Season 1, Episode 5
These are the top 10 most extreme airports on the planet, connecting the world from Hong Kong to Alaska, Nepal to the South Pole. An Ice airport rebuilt every year, runways squeezed between skyscrapers and carved into mountains, vital lifelines and launch pads for thrill-seekers.
The Princess Juliana airport on the Caribbean island of St Maarten. The planes fly in forty feet over the heads of unsuspecting holidaymakers. You can't get closer than this, and the footage is astounding.
Next up we travel with scientist John Cassano to the most remote airport at the bottom of the world - the Sea Ice Runway serving the Antarctic scientific station of McMurdo. It is rebuilt every year and incredibly is capable of receiving 450,000 pound aircraft. But the planes need to turn around quick - stay too long and the ice could start to crack.
Next up the roughest airport - Talcha in Nepal. A remote area of the Himalayas, days from the nearest town and accessible only by the roughest of tracks. That is until 2000 when Talcha airport opened. It's a sheer sided ledge carved into the mountainside, with a gravel runway and a wooden control tower. We land with veteran pilot Negendra Battharai and witness a sick man being flown to safety - thanks to this extreme runway in the clouds.
Now to Alaska, where we visit the busiest seaplane base on earth - Lake Hood in Anchorage. For most of the year planes land on water. We see footage of the times where that hasn't gone to plan. Come winter, the lake freezes, and we join Michael Laughlin as he prepares to land his plane not on water, but on the ice...
In Abu Dhabi we visit a truly unique airport. The Red Bull Air Race is the fastest motorsport on earth, and it demands an extreme runway. For one weekend of the year, a busy cargo port is turned into a temporary runway. This is a mammoth logistical challenge, which allows for some of the most breath-taking footage you will ever see.
On the sunny Portuguese island of Madeira is the notorious Funchal Airport - our gustiest. Winds here can literally blow planes off the runway, and we see some terrifying footage last minute go-arounds, testament to the pilot's skill and nerve.
For decades Hong Kong's airports have had to fight with buildings for every inch of runway. The legendary Kai Tak airport forced pilots to make a forty seven degree turn surrounded by the city's skycrapers. This was the Kai Tak Heart Attack or the dreaded Hong Kong Turn. But now Hong Kong has a new airport, a phenomenal structure that involved the flattening of two small islands and the creation of three thousand acres of new land. It is now one of the world's busiest airports.
Next up is a truly unique landing strip. Barra in Scotland is home to an airport that disappears with every tide, because here the beach doubles as a runway for the two daily flights. We spend a day with Joe Gillies, whose work at the airport sees him take on the role of ATC, baggage handler, weatherman and even fireman.
Back in the Himalayas, we visit Lukla airport - the gateway to Everest. This airport with altitude is a force to be reckoned with for even the most hardened pilots. With four crashes in the last five years, it is truly extreme. Veteran Lukla pilot Vijay Lama knows the risks of this landing, and he talks us through the approach, as Rajesh Srestha brings us through the clouds and prepares to land...
Finally, Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan - the world's most extreme airport. Under constant threat of attack and tasked with managing hundreds of thousands of civilian and military aircraft movements every year, this is an extraordinary place. Operations commander Lt. Col. Scott Hoffman talks us through what it takes to keep a place like this running.
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