Princess Juliana Airport

image This is a pretty amazing picture, and it screams 'Photoshop!' After all, where in the world would planes really land that close to sunbathers on a beach? It looks like the plane is landing right on top of them. Well, the place is Princess Juliana Airport in St. Maarten. And the airplanes really do come in that close to the beach. A collection of shots of planes landing at Princess Juliana is circulating as a powerpoint file via email. Jozee V sent the file along to me (Thanks, Jozee!). At first I couldn't believe that the shots were real, but after a little research I was convinced. The thumbnail shot was taken by the photographer Justin Cederholm. You can see more shots of planes landing at Princess Juliana Airport here, and here, and here. And if you don't believe this is a real airport, then check out it's website. Trust me, it's real. But personally I think those people sunbathing there are crazy. It seems to me like it would be a good way to shatter your eardrums.

Photos Places

Posted on Fri Feb 20, 2004


Yes, this is real. Indeed, this story was in a British newspaper in the last decade - so it's been going on for years. The article (I can't remember which, when, etc) explained that sunbathers always end up under the flightpath because landing are very seldom - most operators schedule flights only once per week. The sunbathers come for a week on the very planes that land there, walk along that beach the next day, don't connect that the airport is over the fence, and then get a very rude surprise when the daily landing happens. Whether the authorities did get round to putting up warning signs is something not followed up, but it's interesting that none of the photos show any sunbather covering their ears - the loudest jet noise must go behind the jet, not to the side. But, this must be the best place in the world for planespotters, or Wayne and Garth ("Wayne's World").
Posted by Anon  on  Fri Feb 20, 2004  at  02:41 AM
This photo is a fake, notice the shadow of the plane it is to the top of the photo. Notice the shadow of the man in orange trunks it is to the right of the photo.
Posted by WR Ramey  in  Nevada, USA  on  Fri Feb 20, 2004  at  03:35 AM
Why is it that there is not one person looking at the plane over head? I know for sure that either my hands would either be on my ears or looking up at the plane... Those engines would have to be at almost full throttle to keep that plane in the air at that altitude and pitch... B.S.
Posted by Mike  in  Huntington NY  on  Fri Feb 20, 2004  at  05:59 AM
Mike obviously doesn't know too much about aviation. Under these conditions, the engines of the 747 would most decidely be at idle. (Engines do not keep aircraft in the air, they make them move forward!) Most of the noise of a landing arcraft comes from the wings, and especially the flaps. The plane is further behind the people than it appears (its shadow is almost directly below and to the right of it) and everyone is looking directly at it.
Posted by KP  on  Fri Feb 20, 2004  at  08:39 PM
I don't believe it. If the plane was that close to landing the gear would be all the way down. NOT partially in the up position.

Posted by dave  in  victoria  on  Fri Feb 20, 2004  at  10:41 PM
The thing is that there are hundreds of shots of planes landing at Princess Juliana airport available on So the airport obviously really exists (I've already decided I want to go there on vacation). In which case, why would anyone bother to fake this photo in particular?

Oh, and it looks to me like the landing gear is down.
Posted by The Curator  in  San Diego  on  Sat Feb 21, 2004  at  11:59 AM
the back landing gear looks down?

only if the plane was planning on landing sideways..
Posted by dave  in  victoria  on  Sat Feb 21, 2004  at  09:58 PM
I am the photographer of that Air France photo. Yes it is real, I don't know where you are getting that it is fake (and that the landing gear is only half way down????). Buy a ticket down there and see for yourself, or get the video from

Justin Cederholm
Posted by Justin Cederholm  in  Orlando, FL  on  Mon Feb 23, 2004  at  03:23 AM
Man, you people are getting too skeptical for your own good. The pictures are real. It it a real airport. I've seen other pictures of planes landing over the beach at Princess Juliana many times in travel magazines. As far as the landing gear goes, there are four sets of landing gear on the rear of a 747. The front two sets are hinged, so that they hand at an angle while the plane is in flight. They rotate into the flat postition when the weight of the plane rests on them. I'm assuming that is what you are looking at when you say the gear is only "halfway down."
Posted by roy the chimp  in  Lakewood, OH  on  Mon Feb 23, 2004  at  12:37 PM
If your the photographer of THAT photo, then I am the pope.
Posted by dave  in  victoria  on  Mon Feb 23, 2004  at  10:48 PM
I think I can see the reason tha some people are saying that the landing gear is only "half down". On a 747 there are two "trucks" under each wing and the frontmost of the two hangs like this when not in contact with the ground. This makes the tires contact the runway sequentially, not all at once.

Skeptics should do some of the research I did: Look at the airport's web site (there's a 747 on it), check flight schedules (Air France no longer flies 747s there but Corsair does) and check a map of the island. Finally look at the web page: -- see the entry for Maho beach.
Posted by KP  on  Tue Feb 24, 2004  at  11:57 PM
I don
Posted by andy  on  Thu Feb 26, 2004  at  06:53 AM

If you look at my photo, and click the link in my comments to the head on shot, I really don't see how you think it's fake.

Joe Pries's shot, I know him and it's 100% real.

Search SXM on, there are hundreds of photos on there. If you still believe it's fake, then I'm sorry. You must be the same people who think we didn't land on the moon.

Justin Cederholm
Posted by Justin Cederholm  in  Orlando  on  Thu Feb 26, 2004  at  07:43 PM
Posted by roy the chimp  in  Lakewood, OH  on  Mon Mar 01, 2004  at  05:28 PM
Greetings, Anon of Feb 19, 04|11:41pm here. What I originally wrote is true. Thanks to KP, roy the chimp, and Justin Cederholm and our Curator for providing *explanations* and facts:
- Yes, the airport, beach, etc., do really exist.
- Yes, the landing gear *is* down. 747's do have more than two sets of wheels under the wings (I think it's three - two to the side, one in the centre - making four with the front set) and these rear sets are free to hang at an angle. I've seen films that show some unlevel wheel sets under 747s slamming down to level as they hit the runway.
- Yes, jet engines usually idle on landing. Mike raised an interesting question which showed that, yes, he didn't know too much about aviation - but neither do most people in the world, so it's good to put this misconception to rest. I happened to make two flights a fortnight ago (Airbus's) and I noted that indeed the jets are loud on take-off and inaudible on landing. I especially listened to the engines on landing, and noticed their whine drop in tone until I couldn't hear the engines above the sound of rushing air. Really, these 'planes effectively glide in to land, and 747 pilot are *really* good (when sober, ahem) as they are required to have 30 years flying experience with smaller civil aircraft before flying 747s. Also, note that typical take-off angles are about 15 degrees, while landing angles are only 2
Posted by Anon  on  Tue Mar 02, 2004  at  04:20 AM
Oops! Anon of Feb 19, 04|11:41pm again. I forgot to say my main point: the question that our Curator indirectly posed, which I thought was the real mystery, is: given these 'planes really do land so low over this beach, why do crazy sunbather's end up under these 'planes and not get deafened (and yes, sometimes there are shocked sunbathers right underneath)?

Well, I hope I already provided some answer by repeating the explanation given in the British newspaper article: that the local authorities had not posted warning signs on the beaches about the nearby but hidden runway, and that the flights were so infrequent: once a week at the time. Also, we've dealt with the idle engines being quieter.

If anyone does go for hols there, could you check whether those authorities did get round to posting warnings yet? Or do they still enjoy the spectacle? grin.
Posted by Anon  on  Tue Mar 02, 2004  at  04:24 AM
Anon, here's your answer.

Posted by Justin Cederholm  in  Orlando,FL  on  Tue Mar 02, 2004  at  04:22 PM
Excellent! Though this sign appears to be at the other end of the beach, and it obviously get's ignored... Ah well.
Posted by Anon  on  Wed Mar 03, 2004  at  02:53 AM
I am the POPE! Bless you all!
Posted by dave  in  victoria  on  Wed Mar 03, 2004  at  09:13 PM

Video of a 747 landing at St. Maarten. Now I can put this to rest!!!!!!
Posted by Justin Cederholm  in  MCO  on  Tue Mar 09, 2004  at  02:49 PM
The picture is definitely real. I vacation in St. Maarten and have stood in that spot on Maho Beach. In addition to the 747 landings, there are fairly regular landings of smaller jets (ie: American Airlines, charter planes) and prop planes belonging to local airlines that do commuter flights to other islands.

At times I've been there for an hour and watched half a dozen planes land, so I would have to say most people are pretty aware they're at the end of a runway and in fact 99% of the sunbathers are there for the experience (unless your at the Maho Beach Hotel next door, in which case this is your only beach) There are big warning signs on either side of the flightpath.

Evening more entertaining is watching kids hang on the fence at the end of the runway when the 747's take off. Now that's loud, powerful and can blow you down. The blast when all four engines go to full rev is might impressive. Good idea to cover your eyes as you are on a beach and ir produces a nice little sandstorm for a few seconds there.
Posted by Colby  in  Toronto, ON  on  Thu Jun 03, 2004  at  06:53 AM
Anon of 3/2 - I don't know where you read that, but it's a load of crap. The runway is hardly "hidden" - it's about the biggest damned thing on the island - and there has never been a period when there was only "one flight a week" there.
Posted by P  in  US  on  Sat Jun 19, 2004  at  12:32 AM
Other anon of 3/2 - you are also full of shit. Jet engines are not "idle" upon landing, and that sound you hear is not "rushing air". Power is applied until touchdown, and then thrust reversers are used to slow the plane, especially on a short runway like SXM. Also, whoever told you you have to have "30 years of exp" before you can fly a 74 is also quite full of it.
Posted by P  in  US  on  Sat Jun 19, 2004  at  12:37 AM
why even have an airport on an airport-sized island? that's like putting an airport on catalina island. they should have designed it so you can only get their by boat
Posted by john  in  NH  on  Sat Jul 03, 2004  at  08:41 PM
I think this airport is fascinating and have enjoyed the discussion and links people have provided.

I always become amused at the angry responses certain types of people fire off whenever they read something they disagree with-do these people have a life? 'P' are reading this?? Take a pill or something man....chill out. Who cares if the engines are idling or not at landing, do some idling yourself man...
Posted by Mondy  on  Mon Jul 05, 2004  at  11:30 PM
You are not the pope! I Am! What is this, some kind of joke? I'm popeing around, reading this site, and you claim to be me!
Posted by The Pope  in  Vatican City  on  Thu Jul 22, 2004  at  12:34 PM
I've flown into this airport several times, it's real
Posted by Paul Tullis  in  Los Angeles  on  Thu Jul 29, 2004  at  05:31 PM
I go to medical school here on St. Maarten at the American University of the Caribbean. This is a very real photo. People do hang on the chain link fence and are lifted horizontal when a big plane takes off, most of them are drunk as Sunset Beach Bar is right next door. There are warning signs on both ends of the runway. The island is about 26 square miles, and actually has another airport, but only for small planes. Air France still has a 747 that leaves from here, everday I believe, but I'm not sure. I have seen airplanes take off and land, they are louder during take off... Why? I don't know.
Posted by Jon  on  Mon Aug 23, 2004  at  10:28 PM
The photo's are definately real... don't believe it? go to the airplane photo gallery for The Sunset Beach Bar... loacted at the beginning of the runway... BEST BAR IN SINT. MAARTEN...
Topless women drink for FREE!!!
Posted by SXMRegular  in  NJ  on  Thu Nov 04, 2004  at  11:55 PM
I know it's real because I have landed my 747 there on several occations.
Posted by Captain of the 747 that landed there.  on  Mon Dec 20, 2004  at  02:08 PM
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