Perfect Spot: Building an Airstrip on Fremont Ridge

A father-and-son team are pooling their love of flying into the development of a 2,300-foot facility on top of a mesa in southern Utah.

The landing strip is on a mesa about 10 minutes to the south of Beaver, Utah. [Courtesy: Carson Stilson]

Carson Stilson’s career and life is centered around aviation. The founder of Wairworthy, an aviation-focused apparel company with over 600,000 followers across its social media channels, recently shared a special project with the world.

In October 2022, Stilson and his dad purchased 120 acres of land in southern Utah. From the outset, the intent was always to have a runway on the site.

“Location wise, we are about 10 minutes to the south of Beaver, Utah, up in the mountains [in the region of Fremont Indian State Park],” Stilson said. "We’ve named the land Fremont Ridge."

The first priority for Stilson and his father—both pilots and joint owners of a Rans S-20 Raven—was establishing a place to land.

"This chunk of the property which we got had a flat, open area on top of this mesa," Stilson said. "It was just big enough to be able to put a decent-sized runway, and it took about a month to clear all the sagebrush, cut out the runway, and put down [grass] seed. We started the process in late 2022, and the grass started sprouting up in the spring of 2023. The runway and base stuff have been ready to go for a little bit, but there’s still so much left to do.”

[Courtesy: Carson Stilson]

Stilson is hoping to put the grass strip on the map, both figuratively and literally. He said an upcoming priority is to get the runway noted on sectionals, in addition to finalizing plans to make the airport a bucket-list place for other pilots. 

“We put two small container cabins up there and plan to add more,” he said. “There are a lot of other amenities still on the way. We also plan to have a parking area, so people can park their plane once landing. Then we are going to be doing things like installing a pickleball court. The goal is to eventually…create a little pond and have some fishing up there," and add a large grass field for soccer.

“Then we have 20 acres off the end of the runway that we may potentially turn into an airpark. People could either rent a cabin or just come park their plane and stay for a night. We would like to make it something special and a great pit stop for pilots who might be traveling through or looking to adventure in southern Utah.”

Stilson has slowly been letting the aviation community know about the airstrip. Even without amenities, the unique landing site has been eyed by a number of aviators as a place they want to visit. 

You may wonder: Can I fly into the airstrip? Once the airstrip is added to the sectional, Stilson plans to start allowing others to visit. 

According to Stilson, Utah’s laws make it an easier decision to open up the property for other pilots to enjoy.

“Utah has recreational laws that protect people who open their lands to people who want to recreate on them,” he said. “What I’ve been told is it’s almost smarter to rely on those laws than to try to create any sort of a liability waiver yourself, because these laws are already pretty bulletproof. The way to put it is, ‘land at your own discretion.’ If I put it on the pilot that they chose to land [here], then they take the liability.

[Courtesy: Carson Stilson]

“That doesn’t mean I’m not going to make it very clear what some of the risks that come along with landing at this strip. I think most backcountry pilots will have no issue at all," he said. "The airstrip sits at roughly 7,000 feet, and it can get up to 95 degrees Fahrenheit up there. There’s a lot of risk with part of the runway that is essentially a no-go-around for most airplanes.”

Stilson has been intentional about making the roughly 2,300-foot airstrip as safe as he can. 

“If you don’t have climb performance, it’s going to be really hard," he said. "I recommend people land the opposite way, which is also a little more challenging because it’s slightly downhill. But at least you have a go-around option. [When landing] you have to hug some mountains and your base-to-final [turn] can be a little interesting, since you have to clear a couple of trees. We are working on doing what we can to make it a little safer, just because it’s somewhat technical.”

The fact that the airstrip sits on a mesa presents another challenge.

"You get that aircraft carrier landing from the winds that can potentially drop you down very quickly if you’re not careful," Stilson said. "There are definitely a few technicalities to consider. But I think they are not going to be a huge deal, especially because we installed a [SayWeather] system and a windsock. This was a no-brainer for me because I need pilots to be able to get the wind direction and speed, as well as the density altitude.” 

In an attempt to help keep backcountry aviation alive, Stilson said he created this runway to spark a sense of adventure.

“Southern Utah is perhaps one of the most magical places to explore as a backcountry pilot. I’m an avid member of the Utah Backcountry Pilots Association and strive to be a good steward of the beautiful state we live in," he said. "I hope our small airstrip opens the door to pilots who want to experience the southwest in a unique way.”

Grant Boyd is a private pilot with eight years of experience in aviation business, including marketing, writing, customer service, and sales. Boyd holds a Bachelor's and a Master's of Business Administration degree, both from Wichita State University, and a Doctor of Education degree from Oklahoma State University. He was chosen as a NBAA Business Aviation "Top 40 Under 40" award recipient in 2020.

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