Giant-scale model airport amazes (photos)

Road Trip 2011: Hamburg, Germany's Miniatur Wunderland models its own city's airport with planes that take off and land--on their own.

Daniel Terdiman
1 of 12 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Planes loading up

HAMBURG, Germany--I heard about the giant scale-model airport during the last stages of planning CNET Road Trip 2011, and because I was already passing through Hamburg, I decided to stop in at the Miniatur Wunderland, where it is located, to check it out. And why not? It sounded cool, and besides, it accompanies the world's-largest model train collection.

Still, before I arrived, I didn't know what to expect and whether or not I'd be disappointed. If you were thinking of going to Hamburg and checking this out, but had doubts of your own, let me dispel them: this is one of the coolest things ever.

The airport is huge, a 1:87 full representation of the city's airport. And while that airport might not be world famous, when it's depicted in models, it should be. The airport is just like the real one looks, with a large tarmac, plenty of airplanes, a full runway, and--believe it or not--airplanes that take off and land.

This is accomplished through a smart system that raises tiny rods into the planes as they begin their--fully automated--taxi down the runway, and lifts them up into the air. The same works in reverse for landings.

All in all, this is a fantastic part of a truly terrific collection--one that in all features eight miles of tracks on which 900 trains run. It is well worth a visit. Your expectations should be high.

2 of 12 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Taking off

Here we see a plane "taking off" from the model Hamburg airport at the Miniatur Wunderland. Planes disappear behind flaps in the wall where they then lower down on the rods that at first lifted them up during take off, and then route their way back automatically to either the tarmac and an airport gate, or to a landing.

3 of 12 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Planes on tarmac

The airplane collection features a Thai Airways Airbus A380, an Air France Boeing 777, and many, many others. All told, there are 32 planes in the collection, including an Airbus A350, a plane that doesn't exist yet--but Airbus contributed a model of the forthcoming plane.

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A "landing" plane emerges from behind the wall.

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Nighttime turning for takeoff

During a nighttime scene at the Miniatur Wunderland airport, an Air France Boeing 777 prepares to turn onto the main runway in order to "take off."

6 of 12 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Nighttime after landing

A plane has just landed at the Miniatur Wunderland airport, seen here during a nighttime moment. At the attraction, days last for 15 minutes, and nights for three minutes. During the nighttime periods, thousands of LED lights automatically turn on, including those seen here.

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Auto charging

One of the most impressive elements of the airport is that the dozens of small cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicle models are programmed to be smart enough to know when they are running low on battery power. When that happens, they automatically drive themselves to a section behind the walls, out of view of the public, where they dock themselves at one of these stations and stay there until they are charged back up. At that point, they automatically back out, drive back out to the airport and resume their "duties."

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Rod for takeoff

The way the planes take off is simple. As they taxi down the runway, a small rod emerges from the floor and lifts them up. The programming is smart enough to know which type of plane is taking off, and modifies the angle of ascent to match that of the real-life version of the plane.

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Control screen for airport

This is the control screen for the Miniatur Wunderland airport, which shows details on all the planes, all the vehicles, and much more about the complex 1:87 scale model of the Hamburg, Germany airport.

10 of 12 Daniel Terdiman/CNET

Hidden airplanes

After taking off, these planes then routed themselves into a section where they line up under the publicly-viewable section of the airport and work themselves back around until they "land."

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Parking garage

Like so much else in Miniatur Wunderland, this airport parking garage was built by hand, piece by piece.

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Space Shuttle landing

Though the real Space Shuttle never landed in Hamburg, at Miniatur Wunderland, it does.

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