America’s Shortest Runways

We consider getting by with as little runway as possible by taking a look at 10 of the shortest strips.

The incredible short runway at Simko Field in Inkom, Idaho. [Courtesy: Simko Field]

While long, wide runways can be a welcoming sight, short fields truly draw us in. Pilots love a challenge, and a turf strip roughly half the length of your home airport’s runway and carved out of a forest on a hillside can be an irresistible invitation.

Short runways can also give us pause. After years of flying off smoothly paved strips that are at least 4,000 feet long and 75 feet wide, a 1,500-foot gravel path that seems barely wider than your driveway might be too terrifying to consider. Still, we know that out-of-the-way airports with minimal runways often are gateways to memorable places and one-of-a-kind experiences. Pilots who want to get the most out of flying naturally include such destinations in their travel plans.

One good approach is to practice short-field technique often. Consider doing so with an instructor if you are especially rusty. I regularly fly into an airport with a 2,000-foot runway, which on many days can be enough of a challenge. But if I can make the turnoff at the halfway point without drama, I begin to feel my inner bush pilot emerging.

No matter how short your last landing was, though, there always seems to be another runway that is shorter still. So keep practicing and, to paraphrase Clint Eastwood in “Magnum Force,”’ know your limitations.

Below are some of the shortest runways listed in airport directories. We focused on airports that are open to the public, but included a couple of private-use strips that seem impossibly short.

Simko Field (1ID9)

Serving: Inkom, Idaho
Elevation AMSL: 5,640 feet
Shortest Runway: 1/19
Dimensions: 400 x 20 feet
Surface: Turf
Fun facts: This may be cheating, but when you search for “short runways in the U.S.,” this one typically tops the list. And while 400 feet might sound more like a patch than a runway, owner Tom Simko says he routinely flies his Rans S-7 light sport aircraft from here, often on skis. A significant slope means you take off downhill and land uphill.

Ousel Falls Airport is near the Ousel Falls trail. [Courtesy: National Park Service]

Ousel Falls Airport (MT94)

Serving: Big Sky, Montana
Elevation AMSL: 6,600 feet
Shortest Runway: 5/23
Dimensions: 900 x 60 feet
Surface: Turf
Fun facts: This strip might look more like your neighbor’s backyard than your home airport. But it is close to Big Sky attractions including Lone Peak, resorts and the Ousel Falls Trail. If 900 feet is just too short, you could try Ennis-Big Sky Airport, which is 13 nm away and has a 7,600-foot runway.

Hinshaw Airport (N61)

Serving: Liberty, North Carolina
Elevation AMSL: 750 feet
Shortest Runway: 3/21
Dimensions: 1,400 x 100 feet
Surface: Turf
Fun facts: It seems like a rule of thumb that public airports have runways that are at least 1,500 feet long, but Hinshaw is an exception. The airport is three miles from the center of Liberty, which is known for the Liberty Antiques Festival, held April 29-30 and September 23-24.

[Courtesy: Wilson Bar USFS Airport]

Wilson Bar USFS Airstrip (C48)

Serving: Warren, Idaho
Elevation AMSL: 2,275 feet
Shortest Runway: 6/24
Dimensions: 1,500 x 50 feet
Surface: Turf/dirt
Fun facts: This U.S. Forest Service airport is located in the Nez Perce National Forest, which covers about 4 million acres. Designated wilderness areas within the park include the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, Hells Canyon Wilderness, Gospel Hump Wilderness and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness. The forest also includes the Penman Deposit, a former gold-mining hub.

Soldier Bar USFS Airport (85U)

Serving: Soldier Bar, Idaho
Elevation AMSL: 4,190 feet
Shortest Runway: 7/25
Dimensions: 1,650 x 15 feet
Surface: Dirt
Fun facts: According to Forest Service documents, the airport got its name from Private Harry Eagan, a soldier who was buried in the site after dying from wounds sustained in an 1879 battle with indigenous Shoshone fighters. Work on the airport began in 1932 and Bob Johnson of Johnson Flying Service was first to land there, flying a Travel Air. 

[Courtesy: Washington Department of Transportation]

Camano Island Airfield (13W)

Serving: Stanwood, Washington
Elevation AMSL: 145 feet
Shortest Runway: 16/34
Dimensions: 1,750 x 24 feet
Surface: Asphalt
Fun facts: This field is home to P.Ponk Aviation, which is well known for engine conversions, landing gear modifications and other STC work on Cessnas, particularly 180s and 185s. Speaking of modifications, the company name is a twist on the founding family’s name, Knopp, spelled backward. 

Converse Airport (1I8)

Serving: Converse, Indiana
Elevation AMSL: 840 feet
Shortest Runway: 7/25
Dimensions: 1,800 x 40
Surface: Asphalt
Fun facts: Founded during World War II as a satellite airport for the former Bunker Hill naval Air Station, the field exhibits the octagonal shape that was ideal for airports at the time, allowing tor takeoffs and landings into the wind regardless of direction. 

Inter County Airport (31D)

Serving: McKeesport, Pennsylvania
Elevation AMSL: 1,250 feet
Shortest Runway: East/West
Dimensions: 1,800 x 120 feet
Surface: Turf
Fun facts: Just 22 nautical miles from Pittsburgh International Airport, this field is also clear of Pittsburgh’s class B airspace. Pilots landing there can visit McKeesport, named for David McKee, a Scottish settler who moved to the area in 1755.

[Courtesy: Clearview Flying Club]

Clearview Airpark (2W2)

Serving: Westminster, Maryland
Elevation AMSL: 798.6 feet
Shortest Runway: 14/32
Dimensions: 1,840 x 30 feet
Surface: Asphalt
Fun facts: There is an active flying club based at this airport with more than 60 and three aircraft. The group includes flight instructors for various levels of training including private pilot certificates and instrument ratings. Monthly club activities include cookouts, safety and educational seminars and movie nights.

[Photo: Friends of Pacific City State Airport Facebook Page]

Pacific City State Airport (KPFC)

Serving: Pacific City, Oregon
Elevation AMSL: 10 feet
Shortest Runway: 14/32
Dimensions: 1,860 x 30 feet
Surface: Asphalt
Fun facts: This may be the longest runway in this group, but experience tells us many pilots begin to feel queasy on anything shorter than 2,000 feet. We’ll still call it a short strip. Practicing ahead of time to hone your technique is worth the effort as beaches are walking distance from the airport.

Jonathan Welsh is a private pilot who worked as a reporter, editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal for 21 years, mostly covering the auto industry. His passion for aviation began in childhood with balsa-wood gliders his aunt would buy for him at the corner store. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @JonathanWelsh4

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