I have flown into TGU on a number of occasions, both in the cockpit and as a passenger. It is far less scary in the cockpit than as a passenger, that much is for certain. Here is why:
TGU sits in a valley, with high mountains all around. There is an opening between the mountains at the north end of the valley through which you make your approach and you make your departure. I will now give you the briefing for the VOR/DME
RWY 01 approach at MHTG.
This chart comes directly from the USAF
NIMA files, based on the DAFIF filed every 28 days. The initial approach brings you in over the airport at 19000 feet. You decend in a circling pattern down to 9000 feet and roll out on a heading of 198 inbound to the Toncotin VOR, crossing the VOR at 9000 feet. You depart the VOR outbound on the 198 radial to 7 DME
from the VOR. This leg must be flown very precisely, because you have high terrain at all all quadrants up to 8500 to the west, 7900 to the south, 8600 to the north and east.
Once you are at the 7 DME
, you make a right turn to 243 degrees for one minute, and descend to 8000. At the end of the one minute leg, you do a procedure turn back on a heading of 063 back toward the 198 radial, but this time, you will be flying inbound toward it. Once the 198 radial starts to come into range, execute a left turn onto heading 018 degrees and descend to 6700 feet. You should be at 6700 feet by five miles from the Missed Approach Point. In addtion, on your way down, there are terrain obstacles within 1/4 mile of your course line, beginning at the 5 DME
inbound, three obstacles at 5446', 5660', and 5118 feet respectively. Then you have the final approach.
Here is where it gets sticky: From the chart: "WARNING: Terrain located out to 1.6nm from runway 01 threshold, left and right of centerline., from 3465 MSL to 4013 MSL. Highest terrain left of centerline located 463' left and 1.5nm from threshold at 4013MSL. Highest terrain right of centerlilne located 293' right and 1.6nm from threshold at 3983 MSL. The touchdown zone is 3294 MSL with a 1 degree slope down. The landing zone is 5462'. The missed approach point is 1.6nm from the threshold and you must be at least 1000 ft above 3983 MSL for safe clearance of the terrain. From the chart: "WARNING: Extreme rate of descent may be required if the runway not sighted until the MAP (1368ft/nm).
In other words, as you get closer to the airport, the terrain closes in on you from both sides and comes up on you from below. At 1.6nm, you finally clear the obstacle at 3963 feet, but you need to be at 4963 feet to clear it. Then you have 1.6nm to get down to 3300 feet over the threshold. The target is 700 feet down the runway. When you touch down, you have about 5000 feet of runway left. If you overshoot, there is a 300 foot cliff at the end of the runway. There is a road that runs directly underneath the end of the runway, followed by a ravine that continues down another 400-500 feet. At the end of the runway, there is a 200 foot gravel zone, then a fence, then the cliff.
At MHTG, you often go missed the first time. If you miss, the procedure is to climb to 6500 feet via the TNT VOR 008 radial remaining within 6.5nm, then a left climbing turn to 9000 feet directly back to the TNT VOR, then outbound again on the 198 radial for your second attempt.
Needless to say, there have been numerous accidents at MHTG. Most of the time, they are runway overruns when landing in the other direction on rwy 19. That approach is even worse, because you have to come in between the mountains, then plant the aircraft right on the numbers, because there is an optical illusion there that makes you believe that you have more runway than you actually do. When I landed there the first time on 19, we came in low and we touched down just on the numbers, the nose gear was down 1 second after the mains were down (kind of with a bang) and then full reverse, full braking action and we stopped about 300 feet short of the end of the runway...in a 732.
The next time I landed there, I was in a 727-100. We landed on runway 1. I was in the cockpit with a Honduran pilot. When we swung around to line up with the runway, we were at 6700 at the right spot, but he crossed the MAP above 5000 feet. He did a manuever I continue to shake my head at to this day. He already had most of his flaps down, he went to full flaps, dropped the gear and executed a sideslip which made us sink like a rock...all of this in about 3 seconds. For about 10 seconds, I actually though we were going to come in short and hard. Believe it or not, 10 seconds later, we were just a little high on the approach with the speed sufficient to keep us flying. He landed a little long on the touchdown zone and buried his feet on the toebrakes and the f/o pulled back on the reversers and we stopped really fast. I didn't think a old 727 could even do that. I also promised myself that I would never fly with another Honduran pilot. They are certifiable.
Bottom line is, put yourself in a PMDG 737 and try it yourself. Make sure you have good terrain and not the regular Microsoft stuff...it doesn't give you a true taste of what it really feels as the terrain closes in on you on the approach to rwy 1. However, once you've done it a couple of times, you get the hang of it. From what I understand, the AA
guys with the 757 really were able to show what that aircraft could do. They take off from that runway and literally climb over the mountains. On approach, the aircraft is so nimble that once your over the hump at the 1.6nm MAP, its just a slight lowering of the nose for about 10 seconds and they are over the threshold and a slight pull back and they are on the runway and stopped well before the end of the runway without breaking a sweat.
Now I hope you understand why TGU is such a challenging airport. Oh and by the way, try to land when its summertime and its pouring buckets of rain and the runway is a lake.
That's life in Central America. I actually prefer El Salvador. 10000 feet of new asphalt and no terrain in sight. Its a beautiful thing. I connect there sometimes when I go to Managua, another airport with a long runway and no terrain in sight. Guatemala is the only place where you really have to duck the volcanoes. But that's another story.
David L. Lamb, fmr Area Mgr Alitalia SFO 1998-2002, fmr Regional Analyst SFO-UAL 1992-1998