by Levi Eastlick
Chief Pilot, Wisconsin Bureau of Aeronautics
Published in Midwest Flyer – August/September 2018 issue
As pilots, we all have our preferences, high-wing or low-wing, paper or electronic charts, PT-6 or TPE-331, Blue Angels or Thunderbirds. Similarly, some of us prefer grass over pavement. If that’s you, I encourage you to check out our new map depicting all public-use airports with turf runways in the state. The map can be found on the next page or an electronic version can be downloaded from our website.
Turf runways appeal to many pilots for a variety of reasons. Some may choose turf for the added sense of adventure. There is certainly a level of fun associated with landing off the pavement that provides a sort of back country, “real flying” connection with aviation’s roots (pun intended). Other pilots may prefer the unique landing and takeoff characteristics afforded by turf. For example, when landing an aircraft without brakes or a third wheel, grass can be useful for slowing down. Also, grass is more forgiving than pavement for those who are developing their landing skills.
Whether turf is the practical or fun option, pilots should become familiar with aircraft performance. On grass surfaces, most airplanes won’t hit normal takeoff performance numbers out of the Pilot’s Operating Handbook (POH) resulting in longer than normal takeoff and climb performance. No matter the airplane type, braking action could be next to null under some circumstances as well, increasing landing distance. Many handbooks offer an estimated increase to the normal performance numbers, but even the best written POH doesn’t specify takeoff ground roll in 18 inches of dewy morning grass. So, it pays to be familiar with the airport environment and your airplane!
We like to think that we have some of the best turf runways in the country here in Wisconsin, but of course, not all runways are created equal. As always, exercise prudent flight planning to determine if you can fly in and out of an airport safely. Try to pick physical abort points located on or near the runway for both landing and takeoff. Set personal minimums for yourself and yes, length of grass on the runway can be a criterion. We encourage all pilots to become equally comfortable on both grass and pavement. There might come a time when you may not be able to choose the surface you land on.
If you’re interested in getting your tires dirty for the first time, we recommend flying with an instructor or another pilot experienced in turf operations. Also, be sure to check out wisconsindot.gov/AVtraining for more information related to pilot education programs, safety seminars and airport events.