Air Sumaini

Air Sumaini

By Laurence Garey and Brien Holmes

In the mid-20th century, when oil and gas exploration activities were widespread following the second World War, airplanes were used in support of the on-ground activities. As a result, airfields were constructed in many remote locations. The Al Ain chapter of the ENHG, with the encouragement of Laurence Garey, who has chronicled the aviation history of the region, has located and documented several of these remote airstrips. Since those who constructed the landing strip discussed here, the spelling they chose for the location is used throughout.

One of these airstrips is a small landing strip in Wadi Sumaini, located close to Jebel Sumaini in the wide gravel plain that empties into the Madam Plain.

Colin Richardson, who wrote the book "Masirah, Tales from a Desert Island", was a Venom fighter pilot with the RAF in Sharjah during the Jebel Akhdar conflict in the late 1950s, and then joined the Oman Air Force in 1973.

He remembers landing at Sumaini in 1975 in a Beaver (a superb Canadian plane, although we tend to think of it landing on a lake in Ontario rather than the Omani desert). He was taking "something or someone" to a Scottish army officer at the nearby Oman Gendarmerie fort, that controlled the border. It still exists just north of the field. He says Sumaini was very neat and tidy even then.

In recent years (2000 to 2009), quarrying activity has accelerated in Wadi Sumaini to satisfy the need for aggregate for road building and other construction projects. Though new roads have been built and two quarry operations expanded near the abandoned airstrip, the airstrip remains intact.

The landing strip is narrow at 45 meters and about 460 meters in length. A small apron is located on the east side. A flag pole was constructed just beyond the apron and the name "Sumaini" is spelled out in white-washed stones.

The four corners are marked with rectangles arranged in right angles to frame the strip. Along the side are 16 rectangles -- eight along the eastern and western sides -- about one meter in length and a half a meter wide, marking the perimeter of the strip.

The bearing is approximately 133' (or 315'). The runways are numbered according to the two directions so Sumaini would be 13/31, as the runway is 134 deg and its reciprocal. The numbers are painted on big runways but not at Sumaini.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) does not list an "indicator" for Sumaini. Other local ones are Al Ain OMAL, Sharjah OMSJ, Dubai OMDB and Saiq OOSQ. Saiq is a similarly small landing strip. The UAE uses OM and Oman OO.

The white-washed stones that marked the corners and sides of the strip would have been visible clearly from the air as they contrasted sharply with the dark stones of Wadi Sumaini.

The strip is clearly visible on Google Earth.

Google Earth image with GPS data added

GPS data from MapSource program

Laurence Garey, who has contributed and collected a great deal of information about the aviation history of the region, organized a visit to find the Sumaini landing strip in November, 2006.

Air_Sumayni_01.jpg Jerry (right) and Brien at northern end of the strip

Air_Sumayni_30.jpg The nose of Bob's truck near the chevron in the northwest corner

Air_Sumayni_31.jpg View along length of the strip from northern end

Air_Sumayni_33.jpg Bob and Josette -- and Barb inside -- at the northern end of the strip

Air_Sumayni_34.jpg Bob surveying the site from northern end of the strip

Air_Sumayni_35.jpg Diagonal view of the name

Air_Sumayni_36.jpg Brien and Josette walking the site

Air_Sumayni_37.jpg Brien and Josette in the area of the apron, the flag pole base (middle, right)

Construction appears to have been done by hand. Along the east and west sides of the strip, and around the perimeter of the apron, small piles of stones remain, each pile about the quantity of stone that might be removed by a wheel barrow. Given the total area of 22,500 square meters (for the landing strip only) this must have taken many individuals some time to complete.

The spelling of the name -- Sumaini -- in English only suggests the strip was constructed by oil and gas exploration companies or some other organization for which the principle language of communication was English. One might expect most of the pilots hired for the region were former military pilots.

The use of white-wash to paint the stones was common practice and would have been effective to assist pilots to locate the strip and navigate the landing. The corner chevrons and rectangles along the east and west sides were constructed with larger stones forming the edges and the area filled with slightly smaller stones. The constructions are only one course of stones.

The lack of any material relating to aircraft suggests the strip was not used for a long period of time or the individuals operating the strip were incredibly efficient and tidy. There is no evidence of spilled fuel or oil and none of the trash -- used oil filters, metal containers, tires -- that one associates with landing strip operations. The brief life span of the strip is re-enforced by the lack of any shelter or foundation. The only construction, other than the landing strip markers and name, is the flagpole which consists of a large-diameter pipe inserted vertically in the gravel plain just a meter from the eastern edge of the apron.

The only other material observed from the site is pottery. Three pottery scatters were recorded in the immediate vicinity of the strip. Since the wadi has likely been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years by caravans, the appearance of broken cooking pots is not unexpected. The wadi is part of a route that extends from the oasis communities along the foothills of the Hajar Mountains -- in the Mahadah area -- through the mountains at Ray to Wadi Sumaini. An Oman border post is located on the main route these caravans would have followed. The existing border post is located about five kilometers north of the Sumaini landing strip.

Air_Sumayni_01.jpg The chevron in the northeast corner of the strip

Air_Sumayni_02.jpg View looking down the runway from northern end

Air_Sumayni_03.jpg The Chevron in the northwest corner of the strip

Air_Sumayni_04.jpg One of the rectangles marking the perimeter along the west side

Air_Sumayni_05.jpg Edge of runway marker on west side

Air_Sumayni_06.jpg View diagonally across strip towards apron

Air_Sumayni_07.jpg "Sumaini" spelled out in white-washed stones

Air_Sumayni_08.jpg Landing strip name looking north

Air_Sumayni_09.jpg View from landing strip with east marker and name in foreground, Oman border checkpoint in the distance

Air_Sumayni_10.jpg Back corner of apron; none of the apron stones is white-washed so pilots would not confuse apron and landing strip

Air_Sumayni_11.jpg Flagpole base detail

Air_Sumayni_12.jpg Flagpole base looking southeast

Air_Sumayni_13.jpg Flagpole

Air_Sumayni_14.jpg Flagpole

Air_Sumayni_15.jpg Pot shard of red cooking pot from southern end of landing strip

Air_Sumayni_16.jpg Pot shard in situ

Air_Sumayni_17.jpg The chevron in the southeast corner of the strip

Air_Sumayni_18.jpg The chevron in the southwest corner

Air_Sumayni_19.jpg View from southern end of strip

Air_Sumayni_20.jpg View looking south; no evidence of other markers to help pilots locate the strip

Air_Sumayni_21.jpg Pot shard of red cooking pot in situ

Air_Sumayni_22.jpg A pair of donkeys observing

Air_Sumayni_23.jpg Pot shard of red cooking pot in situ

Air_Sumayni_24.jpg Pair of pot shards in situ

Air_Sumayni_25.jpg Pot shard of red cooking pot in situ. Two red pot cooking scatters were recorded.

Air_Sumayni_26.jpg Pot shards in situ.

Air_Sumayni_27.jpg Cautious donkeys grazing west of the strip

Air_Sumayni_28.jpg Double glazed pot in situ