Four years ago, it sounded totally crazy to me that I would pursue the goal of obtaining my commercial pilot licence. Especially after going through so much hardship to get my private licence. But here I am today, working hard again on studying and practising for that next ticket. (The passion has only grown stronger!) This article relates to an experience at a real life short field, which felt like a good practice in my commercial training.
In the spirit of living my passion for aviation, I like to gather around other aviation enthusiasts, and one of the monthly meetings I enjoy is the COPA Flight 169 breakfast that is held on the first Saturday of every month at 9:00am at Aylmer BBQ (yes you may come!). Over the last year or so, I attended these breakfasts quite a few times, and on each occasion, I met new and interesting people. They come from different backgrounds and live aviation differently either by how they fly, what they fly, or how involved they are with airplanes. You can meet aviation writers, volunteers, student pilots, weekend flyers, experienced bush pilots or mechanically inclined people that can tell you a trick or two around your airplane, if you own one. Everyone’s reason to come is different, but they all have one thing in common: an interest in aviation.
During one of those morning meetings, I had a chat with a fellow pilot, Michael Dixon, who also happens to own a grass strip in Low, Québec. A very short one: 850′. That caught my interest. And close to Gatineau. He invited me for a visit. It sounded like a great challenge! Even for the private pilot licence, they have us practice for short field landings and takeoffs, so I thought this was a great way to push my personal limits and gain some valuable experience along the way.
When I pointed out that 850′ of runway was pretty short, he suggested that I could only do a low pass and check it out. He told me to let him know when I would buzz around his neighbourhood and he would come out and take pictures. Michael enjoys having enthusiasts visit his grass strip.
I spent a few weeks thinking about it and considering the best way to do it. I read my airplane’s manual (POH) again, making calculations based on weight, temperature, surface, etc. Considering the length I would really need for a full stop, and take off, including the approximate benefits of a Horton STOL (Short Takeoff and Landing) kit installed on my airplane.
In October 2016, on the spur of the moment, wanting to enjoy a short break in my schedule on a beautiful Fall day to get a flight in, I decided to visit this short grass field. It’s only a very short hop away from my most-of-the-year base airport, CYND. My first thought was to only find it, and briefly check it out. After all, such a short grass runway among lots of farm fields, even with coordinates, could be hard to spot. But things turned out differently… Another spur of the moment? That latter one was certainly more calculated.
Using Foreflight on my iPad, with the saved coordinates, about 3 NM before arriving, I judged it would be a smart idea to start looking ahead for the strip. First look around… and there it is, almost right below me on my left! (That’s something I still haven’t figured out, how even using precise coordinates and matching it with the satellite map, I still experienced a discrepancy.)
Landing or not?
Anyhow, I found the place and decided to circle it a few time at about 500′ above ground. I was particularly interested in what was lined with each ends of the runway. Trees, bushes, fences, etc. Anything that could hinder my climb once my wheels were up. As well as the runway condition. Visualizing precisely and technically how I would land, and take off! Could I do it? It would be sort of embarrassing to land my little bird and not be able to get it airborne again, wouldn’t it?
Things were looking good to me from 500′ so I thought I would try a few approaches and overshoot at 100′ and see how it looked like up close. On my first approach, I notice a little figure by the left side: the owner! On my third approach, I touched my wheels down right at the start of the runway, and was fully stop within approximately 400′.
The strip is really nice and very well maintained. I received a warm welcome, and a tour of his place. Apparently he doesn’t get many visitors by airplanes. The house and location is totally an aviator’s dream. The perfectly charming house with access to your private « airport ». At least for someone who doesn’t mind using short field techniques on a regular basis. Really, this should be seen as an ecological way of optimizing land and simplifying aviation. After all, who needs 5000′ of runway with a Cessna 150? (I’m only partially joking here, in case you are wondering if I’m serious…) Although, I was asked once, at a controlled airport, if I was planning on taking off from the intersection or wanted to do a back track… mid-point of a 10,000′ long runway. I’m still puzzling if the controller was being sarcastic, funny or serious.
Getting my bird airborne again
When came time to take off, after a short stay (no pun intended in regards to the runway length by using the word « short » multiple times), the owner suggested I should wait to start my roll when the wind had picked up a bit and ideally straight down the runway, which I did. When I pushed full throttle, I had 5-8 knots of wind and with 10 degrees of flaps I was off the ground within about 600’*.
And off I was headed home again… with a stunning view of the mountains, flamed up with fall’s colors.
*Note: that’s after reviewing my GoPro video footage. When I was sitting in the airplane, I thought it look much longer, especially with the view of the 4-feet high fence in front of me. I was sitting tight and had full trust in my previous calculations.
Here is a brief (not to write short again!) video edit of my visit:
It is important to note the conditions for this flight.
- Sole occupant on board (I will omit to mention my weight, but below the standard Canadian woman as per the RAC.);
- 18° Celsius OAT;
- 3/4 fuel tanks, therefore a total weight of 1,400 lbs (out of a maximum weight of 1,600 lbs).
- Dry grass.