One of the greatest appeals of flight simulation (or any simulation for that matter) is the ability to create or recreate experiences we may not otherwise indulge in. While a vast majority of these are fictional, Flight Sim presents us with an opportunity to simulate of the most exciting, and unusual flight routes that exist in the real world.
In this post, I’ll walk you through one of these truly unique routes I recently had the opportunity to fly in real life, and help you realistically simulate it from your virtual cockpit.
The Island Hopper: The “Long Way” to Guam
Part One, HNL (Honolulu, HI, US) to MAJ (Majuro Atoll, Marshall Islands)
Despite its small size and remote location, the island of Guam is home to over 160,000 people, plus a sizable military presence. It’s a United States territory, making it’s residents US citizens. While probably not part of your average trip, United actually considers Guam’s AB Won Pat International airport a hub city and operates flights to a number of Asian destinations, as well as 777 service direct to Honolulu.
However, there’s a much longer (and more exciting) way to traverse between the two: United’s Island Hopper.
Operated 3x weekly in each direction, the Island Hopper is a 5 stop tour of the Western Pacific, all done in 14 short hours aboard a 737-800.
While a 737 may seem like a small craft for such a journey, it actually stretches the operational limits of some of the stops. At each airport, short field takeoff and landing procedures are followed, and fire trucks must follow the aircraft after landing to douse the brakes with water, ensuring they are cooled down enough for the next leg.
All of this lines up for an excellent opportunity to test your 737 piloting skills. In this series, I’ll guide you through the journey, and reveal the best tips and tricks for recreating the flight.
The island hopper begins its journey with an early morning departure out of HNL. If you’re taking the full route, you’ll be presented with a billfold of boarding passes at check-in and a smirk from the ground crew.
Compared to the rest of our journey, the takeoff and climb out from HNL is rather uneventful- with one exception. While all the other narrow body jets make their way east or toward other Hawaiian islands, we’ll be heading west. Very, very west.
The first leg from HNL to MAJ is roughly 5 hours- fairly lengthy, but not unusual for the 737. What is unusual is the portion of this flight spent over open ocean- from shortly after take off to literally feet before landing.
While the flight itself is a bit mundane, the fun really begins on approach to Majuro.
At over 7000 feet long, MAJ is actually the largest runway (excluding GUM) of the airports we’ll visit. However, it looks particularly massive when compared to the island around it. The Majuro atoll is a circular chain of small, thin land masses that are in parts less wide than the runway itself. As can be seen in the Google Satellite Image, the airport certainly sticks out.
All of this makes for a uniquely beautiful decent into Majuro’s International Airport.
Since the Marshall Islands are part of a compact of free association with the United States, they are given an FAA identifier as well as approach plates and other information. If you’d like to reference this for your flight, they are available for free from SkyVector. There’s no tower at MAJ, so we’ll be monitoring the CTAF frequency on the off chance someone’s in the area. But more than likely, we’ll have the airport to ourselves.
Once on the ground, all passengers have a chance to deplane and explore the small airport terminal at Majuro. It’s a brief 45 minute stop but gives the jet time to refuel and prepare for the next flight- Kwajalein Atoll. Know it’s your turn.
Choose your favorite 737-800, then select PHNL as your starting point and begin your flight!
P3D start up page
PHNL Runway 4R
We examined the longest leg of United’s “Island Hopper”- from Honolulu International Airport (HNL) to Majuro, Marshall Islands (MAJ).
Credit to AvgeekYVR – RTWTravel
At just a fraction of the time of the first leg, less than an hour, the next leg may be one of the most interesting commercial routes you’ve ever heard of. You may be asking yourself, why? Well, our next destination is Kwajalein Atoll (KWA), also in the Marshall Islands.
First of all, Kwajalein Atoll is, well, an Atoll – and a small one at that. Like our previous destination, the Runway is the largest slice of occupied land in the area.
Second, Kwajalein is also in the Marshall Islands, making it a very rare example of ICAO’s Eighth Freedom of the Air, which sets provisions for carriers operating a domestic route in a foreign country.
This is made possible due to the United States’ Compact of Free Association with the nation of the Marshall Islands. Because of this agreement, American Citizens can live, work, and conduct business in the Marshall Islands for an indefinite period, and vice versa. So, if you’re an American seeking an Island Paradise (or need to get off the grid), the Marshall Islands are an easy place to do so.
But perhaps what makes this route the most interesting is that Kwajalein Airport is an active US Military Installation. And when I say active, I mean active. Unless your final destination is Kwajalein (which was only the case for military contractors and a few locals) you are not allowed to deplane at this stop. Furthermore, you are prevented from taking any pictures from the aircraft, at the risk of your device being confiscated by the authorities. Unfortunately, that means I don’t have any real-world photos to share of this leg- but lucky for us, we can recreate it!
I should mention, a great freeware scenery package for our departure point, Majuro Atoll is available on FlyAway Simulation here. I wasn’t able to find a scenery package for Kwajalein (probably due to the fact photography is prohibited), but the airport is included in the default airports in FSX/P3D/X-Plane.
The taxi and climb out of MAJ is simple enough, and again we’re headed west to reach our destination. As can be seen from the FlightAware data, the route used for this flight is about as direct as one can get.
As you get nearer to KWA, you can find some older, but still largely accurate approach plates for PKWA here
Being an Army Airfield, once again we don’t have to worry about short field operations as we’ve got a nearly 7000-foot runway.
Next, we’ve got a quick hop to the island of Kosrae (KSA) in the Federated States of Micronesia.
As can be seen by the FlightAware data, once again we are in for a pretty direct flight. Never fear, however! The scenic views and blue ocean waves are enough to break up the monotony.
While the island hopper operates three times weekly in each direction, not all flights stop at the island of Kosrae. While this more than likely has to do with the popularity or demand for this segment, it might also factor in that Kosrae is home to the shortest runway of our trip.
The runway here is just 5,750 feet- almost a full 1000 feet shorter than our last stop. The 737-800 is more than capable of handling such a short field, but there’s a lot less room for error than with larger strips.
Experienced 737 pilots may point out that almost 6000 feet isn’t really short at all. While less than most destinations, there are a few examples of even shorter strips right here in the mainland United States.
For example, Key West, Florida receives daily 737 services- with a runway length of less than 5000 feet. So, what’s the big deal?
Key West’s Approach plates describe a fairly standard RNAV GPS approach that will help guide your flight right to that centerline. At Kosrae however, it’s a bit different.
As can be seen by the RNAV approach plates for the field, the computer’s not going to do this one for you. The last 1.9 Miles of the approach are Visual Only- so it’s up to you to nail that touchdown.
As I can say from experience, this isn’t the time or place that a pilot tries for that silky-smooth landing. Expect an abrupt touchdown with a bounce (or two) following by full braking and reverse thrust. Comfortable? Not really, but much better than the alternative of sliding off into the ocean.
On the next leg, we begin the home stretch of our five-stop journey with just two more islands remaining before we reach Guam. Stay tuned for more, and be sure to share your inflight photos with us in Instagram @goflighttech!
As we begin the home stretch of our six flight journey, I’ve decided to do a bit of condensing and give you two flights in just one article!
Since we’ve covered the basics of Island hopping and you likely feel more than comfortable handling this increased workload, we’ll do this in the one-after-the-other style the Island Hopper operates in. So fire up that MCP-Pro, run through your Pro Yoke checklists and get ready to roll!
When we last left off, we had just landed on the island of Kosrae, and officially reach the half-way point (in the number of flights, at least) of our Island-hopping tirade.
Next, we’ll be headed to Pohnpei, which lies about halfway between Honolulu in Hawaii, and Manilla in the Philippines.
In case you hadn’t noticed, all of our tropical stops have followed one basic theme- the islands get bigger as we go on. That trend continues as we reach our next stop, Pohnpei. This mountainous island is largely uninhabited, but is also large in size, at 334 Square Kilometers. For comparison, our first stop- Majuro Atoll- occupied just 9.7 Square Kilometers.
Nevertheless, Pohnpei is still a small island, at just over half the size of Oahu in Hawaii.
Taking off from this tropical destination offers some truly spectacular views. On a clear day, you can see the vast, untouched forest and mountainous terrain engulfing the majority of Pohnpei’s land.
As our trusty 737 once again ferries us across the vast expanses of the Pacific Ocean, we quickly arrive at Chuuk, the final destination before our flight to Guam.
Chuuk breaks our progressively-larger-island trend, measuring in at just 122 Square Kilometers. While this may seem minuscule (and it is by many standards), Chuuk is still over 10 times the size of Majuro. Chuuk, like Pohnpei, is also located in the Federated States of Micronesia- and thus is another example of the benefits of the US’ Compact of Free Association with the island nation.
And with that, we’ve arrived at our last stop before the big finale- Chuuk to Guam.
We’ll go into full detail about the flight, but first, a little bit of history about our destination.
Guam, along with the Northern Marinas Islands to the North- are the United States western-most territories. While often not the first place that comes to mind when most think of the US, Guam is full of not only US Military installations- but a bustling community of US Citizens.
Guam has a population density of 775 people per square mile. If Guam was a state, it would be the fourth most densely-populated in the US. On the island, you’ll find everything from High-rise luxury hotels, to the largest remaining K-Mart store.
What may be even more surprising than its relatively high population, is the fact that it is considered a “Hub City” for United Airlines.
Originally served by Continental Micronesia- which operated as a subsidiary of Continental Airlines- United absorbed all the operations in Guam as part of their merger with Continental in ____. While the number of daily flights and destinations pales in comparison to United’s mainland hubs like Chicago O’Hare and Houston, Guam has its fair share of far-reaching and exotic destinations- From Shanghai to Tokyo to Manilla in Asia, all the way back to 777 Honolulu service in the east- and let’s not forget about the Island Hopper!
United also operates multiple daily flights to the neighboring Island of Saipan in the Northern Mariana Islands, under the United Express brand. Interestingly, these flights are operated by United Express carrier Cape Air, which- with the exception of this route- operates entirely in the Eastern and Midwest regions of the US Mainland and Caribbean.
Unlike our previous Island destinations, Guam has a bit more standard approach procedure, and much more room- remember, the airport is capable of daily service from aircraft such as the 777 and 747.
You can find the approach plates for GUM here.
Guam’s Antonio B Won Pat airport sits elevated above the surrounding suburban area, which offers an excellent view on approach- both from the aircraft and for plane-spotters on the ground.
A freeware version of the airport can be found here for FSX, but even the best add-on scenery can’t do this ocean paradise justice. The island is full of breathtaking beauty, and is truly a destination worth adding to any bucket list.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this series, and thanks for sticking around! Watch the GoFlight blog for more trip reports and flight recreations in the sim.