Knowing that you can get down in stopped in 600 feet is a good skill if you plan to land on some of Alaska’s backcountry airstrips.  And now you can practice in the comfort of a conventional runway, before taking on all the challenges of off-field conditions.  To improve aviation safety and reduce off field landing accidents, the FAA has entered into an experimental program in partnership with airport owners, and aviation user groups to create a number of practice “bush” runways within the confines of a conventional gravel runway.


Volunteers paint a 2′ by 4′ rectangle on the Ski Strip at Fairbanks International Airport.

The “practice” runway is created by painting a series of two by four foot rectangles to mark a “bush” airstrip that is 25 feet wide, and either 600 or 800 feet long.  Marks are spray-painted on the gravel surface at 100 foot intervals, providing an easy reference to judge your landing, or take-off distance.  Volunteer groups at six Alaskan airports are stepping up to the plate this summer to create these training aides.  And while not simulating all the conditions of a true off field situation, developing the precision to get down and stopped on a short, narrow surface is certainly a skill one wants to have mastered before taking on the other variables involved in off-field operations.


Kudos to the participants in this project, which include the FAA, Ninety Nines, Alaska Airmen’s Association, Alaska Airports Association, Alaska DOT&PF, Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation, AOPA and the individual airports. In all cases, volunteers stepped up to the plate to provide the labor and equipment to do the painting.

A 25′ wide by 800′ long “practice” bush strip on the East Ramp at Fairbanks International Airport

The six airports approved for this year’s test are: Fairbanks International (PAFA), Goose Bay (Z40), Nenana (PANN), Palmer (PAAQ), Soldotna (PASX) and Wasilla (PAWS).  Once a runway has been marked, a NOTAM will indicate the non-standard markings.  Check out one of these runways near you, and take advantage of the opportunity to test your landing and take-off skills. The benefit of using these facilities is that if you don’t make it the first time, only your ego is bruised — which is a lot less costly than bending your airplane far from home!