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Kowloon City
Kowloon Tong
Kowloon Tsai
Lion Rock
File 100
Kai Tak
Hong Kong

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The faded Checkerboard and the Lion Rock

The faded Checkerboard and the Lion Rock
For decades until 1998, tens of millions of airline passengers flew past this Checkerboard warning sign as their planes approached Hong Kong's former Kai Tak Airport. The existence of this Checkerboard warning sign (unofficially called Checkerboard Hill) requires some explanation.

An airstrip had existed at Kai Tak immediately east of (i.e. towards the right of) my vantage point since 1925. After World War II, the airstrip gradually turned into a major airport and aviation hub in the Far East as British Hong Kong's economy and importance grew.

The problem??

Because of the shape of the harbour and surrounding landscape, the alignment of the sole runway pointed towards the Lion Rock seen here. This means that the Lion Rock would have been in the path of a typical straight-line approach towards/ departure from the runway.

The solution??

Approaching aircraft must make a semi-circular approach (known as an "off-set" approach) to land at Kai Tak Airport. Everyday for almost 50 years, hundreds of airliners must first fly straight towards Lion Rock on the heading of 088°. As their planes got closer and closer, they would see this red-and-white checkerboard painted on a hill near Kowloon Tsai Park, which served as a visual warning that pilots must now begin to make a 47° degree turn towards the right to avoid crashing into Lion Rock and to align with Kai Tak's sole runway with a heading of 135°.

This made landing at Kai Tak Airport one of the most spectacular, difficult and (in-)famous approaches in the world. Airliners made a fighter-jet-style sharp bank towards the right on their final approaches, then flew over Kowloon City's busy streets and high-rise buildings, before landing on a runway that was built from reclaimed land in Kowloon Bay.

Miraculously, while a few planes have crashed into the harbour for a "swim," no plane has ever crashed into the residential area while attempting to land at Kai Tak.

See a series of photos below (all from other flickr members)