To the Eagle's Nest and Back
I'd been wanting for some time to fly to Eagle's Nest (W13), just outside Waynsboro, Virginia--but had been worried about it because the runway there is rather short, only 2009 feet. The shortest one I'd ever landed on before is at Orange County Airport. It's 3200 feet, and I hadn't found it to be too long. So I'd put off going to Eagle's Nest, even though someone said it's "the best-kept aviation secret in Virginia."
Also, I hadn't flown in about five weeks, so I decided to do a touch-and-go at FCI before leaving the pattern.. I tried for a short field landing, but was rusty and messed up the approach and turned short into long. I still hadn't really gotten the feel of the airplane back yet, but I just headed west, figuring that I'd have it back by the time I got there..
I used the GPS for backup navigation, but held to my course by pilotage--map, compass, and looking out the window. My course took me along the James River for about half the trip. The water was quite clear, and I could see down to the bottom all the way. I cruised first at 3000 feet and then went up to 5000 at the Blue Ridge Mountains. Flew through the Afton Mountain pass directly above I-64, with the peaks on each side only slightly below my wings. (Plenty of room, it's a broad pass.) The trees are turning color on the mountains, although they seemed muted this year, maybe because we had a relatively cool, damp summer.
Waynsboro is just west of the pass, and I hit it right on the button--but then couldn't spot the airport. Finally zoomed in on it with the GPS moving map and found that I was directly above it. The runway is a lot smaller than any of the roads in the area and is situated in mixed terrain--interstates, houses, woods, pastures, all jumbled together.
Then it was time to see if I could get down on it. Couldn't raise UNICOM. Looked for the windsock and thought I saw that it favored runway 6, with very light wind. But 6 also looked to be slightly downhill. Oh, well, I'll go into the wind and not worry about the slope.
This photo is on final approach. The runway is in the center. I can't see the horses, but they were on the hill just this side of the row of trees across the end of the runway, near the little white thing. This was on my third touch-and-go, when my approach was just about perfect.
I got myself on downwind and announced a touch-and-go. Flaps to 10 degrees. Turned base, flaps to 20 degrees., turned final... Well rats! I'd overshot on base. I knew to expect that a 2009 x 50 foot runway was going to throw off my perception, but it was farther off than I'd expected. Got lined up, but was high and fast. Three horses grazing right in line with the runway didn't even look up as I passed over them. With about one-third of the runway behind me and the wheels still ten feet up in the air, I went around. Call that one a low approach.
I stayed a little farther out on downwind and kept on going quite a long way before turning base. That time I actually got both main wheels onto the asphalt--but again about one-third of the way down the runway. Some guy in a twin took off right behind me and was out of sight before I got onto downwind. Rats.
Okay, so the third time I did reasonably well. Set up a stabilized approach a long way out. Got the tires down about 100 feet beyond the numbers and was going about the right speed. That was better. Went around again.
Number four. This time I did everything pretty well, although I was wonding about those horses. They still didn't look up, but I was close enough to see the whites of their eyes. Tires chirped on the numbers--the right place, but not too cool a touch-down. Was I going around again? Nah, let's see how well the brakes work in this thing. No problem! Turned off at the first taxiway, with two remaining. So it was just about by the book. The POH says the landing roll is 1250 feet over a 50 foot horse, and that's just about what I did. A piece of cake.
The nice, friendly FBO lady said she'd seen a puff of blue smoke when I touched down--maybe the engine was burning some oil, or something. Damn. It's bad enough to have trouble landing without some honey pulling your leg like that. She just laughed when I told her that it was the shortest runway I'd ever landed on, but then looked more sympathetic when I said that the next shortest was 3200 feet. She said then that she herself had once landed on the grass short of the runway and had knocked out a runway light.
Eagle's Nest is a really nice little airport. It has a parallel
grass runway, and lots of gliders tied down beside it. The FBO office
is brand new, and everyone there seems to love flying and airplanes and
When it came time to leave, the wind had shifted around. It was still light, but favored runway 24, so I just taxied out in front of the FBO onto the numbers, locked the brakes, and opened the throttle to get the rpms up and be sure the engine was going to do its thing. Released the brakes, accelerated to 60 mph, rotated, and was off. Cleared the 50 foot horse with plenty of room to spare. Piece of cake.
I flew straight out on the runway heading of 240 degrees, climbing at 75 mph, about Vy. Then I turned southeast toward the mountains, still climbing, and passed over the ridge well southwest of the pass with about 1000 feet to spare. From there on I gradually let down and cruised at about 2000 feet above the ground all the way back to FCI.
It was an altogether lovely flight both ways. And now I know about
2000 foot runways. Hm. Maybe there are some a little shorter...
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