverted to Haneda, but the runway at Chofu was JUST visible when I declared to the Air Traffic Control that I had it in sight. As I moved closer the fog began to clear, however FSX decided to start rendering buildings closer to the airport and I found myself looking at the sight below:

Tokyo on approach

Talk about poorly zoned housing! Those apartment blocks must be some of the cheapest in Tokyo. I literally needed to weave between the buildings on my final approach. As much as I love this game, Microsoft really need to look at the algorithms for rendering random buildings and trees near airports. This is the second time in a row I've encountered unrealistic situations like this. Anyway, despite scaring the residents of those apartment blocks, the landing was a good one.

Anyway, here's the route:


In case you're wondering, Wasabi Kit Kats are a lot better tasting than they sound (but I do like Wasabi), while "Western Cheese" Kit Kats were... well... more of an acquired taste.

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Last Updated (Tuesday, 27 September 2011 03:49)


IIkami's Blog: Leg 13: Saipan to Iwo Jima

Leg 13: Saipan to Iwo Jima

Start: Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, Saipan, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (PGSN), 15°07′08″N 145°43′46″E

End: Iwo Jima Airbase, Iwo Jima, Japan, (RJAW), 24°47′03″N 141°19′21″E

Start Date: (Sim Time): 13/11/2010 6:29am (flight on same day in real life, but not same time)

Flight Duration: 3.8 hours (day), 2.7 hours on instruments.

Flight Distance: 724 miles (629 nautical miles)

Estimated Fuel Burn (burn estimated by FSX when setting up flight plan): 126 gallons.

Actual Fuel Burn: 96 gallons.

The great thing about flight sims is that if you what to have a realistic flight experience, you often can (I won't go into the X-Plane versus FSX debate and the almost religious fervor that it can invoke amongst the devoted). However, you also get to do things that real pilots would not attempt, such as going to places that are forbidden, or flying in conditions that no sane pilot would ever attempt. I think I touch on both of these aspects in this entry.

First, the forbidden aspect. Iwo Jima is almost halfway between Japan and Saipan and is not a place that you causally visit. If you don't work at the island, you need special permission to travel there.


The reason is very simple. Iwo Jima is a special, almost sacred place. I don't mean that in the religious sense of the word. I mean sacred in the sense of a place that has seen so much sacrifice and death that people that wish to travel there don't do so to merely sight-see. Most visitors are there to pay respects to those who fell in one of the bloodiest battles of the Pacific Theatre of WWII.


For over a month starting in February 1945, 70000 US troops invaded this small island and fought over 22000 Japanese defenders. The Japanese defenders were well entrenched and very determined to defend the island as vigorously as possible. They had built an extensive system of tunnels under the island to protect themselves from the frequent Allied bombing raids and naval bombardment over the previous year. The island was not only a key airbase for intercepting Allied bombing raids, it also served as a base for attacks on Allied interests further south and a key part of the early warning system that allowed Japan to prepare defences against Allied bombers. On top of all this, this was not a Japanese colonial possession. This was part of Japan. The Japanese soldiers were defending their homeland. The defenders knew that holding out against the US indefinitely was not an option, but they hoped to inflict such heavy losses on the invading force that an invasion of the main islands of Japan would seem untenable to the Allies. On the other side, the Allies wanted to neutralise the threat posed by the base on the island and gain an airbase much closer to the Japanese mainland than any they currently held. At the end of the 36 day campaign, only 216 Japanese soldiers were captured alive. More than 21000 had either been killed or taken their own lives. The US forces lost almost 7000 men with over 19000 men wounded. The "Medal of Honor" is the highest award bestowed by the US military (similar to the "Victoria Cross" awarded to Commonwealth soldiers). Of all the Medals of Honor awarded to US Marines in WWII, 28% were awarded for actions on Iwo Jima. This attests to how bad conditions at Iwo Jima were.

Prior to the war, a small population of 1000 people lived on the island, however before the battle, these civilians were relocated to the mainland. They were never able to return to their island. In 1968, the US returned sovereignty of the island to Japan and a base of the Japan Self Defence Force (JSDF) is currently located on the island. JSDF forces are the only permanent residents of Iwo Jima, however officials of the Japan Meteorological Agency and special visitors from the US and Japan attending memorial services are allowed to visit.

In recent times, Iwo Jima has been mentioned as one of the places in Japan were US forces may have stored nuclear weapons. If these allegations are true this would be a direct violation of the Japanese policy of not allowing the storage of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil. Given Japan's history with nuclear attack, people are understandably sensitive to this issue.

This leg is the longest run of the trip so far. According to FSX when I planned the flight, the Baron was estimated to use 126 of it's 144 gallons of fuel to make the trip. I have been monitoring fuel consumption, and have found that at a cruise altitude of 8000' feet, with the mixture properly leaned, I can get fuel consumption down to as little as 12-13 gallons per hour per engine. This means that if FSX's prediction was correct, I should have less than half an hour of fuel once I arrived at the island. This is much lower than that recommended for actual civilian aviation. I believe that the correct amount of reserve should be at least 45 mins on arrival. In my defence, I have been monitoring fuel during the trip carefully and have noticed that FSX consistently over-estimates the fuel consumption by about 20%. So I expected to arrive with only 100-110 gallons used, which should give me over an hour to bring the plane down. The big problem on this leg is not fuel, but the lack of an alternate airport. Once I arrive at Iwo Jima, no other airport is within range of the Baron even with my more accurate fuel estimate. On top of all this, I couldn't find instrument approach charts for Iwo Jima (not surprising as it is a military base), and there is no ILS either. If the weather is too bad at the island, I risked having a big problem. Basically, on this leg, if I wasn't able to land at Iwo Jima, then it would be the Pacific Ocean. I don't think that real pilots would ever attempt this flight in this aircraft, as there is no margin for error. However, the only other route to Japan would be to continue west to the Philippines and then north via Taiwan, which would be too much of a diversion for my liking. I decided to be unrealistic and take the risk.

I took off from Saipan into fairly good weather, but north of Saipan things got cloudy pretty quickly. Of the 3.8 hour journey, 2.7 hours were spent in clouds. Although I didn't take any screenshots, the flying through the clouds made for more interesting "scenery" compared to just the endless expanse of the Pacific Ocean that I would have seen if the weather had been clear. The down side of this was that by the time I arrived at Iwo Jima and descended to around 3000' it was clear that there was plenty of low level cloud. Technically this was an instrument flight rules (IFR) situation, but I wasn't prepared and the FSX automatic Air Traffic Control insisted on vectoring me toward a visual approach to runway 07. I could barely see the island through the clouds and things looked increasingly grim. I had no choice but to see if I could spot the runway before I needed to go around. I don't think that real pilots would ever be so silly as to attempt something like this unless it was an emergency. Fortunately, I passed through the cloud obscuring my view of the island with still enough distance to attempt a landing. However, another big problem "appeared" and this one was not of my making. Check out this screen shot I took after the flight (I was a bit distracted during the actual trip):

Iwo Jima

Looks pretty right? Lovely airport on an island with lots of trees. Spotted the problem yet? Notice the white and red glideslope indicator lights on the left of the runway. I've got two white and two red lights, basically I'm right on the correct glideslope to make a perfect landing, although it's a bit difficult to tell in this shot, as a tree seems to be in the way. Got it yet? If a tree obscures the glideslope indicator and you are on the right glideslope, then that means that that tree is in the path between you and the runway. In fact there are plenty of trees, way too close to the airport. The next screen shot shows the problem a little more clearly.

Iwo Jima

This is a problem I've seen with other FSX airports, trees and buildings placed way too close to the end of the runway to be realistic. It can be quite annoying at times. I managed to land by basically going between a gap in the trees and landing a little long on the runway. There was a slight crosswind, but it didn't present a major problem and I managed to get down safely. After all that, I felt pretty lucky to have made it to Iwo Jima in one piece!


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Last Updated (Saturday, 23 July 2011 20:14)


IIkami's Blog Leg 12: Guam to Saipan

Leg 12: Guam to Saipan.

Start: Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, Guam, (PGUM), 13°29′02″N 144°47′50″E

End: Francisco C. Ada/Saipan International Airport, Saipan, United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (PGSN), 15°07′08″N 145°43′46″E

Start Date: (Sim Time): 13/11/2010 5:32am (actual date the same)

Flight Duration: 1.1 hours (day), 0.7 hours on instruments.

Flight Distance: 129 miles (112 nautical miles)

Saipan shares a deep link with the island of Guam to the south. Both are part of the Mariana Island chain and like Guam, Saipan's indigenous people are the Chamorro. Europeans first discovered the island when it was claimed by Magellan in 1521 together with Guam. The Spanish orginally christened the island chain Islas de los Ladrones ("Islands of the Thieves") after their first encounter with the Chamorro people resulted in one of the explorers' boats being taken by the locals in Guam. Unbeknowst to the Spanish, the Chamorro had little notion of the concept of private property and saw nothing wrong with taking the boat.

The incident ended violently and the Spanish got the boat back but were forced to retreat three days later. Eventually, the Spanish returned and the island chain was eventually renamed after Queen Mariana of Austria. Following the loss of Guam as a result of the Spanish-American War, the island of Saipan, together with the rest of the Marianas Islands were sold to Germany. Early in WWI, Japan declared war on Germany and occupied Saipan, quickly establishing an important military base there and settling large numbers of Japanese citizens.



As I mentioned previously, at the start of WWII, Saipan already had an extensive military presence and was used to stage the invasion of Guam within hours of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Before the Allied forces could even think about retaking Guam, they needed to occupy and neutralise the Japanese forces on Saipan. The stakes were big on both sides. The Allies needed the Marianas to provide them with airbases within range of the Japanese home islands and to cut off a major supply route between Japan and its garrisons in the Pacific. At the same time, Japan considered the Marianas to be its last line of defence between the advancing Allied forces and the Japanese homeland. They were right. The aircraft that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and unleashed vast destruction on Tokyo and other Japanese cities took off from airbases in the Marianas. The stakes were huge for both sides and the battle to take the island took three weeks and cost the lifes of over 30000 Japanese soldiers, almost 3000 US soldiers and 22000 Japanese civilians. The Japanese civilians either died in the close quarter fighting, or committed suicide at the encouragment of the Imperial Government, despite US attempts to provide safe havens for them.



Following the war, the US was granted owership of the islands. In the 1960s a referendum was held to unite with Guam, but the Guamanians rejected the proposal, partly due to a rift that had formed between the two islands as a result of the harsh treatment of the Guamanian Chamorros during the occupation in WWII.

Today, Saipan is a popular tourist destination in the Pacific, but has been eclisped by Guam in terms of tourist revenue. Saipan is a commonwealth of the US and politically has more direct ties with the US than Guam, although Saipan has been accussed of being a tax haven and some garment companies in the past on Saipan have been accused of explotative practices. The economic outlook for Saipan looks poor, with many US and foreign companies pulling out of the nation and the government having trouble paying civil servants. Let's hope things improve soon for Saipan's 62000 residents.

Like Guam, Saipan is part of the Izu-Bonin-Mariana Arc geological system; ridge of islands uplifted by the collison of the Pacific and Phillipine Sea plates. This has resulted in a series of islands stretching from Micronesia up to Japan. It has also resulted in the Mariana Trench which lies to the east of Saipan and Guam and contains the deepest point on the ocean floor.



I hope to follow these islands up to Japan for the next couple of legs of my journey, however airfields are few and far between, which is the reason why this leg is such a short hop. Basically, I needed to get just a little further north, to get within range of the airfield on my next leg. I took off from Guam into cloudy conditions and stayed in the clouds at around 8000' for most of the way. On arrival I was vectored to an ILS approach to runway 07. Good to have the option of an instrument approach in weather like this. The wind was a strong 17 knots, but was coming in from 68 degrees and so although the wind was strong, the cross-wind component was low and landing wasn't a problem. Unfortunately, I didn't take any screen shots on this leg, and didn't bother to record fuel compsumption due to the short duration of the leg.


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Last Updated (Monday, 04 July 2011 05:39)

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