September 8, 2010
By Dan Namowitz
Photos courtesy of Montana Pilots Association and the Recreational Aviation Foundation
It’s not every day that a new backcountry airstrip is declared open for public use. But that’s the good news from Montana’s Russian Flat, a 3,000-foot public landing strip high in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
Here is recreational flying as it was meant to be. Situated at an approximate elevation of 6,400 feet above sea level, adjacent to a U.S. Forest Service campground, Russian Flat was the newest airport built on National Forest Service land when AOPA President Craig Fuller visited in August 2009, hosted by the backcountry aviation-enthusiast pilots of the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF). The mission of the RAF is to preserve existing airstrips and create new public-use recreational airstrips throughout the United States.
Participants celebrated the effort as a successful collaboration to create the new airstrip while respecting what Judith District Ranger Ron Wiseman described as “our requests for low-impact access, and minimal disturbance to the land.”
“This is a precedent-setting event,” said Montana Pilots Association President Wade Cebulski.
The MPA saw the project through to completion with funding from the RAF, which enabled the purchase of such necessities as a runway roller and grass seed. Cebulski said he was “ecstatic” at a late-August weekend turnout of some 40 pilots, family members, and guests to put finishing touches on the strip. He also praised the participation of volunteers in work projects over the past year.
“Montana is seen nationally as a recreation destination, and Russian Flat airstrip serves to enlarge opportunities for recreational aviation. It’s collaborative partnerships like this that will ensure the ongoing success of recreational flying destinations,” said RAF President John McKenna.
A news release from the RAF advises pilots who’d like to drop in at Russian Flat (CTAF 122.9) to “bring tie-downs and park in the corral, as there could be cattle grazing. Recommended landing is uphill to the west; takeoff to the east, conditions permitting. As always, pilots are responsible for their and their airplane’s capabilities. Practice ‘no trace’ camping.” For those who want to fly in, the airport is located at 46 degrees 43 minutes 28.24 seconds north latitude and 110 degrees 24 minutes 41.07 seconds west longitude.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor.
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