How short is short?

What’s the shortest runway you’ve ever landed on?

The runway at Sugar Valley Airport in Mocksville, N.C., shown here, is 2,424 feet long and 36 feet wide. That’s 36 feet–widened from 25 feet. There are trees at the approach end of Runway 20. No obstructions on the other end…but if you should run into the weeds, you might end up in in a little lake.

Seventeen-year-old Zahra Khan, who learned to fly at Sugar Valley, doesn’t know what all the fuss is about. To her, 2,424 feet long and 36 feet wide is perfectly natural. It’s what she trained on and what she’s comfortable with.  Many of you most likely are, too. We should all be so well-trained and comfortable.

What’s the shortest runway you’ve ever landed on? And when was the last time you practiced a short-field landing? Share in the Comments section. —Jill W. Tallman

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26 Responses to “How short is short?”

  1. Steve says:

    At a friend’s backyard strip, 900′ x 70.’

  2. Terry says:

    2200 feet, at Woodbridge Airport in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC. Landing wasn’t eh problem, though — it took, max, half the runway. Taking off on hot August days with two people in a 152 required manually backing the plane up to the very end of the runway to be sure to get safely over the power lines at the end!

  3. Hank says:

    I visit a local grass strip, 2000′ long and bowed slighty on the riverbank. Nice tall trees are between the grass and the river. One end has a path cleared through the trees for approach, the other end has a cement factory with associated gravel piles.

    Not a problem, just don’t go there heavy. Two people and half-tanks are not a problem.

  4. George says:

    I’m a student pilot at Lincoln park (N07) New Jersey. It is a very challenging airport because of the runway length and width, the offset thresholds, the variable winds coming off the mountains and hangers, the birds, and of course, the busy airspace. I’m very happy training here at Lincoln Park. We affectionately call it the USS Lincoln Park. It’s great to learn to fly at an airport like this. It makes most other airports easier to deal with.
    The runway totals 2940 feet. Looking at the usable landing distances:
    Runway 1 is 2104ft. Runway 19 is 2682ft. 40ft wide. Trees everywhere. We are flying 172SP’s.
    Be safe!

  5. Jason Blair says:

    450 feet on a sod strip with a 115hp 7AC….and a ditch at the end. Glad it worked.

  6. Lawrence Pearlman says:

    I’d regularly fly into a dirt strip under 2,000 x 40 in a twin. Sometimes livestock crossing the runway kept things even more interesting.

    Lesson learned? Stay alert always, always, always. Especially close to the ground.

  7. Steve Bonine says:

    You make an excellent point — the conditions where we learned become our norm. I don’t remember how long the runway was where I learned, and since the airport no longer exists, I will probably never know. But I’m glad that short runway and crosswind was the norm while I was learning. I remember my first landing at a “real” airport and how I flared about fifty feet in the air because the runway was so wide.

  8. Robert says:

    79c brennand near Oshkosh…2450×20 while it’s plenty long for a sky hawk..it’s pretty narrow…in crosswinds..I’ve landed on shorter…but this is the slimmest!

  9. Ritch says:

    I routinely land and takeoff on a 1600′x50′ grass strip in a 180HP Skyhawk. The approach is a little challenging, but once you’ve done it a few times it’ pretty easy.

  10. John McNerney says:

    Priebe Field (7D5), 5 NNW of Findlay, OH. Runway dimensions 1918′ x 18′ (yes, that’s 18 feet wide).

    As a student pilot back in 1994, my flight instructor made me do a couple of landings there. It gave new meaning to the concept of staying on the center line. Landing on a runway that was about half the width of the aircraft’s wingspan really got your attention as a student pilot.

    I haven’t thought of this place in years. Unfortunately, it seems it’s no longer in existence.

  11. Bruce Ziegler says:

    The city of Findlay purchased Priebe (7D5) and closed it due to its proximity to the landfill and the hazard of birds and other wildlife.

  12. Regina Coker says:

    I don’t know how long it was, the runway in a pasture somewhere in Louisiana 38 years ago. But I do remember the power line at one end and the shells at the other end. I remember it being really noisy when the runway ended and the shells began. NO WAY would I land there now!

  13. Kevin Jarchow says:

    There are a few here in West Michigan like that. Park Township (HLM) 1857 ft available for landing on 05, due to a landowner planting some pine trees because he doesn’t like the airport.
    Then there is Plainwell, 61D, with 1875 ft on 27 due to an expressway at the west end.
    Then there is Riverview with 2754 available. But it’s 49 feet wide. Taking off to the north, there are high tension wires on a ridge along side the Grand River. So, there is a 150ft obsticle to overcome right after takeoff. Flaps are encouraged. The southern approach is displaced due to some rather tall trees. And the deer, geese and turkeys on the runway all make it rather interesting.

  14. Thomas Burke says:

    The comments about the short runway at Sugar Valley, Mocksville, NC are interesting. I instructed at this airport years ago when the 2424 ft runway was 25 feet wide.

    I have landed a Cessna 172 there on runway 20 over the trees and stopped just short of the first turnoff about 500 feet total distance, with about 10K headwind. I also landed a C-45 (BE-18 Twin Beech) there, Runway 2 in less than 2000 ft. with calm winds.

    The shortest official runway that I have used is 2000 feet with clear approaches, landing a fully loaded DC-3 and taking off light, after unloading.

  15. Santa Clara County, CA, Model Aircraft runway, about 500′. With prior permission!
    Check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UKa-rr7PvSs

  16. Jim Mantle says:

    Two airfields around here are moderate length (around 2000′) but narrow. Iroquois (Ontario) is nominally 75′ wide, but only the centre 22′ is paved. When soggy, you don’t want to get one wheel on the pavement and one on the asphalt. I’ve arrived at this airport for breakfast in a 172 with 4 adults and full tanks (and a 180HP engine). And departed. Short-field and cross-wind techniques mandatory for arrival and departure, and soft-field for taxi.

    The other is Winchester, which is only 18′ wide of broken asphalt.

    In both cases, it feels like you’re landing on your driveway.

  17. Mark C says:

    Wow, some of these narrow runways are more impressive than the short ones. My home airport, Brion Field (3WN9) is 2100 x 100 with trees at one end and power lines at the other, but being turf it’s a pretty easy landing, maybe a little more challenge to take off. A little longer but as a student pilot I thought more challenging, was Caesar Creek (2OH9), it’s 2800 x 150 but has TALL trees on one end and TALL high voltage lines on the other. I’m sure it’s not as tough as it seemed to a rookie but it’s still a fun little field to fly into.

  18. Gerald Moon says:

    Runway 6/24 at Fort Collins/Loveland Minicipal (KFNL) is 2273 x 40 with hangers off the departure end of RY 6. With a field elevation of 5000′ summer takeoffs must be carefully planned. No problems last August in a 182 with full fuel, one passenger and book short-field technique.

  19. stuart says:

    Not sure if it counts as a ‘runway’ but I landed an S2R (Ayres Thrush) on a football field (the goal post were removed) plus some extra room on the ends for a total of about 900 feet. It had tall trees on one end and a six foot chain link fence on the other. It was also a grass surface.

    The purpose was for an ‘Ag Day’ demonstration. I had minimum fuel and praticed at our dirt strip until I could land and stop in 700 feet ten out of ten times. The landing was tight but the takeoff was were it really got interesting.

  20. Jim Dulin says:

    Lots of short spray strips, roads, fields, whatever works, in Cubs, Champs, Cessnas, Pawnees, Callairs, and Stearmans. The trick is to get all wheels off as soon as possible into low (6″-3′) ground effect. Staying in low ground effect until the first obstacle that we cannot rudder turn (keep wings level with aileron) around develops the most kinetic energy of pressure airspeed the fastest. Why do you think the POH top speed on your aircraft was recorded in low ground effect? For those without a lot of excess engine thrust for climb, most of us, we need the free 30% extra kinetic energy of ground effect. Why do you think that Pawnee gets off with 140 gallons in the hopper in about 3/4th of the distance of a 235hp Cherokee Archer with four people? Big engine, right? No, same 235hp Lycoming.

    We use the free extra energy of ground effect until the obstruction, zoom over using both the excess engine thrust for climb and the excess kinetic energy of ground effect, level the aircraft, and accelerate again before any sustained Vy climb is attempted. Vx at the obstruction is fine. Vx before the obstruction only throws away the free extra kinetic energy of ground effect.

    Airspeed (the kinetic energy of pressure airspeed) is altitude (potential gravity thrust) and altitude is airspeed. Wise pilots, including Wolfgang Langewiesche, manage them dynamically in low level work, including takeoff and landing.

  21. Kevin Norby says:

    I am a CFI at Marlboro Airport (9B1) in Marlborough, MA. The only runway is 1,659′ with real 50′ trees right at the 32 approach end and a fence/road at the 14 end. We teach primary students in C150 & C172 to easily handle this without braking or the abrupt stop techniques typically thought of as “short-field”. Use the right approach angle, proper airspeed, and make full stall landings and under normal conditions we roll to a stop in under 1,000′. Any pilot should stop by for a lesson or tune-up and improve their stick and rudder skills.

  22. Cary Alburn says:

    The smallest I can recall is the Owl Canyon gliderport north of Wellington, CO, before its main runway was lengthened, from approximately 960′ to 1600′, 5545′ elevation. Airnav says it is now 920′ asphalt and an additional 2600′ turf, but when I paced it, the asphalt part was 960′ to the line where the new asphalt was laid, and the total was 1600′. I’ve flown over it recently but haven’t landed; I saw no indications that the runway has been shortened again. Airnav also says that it’s 24′ wide and the parallel is 14′ wide–I think they’re both about the same width, closer to 14′. But whatever, my first landing there in a Skylane in the mid 70′s, I rolled off the end onto the turf. Since then, I’ve landed several times in the same 182 and various 172s, the last time roughly 5 years ago, remaining on the asphalt without difficulty. It helps to land on the spot at the right airspeed!

    Another short runway at a higher elevation was Schloredt Field west of Sundance, WY, 2100′ long x 16′ at 5000′ elevation after it was paved, rather steeply sloped to the north with a fence on the north end. I landed everything from 172s to a Mooney 231 and T210 there. It’s been closed for several years, since the owner died.

    A short runway I’ve been into many times in Ohio with Skylanes, a Turbo Arrow, and a T210 is Painesville Concord, less than 2200′ long at 1000′ elevation, with large trees 200′ from the approach end to 2 and 30′ “brush” at the other end, effectively shortening the runway a bunch. The owner Adolph (since deceased) used to take a Queen Air in and out of there. His widow Connie keeps the airport open–fun little country airport.

    Cary

  23. Josh shea says:

    A couple. The one I’m based off now csz4 is plenty long however has a 2.98 degree slope in it. Around a 80foot drop/ climb depending on runway in use. One I’ve flown to a couple times is st-fernand ( don’t know the iCao sorry) its around 3000 ft dirt, however nesseled between trees that go up around 75′ and it’s only 10ft wide. Just enough for the tires (there’s about a 50-75ft clearing for the wings but the dirt is only 10 ft. And shortest would have to be csh2 it’s 1,649 ft long by 75′ wide. Makes a fun approach. Anyway safe skies.
    -joshua shea
    CPL SMELS, class IV instructor

  24. Eric Goss says:

    Two I find challenging: Newtok, AK (PAEW) is 2,200′ (1,600′ useable) x 35′ and Kwigillingok, AK (PAGG) 1,840′ (900′ useable) x 30′. We operate 207s at gross from both of these. Gotta bring your A game when they are icy and the crosswinds are strong. Jim Dulin’s comments are right on the money, and I use his techniques regularly: really helps when you’re not certain how much the back haul weighs!

  25. Eric Goss says:

    The old Chefornak (PACK) runway was 2,250′ (1,900′ useable) x 28′, and it could be interesting at times, too. It has since been replaced by a much longer and wider runway.

  26. Tim Pfaffenroth says:

    In the Upstate of South Carolina we have allot of well kept grass fields. 1600′ to 1700′ with slopes and trees.
    I think the most interesting field in awhile though was Marlboro, Mass – K9B1 1659 x 45 ft. I flew a Piper Pacer out of there and had allot of fun.
    Be on your “A” game with consistent short field landing practice before going into fields like this.

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