Probable Cause #38: Too Short, Too Soft
This article originally appeared in Aviation Safety, June 2005.The romance of flying to an out-of-the-way location, one only accessible with a personal airplane, is a powerful attraction to many pilots and their passengers. Unfortunately, the landing areas at many remote destinations -- resorts, fishing camps, islands and lakes come to mind -- are not the wide, paved runways we came to know and love during our primary training. Often, the paved runways available at remote "airports" are poorly maintained -- bumpy, for example, or marked with well-faded paint. And, if you're flying something that can land and takeoff on water, you have a completely different set of priorities to consider when trying to find that perfect weekend destination or fishing spot. More common at such destinations, however, are turf runways. Unlike a paved landing area, using a turf runway can be very deceptive. For example, because most turf runways are wider than their paved counterparts, it can be difficult to judge length. Additionally, they rarely are as smooth as pavement and can feature soft spots and high grass that rob an airplane of its ability to accelerate with its wheels on the ground. And turf runways are usually shorter than paved ones, with trees and other obstructions lining the ends and sides. These natural obstructions can combine with tricky winds to make both airspeed control and the airplane's landing/takeoff performance a very real concern. A real danger is when a short, soft runway is combined with poor technique. On June 6, 2003, a 140-hour private pilot demonstrated how not to use a turf runway when the Cessna 172S Skyhawk SP he rented was destroyed on impact with trees and terrain during the initial climb from Runway 28 at the Pricket-Grooms Field Airport (6Y9) in Sidnaw, Mich. The pilot was killed in the accident and his passenger was seriously injured.