A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Backyard Flying

June 14, 2015
Tyson Sawyer updated June 6, 2018

When compared to the west, the northeast has little backcountry flying. There are, however, a good number of privately owned, backyard airports which can offer some good fun flying. They are not built to “FAA Standards” and are sometimes short, so some of them can offer a good challenge of skills. The catch is that you typically have to know someone and get permission to use these runways.

At my home airport with some mild wind shear and down drafts on short final being the norm, I almost never use more than 800 ft of runway with the Bearhawk, with 500 ft being reasonably common. In favorable conditions I can be down and stopped in under 300 ft. These are not astounding numbers, but I’m typically flying at 1,900-2,300 lbs gross weight. A Super Cub might be under 1,500 lbs and they can often land in half those distances. This spring at the annual Valdez May Day Fly-in, the STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) competition the winner had a combined takeoff and landing distance of about 40 ft. To put that in perspective, the wingspan of these airplanes is 36 ft. But I’m not flying a stripped out 2 seater specifically built to win this competition.

I have been trying to fly with pilots in the area who know some of the smaller, more challenging strips to learn about the strips in the area, learn from the other pilots and to compare my performance with theirs in real life contexts with obstacles and less than favorable winds.

On this day, we met up with a couple of friends from south east Mass. We hit a few strips I’d not seen before. For real world numbers, I was down and stopped in 700 ft from 40 ft trees at one stop, though the runway was plenty long. The most challenging landing of the day was on a dike between a pair of cranberry bogs. At one time, someone kept a Aeronca Champ there. It looks like it might have had about 1,400 ft or so of usable runway. Now the trees at one end have gown up tall and towards the other end they have pinched it off to be about 1,200 ft long. I’m not certain of the gap, but it looks too narrow to fly/land through and measures 29 ft on google maps. So, now it is a 1,200 ft runway with trees at both ends. Oh, but I was the last of three airplanes to land. One airplane was sticking out from the side (no room to on the dike to avoid) and people standing on the “runway” taking pictures, leaving me with 900 ft. Though I am very accustomed to landing in less distance and consider it “easy”, it looks/feels a lot harder when the end of the usable runway is at that distance and there are obstacles/trees in the approach.

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