Lesson 108
27 May 1999
1.4 hours
Practicing for Short Fields

My plan was to practice slow flight, stalls, and short field landings.  And why were these maneuvers on my mind today?  Well...

I spent several evenings recently at a grass airport near here owned by two brothers and used by them and a third guy for a lovely 1946 Ercoupe and a SeaRey homebuilt amphibian.  The runway is 2000 feet long--so they tell me, although it didn't seem quite that long when I was taxiing their SeaRey on it last week, getting the feel of a taildragger and grass.  There are tall trees on one end and both sides.  Naturally I got to wondering if I could get in and out safely in a rented Cessna 172.  According to the 172's POH, I'd  have a good 500 feet to spare--if I did everything right.  This was more or less an academic exercise, of course, because the rental agreement says I have to get prior authorization to land on grass or on runways shorter than 2000 feet or at private airports.  This one hits all three points, and I figure the chances of getting authorization aren't too good.

So why am I writing about this?  There's a little more to the story.  The SeaRey crashed on takeoff from that strip last Saturday, putting the pilot in the hospital with some 15 cracked ribs and a few other problems.  Evidently the engine quit due to ingition failure (he'd just been working on the ignition) or (my guess, from hearing it quit a couple of weeks ago) fuel starvation.  Anyway, that sort of put me off from trying to land a 172 there, authorization or no.  All the same, it's a beautiful little airfield, with that east-west runway set in the trees and two hangars near one end, and I wanted to have a look at it from the air.  So I flew to it today.

On the way at 2500 feet, I tried a few simulated rejected landings and slow flight.  Did a power-off stall, too, just for good measure, and was pleased that they all went comfortably.

Now, finding a green grass runway in the midst of green farm fields, green lawns, and green woodlands, I've discovered, isn't all that easy.  Fortunately, I'd set a GPS waypoint for it and therefore was able to fly directly to it.  As I got closer I kept stopping down the scale on the GPS and all of a sudden the field was right in front of me.  And it did look pretty short.  I circled at 2500 feet and then thought I'd see how it would feel to make an approach.  Of course, as soon as I turned away to decend to 1000 feet AGL, I lost sight of the field.  (Surely there must be some slick trick that helps you keep a field like that in sight without spiraling down directly above it.)  I watched the GPS and turned in to what I thought would be upwind today, with the wind from 330.  Where IS that strip?  Ah!  I was already at midfield, close in.  I hauled around onto what I thought might be crosswindand then turned downwind.  Flying downwind parallel to the runway, I could see immediately that those "2000" feet went by awfully fast, and I also figured that 1000 feet AGL must be much too high for that short a field.  Instead of turning base and setting up for a final approach that would have required climbing out over the tall trees at the upwind end of the runway, I opened the throttle and climbed out of there, feeling that I wasn't quite ready to try landing on that pretty little green field.

Back at Chesterfield County Airport, I did two short-field touch-and-goes--which, because of the 15 knot headwind, were really short--and then called it a day--another good day of flying.

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