top of page
  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

How to create an ad hoc helipad or runway

These are far more valuable skills than one might imagine in military theatre. They may save your life.

A daytime helipad

  1. A helipad should be not less than 25-30 feet in diameter (8-10 metres). It must be flat and circular. So the first thing to do is to find the space. A number of contemporary military grade mobile telephones have infrared range finders, so use them to measure the size of the space.

  2. Make sure the space is out of range of artillery, assault rifle and cruise missile fire. This is often impossible to achieve; but do your best. Helevac pilots and other rotary pilots experienced in flying in distressed circumstances are used to flying below radar and avoiding nasties that may come their way. But a man with an assault rifle in line of site of the helipad can mess everything up. Helicopters peppered with lead are unlikely to take off again. Remove all such people from the immediate environs.

  3. Helicopters can land in all sorts of environments, including building tops, deserts, gravel roads, fields, etcetera. But they cannot land easily on slopes or very bumpy ground.

  4. The best thing is to mark the circle with a large tub of white paint and a thick paintbrush. Draw an 'H' in the middle of it.

  5. However if you don't have any then you will have to make do with anything else to hand, such as coloured masking tape, tightly bound bails of hay, etc. In desert environments you may be able to draw the helipad with a stick. lots of things look visible from the air even if you may not think they are particularly promising from the ground.

  6. Remember that you do not want anything that might get stuck in the copter's blades. So no loose materials. Loose hay is not good. Do not wear a hat unless it is strapped to your head.

  7. Then you simply send the pilot your GPS coordinates while standing in the middle of the 'H'. WhatsApp locator may be sufficient to do that.

  8. If landing on a building, the pilot will find it useful to know the height of the building. Use a barometer.

A nighttime helipad

  1. Landing a helicopter at night is quite tricky. The pilot will need to be wearing infrared goggles.

  2. Buy an infrared portable helipad beacon. They cost about USD700. You will need to connect it to the mains or to something like a car battery. Check carefully with the vendor before purchase.

  3. Here is an example:*16k3x6n*_gcl_aw*R0NMLjE2NTE4NDc4MjguQ2p3S0NBandqdE9UQmhBdkVpd0FTRzRiQ0tKSmFpR3VZTExkdkI2cE9nbl9ua2tsX1pYNE5XbVNWV1hydml0NEF2OHpCaVc5X0tvUGJ4b0N3WW9RQXZEX0J3RQ..*_ga*MjAyMTc5MjAzNy4xNjUxODQ3ODI4*_ga_VDLRWYVQE0*MTY1MTg0NzgyOC4xLjEuMTY1MTg0Nzg5Ny4w&_ga=2.83569430.1849395169.1651847829-2021792037.1651847828&_gac=1.259713784.1651847829.CjwKCAjwjtOTBhAvEiwASG4bCKJJaiGuYLLdvB6pOgn_nkkl_ZX4NWmSVWXrvit4Av8zBiW9_KoPbxoCwYoQAvD_BwE

  4. You would be well advised to find a way to glue the beacon down, e.g. super glue, double sided sticky tape or stones.

  5. Place the beacon in the middle of the circle. It will create a series of concentric diminishing infrared rings, invisible to the naked eye but visible to the rotary pilot wearing his infrared goggles.

  6. At the edge of the helipad, place a series of steel flashing bright LED beacons. They are about USD40 each. These are rechargeable from the mains. Six are ideal.

  7. Here is an example:

  8. Again affix them to the floor depending on the environment. Otherwise the helicopter blades will blow them all away.

  9. If you don't have the foregoing kit, use two of the aforementioned LED beacons, stand in the centre of the helipad whose GPS coordinates you have transmitted to the pilot and wave them in and out of an X formation above your head one in each hand, across the body and then out, repeatedly. Right when the helicopter is coming into land (i.e. it's above your head), step out of the helipad area slowly, walking backwards and waving and pointing the LED beacons both in the same direction directly towards the centre of the helipad.

  10. Congratulations; you've just landed a helicopter at night.

A daytime runway

  1. If you are flying an aeroplane in to land in a combat zone, make it a small one such as a Cessna or Piper. They fly low, their true air speed is low and they leave barely any trace. Radars can mistake them for birds or miss them altogether. You don't want a supersonic jet screaming in and breaking the sound barrier. It just looks like something for forces in theatre to shoot at.

  2. Runways must be absolutely flat. A grass, sand or gravel runway must be meticulously raked before use. A grassy knoll on the runway can spell disaster. Grass must be pressed / flattened / recently mown. However runways can involve mild constant angles; aeroplanes prefer taking off and landing up mild gradients. The main issue is how long a runway needs to be; then you need to add some for landing and take off.

  3. The length of the runway depends on the type of aeroplane landing and taking off. A Cessna 172 can land and take off on a 250m runway. A modern private jet may need as much as a 2500m runway.

  4. In any case, assume that there needs to be 50 per cent of the runway length without tall obstacles at both the beginning and the end end of the runway, to facilitate safe landings and take-offs.

  5. The best ad hoc runways are straight roads (no bends!), but of course you need to block them off at both ends of the landing strip to prevent people or vehicles getting in the way, for example using perpendicular vehicles or burning tyres laced with kerosene. (An experienced pilot will have no problem flying through the smoke that burning tyres cause.)

  6. Obviously you need a contingency plan to deal with this possibility of local Police attendance, particularly in a built up area. It is better to land and take off planes in rural areas. However the Police may be so gobsmacked by what is going on that they may do nothing but stand there. The Police are unlikely to shoot at an aeroplane.

  7. People and vehicles do tend to get out of the way promptly when they see an aeroplane coming into land on a road, and a loud klaxon may be useful to encourage them still further.

  8. Here is an example of a portable klaxon:

  9. Aeroplanes are much more susceptible to small arms fire on landing and take off than helicopters, because their landing and take-off traces are hard to hide.

  10. Unless there is no wind whatsoever you need a windsock, posted to one side of the runway at the 50 per cent mark.

  11. The pilot will need to know how high above sea level the runway is; use a barometer.

  12. Using a compass, measure the direction of the runway and then write on each end of the runway (e.g. with a large pot of paint) the angle (e.g. 09 / 27; 03 / 33). Inform the pilot.

  13. Mark all down the centre of the runway with a series of landing stripes (dashed lines). Again a pot of paint is useful for this.

  14. Send the pilot the GPS coordinates of the dead centre of the runway and the centre-ends of the runway. Inform the pilot of the direction of slope if any.

  15. Stand back and let the pilot land.

A nighttime runway

  1. Follow all the above; but the runway will need runway lights.

  2. It does not need the entire runway to be lit: but the beginning of the landing strip must be lit on both sides for some distance; and there must be a centre-end light at the end of the runway.

  3. A dozen LED beacons of the kind described for a nighttime helipad landing should be sufficient, if spread out rationally.

  4. If the pilot does a circuit of the airfield and asks for something to be moved, then be ready to move it straight away.

  5. A nighttime pilot may be flying without any of his lights turned on. Get out of the way of the runway! There is nothing more disconcerting than realising you are in the way of an absolutely black 'plane coming into land.


bottom of page