He is accessible 365 days a year. He is Departure- and Destination-Airport for most Airlines in the world. From "small shuttle and island hoppers" to the Airbus A380, almost all types of aircraft are present on his busy apron. With about 180 takeoffs and landings per day, as well as 1.2 million "passengers" per year, he is definitely not in direct competition with Frankfurt/Main, London-Heathrow or New York. But its size, design and technical sophistication, making him unique in the world. Despite the fact, that only few pilots spend a visit, because he is not even to be found at a ICAO-Chart. Also he is located right in the heart of a well-known German metropolis.
"He" is Knuffingen International Airport, the largest miniatur airport in the entire world. Located in the heart of Hamburg, within the buildings of the UNESCO World Heritage Site "Speicherstadt". What is going on here 365 days a year does not only make aviators and modelers hearts beat faster. The "operating area" of this unique model airport has the size of 125 square meters (1.345,5 square foot), created and build by 82 employees in 150.000 hours. By investments of € 3.5 million one can imagine, that this is no amateur model plant, build during a six year period and opened in May 2011. With its numerous buildings and the underlying operations area, this is a realistic and lifelike image of Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel Airport.
45 of 55 scale (1:87) self-made and faithfully painted airplane models are to admire "in full motion", taking-off or landing at a 14 m long runway, taxying to and off different gates and parking-positions at the tarmac. Fuel trucks driving around and to aircraft after landing for refueling. For embarking and disembarking, passenger-stairs and gateways are docked to the front door of the plane and raised to the height of the cabin-floor. All movements of course fully automatic and computer controlled.
A day lasts about 20 minutes
Every 20 minutes, the scenery changes in a "smooth transition" from day to night, which gives a realistic impression of all activities on the apron combined wit a very special atmosphere. Aircraft and ground vehicles are equipped as their originals with many LED-lights. Landing lights and flashing anti-collision lights of the planes, as well as head-lights, turn signals and hazard warning lights of ground vehicles making spectators almost forget, they are not in the middle of a real airport, but just in the middle of a huge model layout. The largest model-plant of its kind all over the world.
At the end of a day, a short twilight phase leads over to the oncoming night. In fast motion, the whole scenery is changed into the dark of the night. Aircraft-, vehicle-, warehouse, terminal- and apron lightning now provide a"clear view" to the visitor. This is also the period of time, during one gets a good inside-view into the brightly lit terminal buildings through their giant glass-fronts.
Visitors come into raptures, because inside the terminal buildings they can observe abundant marine life and bustle with incredible perfection, before with recognizable sunrise at the walls of the hall, a new day starts at Knuffingen International Airport for the next 20 minutes.
Continuously gateways and passenger stairways are withdrawn, planes pushed back and positioned on the taxiway by huge aircraft-tractors. After disconnection of the tractor, he slowly withdraws from the plane.
Once to taxi, the giant plane gets cumbersome into motion, rolling via several taxiways by itself to the runway in use. As in reality, also at Knuffingen International Airport, the runway in use is changed from time to time, "depending at the wind-direction". To perfect the illusion of the scenery, original airport noise echoes through the room - typical engine noises of rolling, taking off and landing aircraft. Only the usual level of noise has been reduced to an acceptable limit for the numerous visitors.
In case other airplanes already waiting at the end of the taxiway for permission to enter the runway, additional airliners have to wait at the end of the queue - just like at any airport on the world.
Once the take off position is reached, two thin metal-rods raising out of the bottom of the runway and connect them self into the fuselage of the plane. Few moments later, the aircraft gets in motion and raises cumbersome into the air.
The realistic impression of the take-off and landing operations are just little disturbed by those two guide-rods who raise the airplane from the runway during take off or lower it smoothly during landing. Another small optical shortcoming is the protruding at the nose gear, which steers the airplane during taxiing on the ground. Just two minor irritations visitors do willingly ignore, due to the fascinating overall impression of the complete plant. While the airplane continues to climb into the air, its swallowed by a gray cloud curtain by the the end of the runway.
At the other side of the runway, the next incoming airliner appears out of a cloud curtain, setting down smoothly, reversing its engines and coming to halt by the end of the runway. Almost unnoticed by the spectators, the two control-rods are released from the plane and retracted into the bottom of the runway. Then the aircraft accelerates its engines and starts rolling via taxiways to the next available gate.
Besides self-propelled passenger stairs, also catering-, cargo-, refueling-, rescue-, fire fighting-vehicles and aircraft tugs are in constant motion on the tarmac. Light signals of all vehicles show the change of direction, braking lights indicate the slowing down of the car. High-tech and perfection of its best - sure not to beat in any other way.
Also missed approaches with go-around are part of the scenery
An A380 floats in to land, but the giant plane touches the ground far away from the threshold, where a go-around cannot be avoided. After a perfect go-around procedure, the giant vanishes in the gray cloud at the other side of the runway. But just a few minutes later, the Airbus reappears at the opposite side and lands smoothly on the runway, just as nothing unusual had happened before.
Even a Concorde is part of the scenery
Knuffingen for sure is the only Airport in the world, where a Concorde still can be admired taking-off and landing regularly. Otherwise, this masterpiece of European engineering can only be seen at some open-air museums such as the Technik-Museum Sinsheim, or at Model-airfields during model-airshows.
Airport fire-fighters exercising fire-fighting procedures
Also the Knuffingen fire brigade is exercising fire-fighting strategy at regular intervals too. Using an old B707 on a special training area, engine No. 3 and the nose gear wheel well is set on fire. With sirens wailing and blue hazard-lights, several fire fighting trucks and ambulance vehicles speeding to the "accident", where the aircraft is on fire and the area filled with smoke.
After the fire is successfully extinguished, fire-trucks and emergency-vehicles are withdrawn an drive back to their station.
At Knuffingen International, everything is represented
Also the worlds largest Cargo plane, the Russian Antonov AN-124, comes to Knuffingen International several times a day. After landing, the AN-124 rolls off the runway and stops at the front of the freight terminal. The giant nose cargo door moves up and the unloading begins. After unloading of incoming cargo and loading of outgoing cargo as well as refelling the plane, the cargo-door closes automatically again and the AN-124 is pushed out to the parking position by an aircraft-tug. After disconnecting the tow-tug, the AN-124 accelerates their engines and starts rolling via taxiways out to the runway. After clearance, all engines accelerate and the airplane lifts off the runway, disappearing in the cloud-curtain at the other side of the runway.
Even the taxiway markings appear to match reality of Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel. Not only at parking positions, but also on the taxiways to the runway to give orientation to the aircrews.
The airport facility also includes a railway-system wit a track length of 1.000 m. 40 different trains with changing train formations and a total of 480 wagons are constantly driving around perfectly controlled by 70 signals and 150 crossings.
Outside the secured Airport area, different kind of trains formations are passing by in direct contact to the spectators. At a special unloading track for fuel-wagons, a large fuel-barrel train gets unloaded. Underneath the platform, there is a huge underground railway-station, where many train compositions wait at the time to be released and send out to the visible part of the rail-tracks in view of the visitors.
Knuffingen Airport is only a small part of the whole
The airport facility Knuffingen is however just a small part of the giant railway model layout of the legendary Miniatur-Wunderland of Hamburg, which now also found his entry into the new Guinness Book of Records (Edition 2016). On two pages of the new edition, the plant is presented and described in detail as the largest model railway in the world.
A completely crazy idea
The idea to build the largest model railway in the world, came up by Frederic Braun (left) in July 2000, when he walked through the the old town of Zurich/Switzerland. Walking through small and narrow alleys, he suddenly looked enthusiastic into the window of a model railway shop.Old childhood memories were awake. After numerous discussions with his twin brother Gerrit (right), the two entrepreneurs jointly came to the conclusion, that this "crazy idea" to build the largest model railway in the world, would be quite feasible and have a good prospects of success.
Only two month later in September 2000, they began to put their idea into action. Their plans where already far advanced and the lease contract for rooms in the historical warehouse district had been signed.
With 20 employees, the first phase of construction was started already on November 15th 2000. The opening of the newly founded Miniature Wonderland tool place barely a year later in August 2001, with a grown "workforce" of 40 employees. Meanwhile, Miniature-Wonderland Hamburg has more than 300 employees under permanent contract, who have developed and expanded the giant miniature world continuously.
With a total of eight sections, the plant has grown to 1.500 square meters (16.145 sq ft), while an end to the expansion remain unknown. Besides the existing sections like Hamburg, USA, Scandinavia, Switzerland and Knuffingen Airport (just to name a few), fewer extensions up to the year 2020 are Italy (under construction), France and England.
To describe the whole formation and evolution of this project, would be beyond the scope of this article. If readers are interested in the whole history, please checkout the website of the Miniatur-Wunderland by yourself.
The entire system, with currently 15,4 km rails (9.4 Miles), 930 locomotives and over 10.000 wagons, is permanently monitored and controlled by several employees in a huge control-center. By more then 70 color-screens, all sections are in view at any time. In the background, 46 computers manage 1.270 signals, 3.050 points, 280 vehicles, 55 airplanes and 335.000 LEDs. To date, 580.000 build-hours and more than € 14 Million have been invested in this mammoth project.
Entrance-Fee is 12 €
Videos about the Miniatur-Wunderland Hamburg can be found numerous on YouTube. For modelers particularly interesting are video films named "Gerd the Builder", in which model-professionals from Miniature-Wonderland explain their tips and tricks, how to build realistic looking landscapes.
Miniature-Wonderland (official Video)
In 30 Minuten um die Welt
Worlds biggest Airport (Full HD Teil 1/3)