The Northern Isles
This flight plan has not been rated.
Recommended Aircraft
Piper Arrow, Piaggio P149, Bonanza or Diamond DA40 or DA62. Or perhaps a Cessna Caravan, a Mooney or a Baron or a Seneca.
Flight Summary
These low-lying archipelagos are windswept and largely devoid of trees. Rather than marveling at grand scenery, our emphasis will be hopping into and out of the small airports that are scattered around the islands. The combination of modestly-sized runways (many are less than 2,000 feet) and breezy conditions will make for an engaging experience.
Flight Rules: VFR
Stops: 13
Downloads: 47

We begin our flight at the Shetland Islands' Scatsta Airport [EGPM]. For forty years, this modern airport has serviced the work at Sullom Voe Oil Terminal, the largest international transfer point for British North Sea Oil. Recent upgrades include large hangars for helicopters, a passenger terminal, and a new control tower. However, in a turn of events, a new consortium has won the service contract with the oil companies and intends to move aerial operations to Sundburgh. Despite the airport's closure, we shall enjoy the facilities before we take off. As we climb north we can look down at the extensive facilities of Sullom Voe as well as a number of ships in the harbor.

We fly north over Yell to Unst, the northernmost of the main Shetland Islands, so that we may circle low-and-close to the Muckle Flugga Lighthouse. This is (more-or-less) the northern tip of the United Kingdom. (Visiting the viewpoint here is on many a bucket list. Actually getting onto the island lighthouse is quite a challenge, even if invited.) Turning back southward we pass over Saxa Vord, the RAF remote radar station of the north. The site holds the British wind speed record at 197 mph, recorded in 1992 just before the measuring equipment blew away. The harsh Atlantic weather and rocky soil have led to an only sparsely populated landscape.

We land at Unst Baltasound [EGPW]. The airfield was opened in 1968 and became a busy mainstay of the burgeoning North Sea Oil industry both to transport personnel and to operate helicopters to the oil rigs. However, in 1996 most operations were consolidated out of Scatsta (EGPM) and the Unst airfield was put in mothballs. It remains the United Kingdom's northernmost airport, but it is unstaffed, without services, and largely unused.

Next the Outer Skerries airstrip on Grunay Island. The lure is the chance to master one of the world's shortest paved runways (1200 ft). The detailed airstrip with its surrounding scenery is a "special airport" incorporated into MFS.

Then on to Tingwall Airport (LGET) that serves Lerwick, Shetland's only burgh (7,000). (This is local air service. Longer connections go through Sumburgh.) Suitable weather conditions may provide the landing pilot an opportunity to practice airmanship. Lerwick and the Shetlands have close ties with Norway and Scandinavia. The annual Up Helly-Aa fire festival, at the end of the Yule season, involves a climactic torchlit procession of a thousand Norse-costumed participants who culminate the event by burning a specially-built Viking galley.

We hop southward to the Shetlands' international airport Sumburgh [EGPB]. The airport is unusual in that it has a 1800 ft helicopter runway as opposed to the usual helipad. This for the North Sea oil operations. For pilots, the Shetlands' zephyrs can be refreshing...and interesting. The long crossing runways help.

We then head "out to sea" via Fair Isle [EFEG] and North Ronaldsay [EGEN], both of which have regular scheduled air service. With its high cliffsides, two lighthouses, and sloped runway, Fair Isle is an interesting spot. North Ronaldsay is our first stop on the Orkneys.

We proceed west to make successive landings at Papa Westray [EGEP] and Westray [EGEW]. These two constitute the world's shortest scheduled airline route. The distance is 1.7 miles, about the same length as the runway at Edinburgh airport. The twice-daily Loganair route is scheduled to one-and-a-half minutes in a Britten-Norman Islander. The fastest flight record is 47 seconds. (It would be irresponsible for visiting pilots to race against the record.)

Then south to touch-and-go (or low pass) at Eday London Airport [EGED] (with Loganair connections to Kirkwall). We proceed to Stronsay "the island of bays," to stop at Stronsay Airport [EGER]. Then south over the small barren island Auskerry [AUSKY], on which a family shepherds one of the last flocks of Orkney's unique North Ronaldsay seaweed-eating sheep. We turn to land at the private grass airfield at Lamb Holm [EGKF], operated by local legend Tommy Sinclair. Note the rock causeways that now connect the eastern islands. These are the "Churchill Barriers" built as maritime defenses by Italian prisoners of war (from the Desert Campaign). On Lamb Holm, the prisoners also built the highly ornate Italian Chapel (adapted from a pair of Nissen huts) to serve their spiritual needs. The chapel has been preserved as a place of worship as well as a tourist attraction. [You can see the Nissen huts, but the ornate chapel is not modeled.]

To our west lies Scappa Flow. The islands of Mainland, Hoy, Flotta, South Ronaldsay and Burray encircle the bay to make Scapa Flow one of the great natural harbors in the world – with enough space for several navies. This was the wartime base of the British Royal Navy's Home Fleet in both WWI and WWII. (In June 1919, the postwar interned German Fleet dramatically scuttled itself to prevent being appropriated. A number of wrecks remain and they attract divers from the world over.)

Crossing Scappa Flow, we execute a touch-and-go (or low pass) at Flotta [EGZQ]. The small island hosts the Flotta Oil Terminal for pipelines connecting directly to the Piper and Claymore oil fields in the North Sea. Its roadstead allows for the transshipment of crude oil and liquefied natural gas to the rest of the world.

We continue over a small channel to the island Hoy (Norse for "high"). We see the small village Lyness which was the headquarters site for the Royal Navy's anchorage at Scapa Flow during the First and Second World Wars. At the time it housed 12,000 personnel. We cross Hoy and turn north along the dramatic western coast with its elevated cliffsides. The most photographed point is the Old Man of Hoy [OMAN], a tall red sandstone stack. First climbed in 1966 (and again in July 1967 on a live BBC broadcast seen by 15 million), it remains popular with climbers. Fashioned by the winds and sea gales and hydraulic action at the base, the stack is likely less than 250 years old and may soon collapse into the sea. [Sadly, this is not represented in the simulator.]

We cross Hoy Sound to Orkney's largest island Mainland. We fly over Stromness, Orkney's second town and its historic harbor. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the protected harbor was important for trans-Atlantic trade (including the Hudson's Bay Company) as well as the whaling industry. We turn at the famous Ring of Brodgar. Brodgar is a henge and stone circle, similar to Stonehenge, whose Neolithic (2000-2500 BC) origins are yet to be understood. The structure's proximity to the nearby Ness of Brodgar, the Stones of Stenness, and the Maeshowe tomb provide an interesting and rich pattern for archeologists of this early period.

Finally, we cross over the rest of Mainland to pass Kirkwall, Orkney's main city (10,000), and arrive at our final destination, the commercial airport Kirkwall [EGPA].

Flight Altitudes
Recommended Add-ons
Orkney Airports
EGPA Kirkwall Airport
Shetland Airports
EGPB - Sumburgh Airport
Westray/Papa Westray Pack
You must log in to post a comment.
There are no comments yet.