Many of the “airports” in Africa are grass strips.

Double Engine Failure

You might call the approach to the runway at Funchal, Ma­deira Islands, Portugal, challenging, especially if you’re flying on an even modestly windy day.

In my case, I went into Funchal in a typical wind event, flying a new Cessna T303 Crusader, a medium twin intended to com­pete head-to-head with Piper’s wildly successful Seneca.

It was December 1981, and “my” Cessna T303 was the first Crusader to be ferried overseas. My destination was Johannes­burg, South Africa, roughly halfway around the world.

Under contract to Globe Aero of Lakeland, Florida, I’d picked up the airplane at the Cessna factory in Wichita and hurried down to Lakeland for tanking.

Two days later, I flew the Crusader to Bangor, Maine, then on to St. Johns, Newfoundland, the following day.

The next leg was a 1,900 nm overwater hop, diagonally across the Atlantic to the aforementioned Funchal, 700 nm off the south coast of Morocco. I’d never been into that par­ticular airport, but its reputation preceded it. The consensus was, it could get exciting when the wind was woofing, and the wind at Funchal was nearly always woofing.

The Madeira Islands, famous for Madeira wine, are mostly rugged hills and low mountains, so there was little room for a conventional runway at Funchal. Accordingly, the airport was built at the apex of a half-moon bay; the approach is semi-circular practically all the way to touchdown. Navy pi­lots should love it.

The threshold is constructed on pylons that begin 1,000 feet out in the bay and stand 250 feet above the water. The threshold starts you on a fairly steep uphill rollout. Just past the terminal at midfield, the runway begins to level, then turns downhill, so you’d better be pretty well stopped by midfield.

The asphalt extends for more than 5,400 feet — runway length isn’t a big problem — but the curving approach to avoid the hills means you’re often battling turbulent winds off the mountains all the way to touchdown.

Funchal is on practically everyone’s list of the 10 worst air­ports in the world. The History Channel program “Most Ex­treme Airports” labeled Funchal the ninth-most dangerous air­port in the world and the third-most dangerous in Europe.

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Excerpted from My Sky: The Flights And Times of Bill Cox by Bill Cox. © 2020 JP Media LLC. All rights reserved. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Purchase your copy at