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Do You Remember Your First Off Airport Landing?PleaseShare


Registered User
Fairbanks, Alaska
How many of you had your wife with you on your first off airport landing???? Not sure thats the smartest thing to do but it worked for me. I moved to Alaska in 1978, had been a pilot for about 9 years prior. I had lived in northern California and worked for a Piper Dealer. Only tailwheel time I had was in 7AC champs (65 and 85 hp), about 100 hours about 5 years prior. I took a job in Fairbanks as a mechanic working on Twin Otters and flying part time as a co-pilot in the Otters. I got to know one of the Twin Otter captains who had a super cub. He asked if I would do his maintenance in exchange for the use of the cub. I said you bet! I did his annual in the summer of 79. It was a stock 1959 model 150 hp with GarAero 29X10 tires. He said let's go for a ride and see how you do. I flew around for awhile and made several landings and he said you can use it any time you want. Just don't wreck it this summer because I have a moose hunt planned on the north slope in late Aug. After that it wouldn't matter because we would have all winter to fix it! I was thinking I would prefer not to wreck it at all. I flew the cub 2 times making landings in Fairbanks. I was wondering what my wife would think about the cub. A few weeks later I gave my wife her first Cub ride. Now this is a California raised girl who was used to riding around in new pipers and bonanzas the past 5 years. I thought she would hate this slow, drafty and noisy airplane. I wanted to try out the cub and go fishing. I had heard of a off airport strip by this lake. The strip looked short and narrow at the time. It was about 500 foot elevation, maybe 600-800 feet long. It was cut into some blackspruce trees. But it was narrow and the willows had grown right up to the edge of the strip. There was no room for wandering off the non existent centerline. The willows had been cut down a few years prior and were about 2 feet stubs. So there was plenty of room for the wings to clear. The strip was about 15 feet wide, at the S/E end it was flat for about 150-200 feet and then went across a hill that went uphill to the left. I made a couple of passes to look it over. I touched down at the part where it was sidehill slightly and remember bouncing a couple times. Felt like I was going down hill into the bushes. My feet were busy on the rudders to keep it on the strip. Once down it was to narrow to turn around until I taxied to the end. We fished for pike, took pictures and had a fun afternoon picnic. When it came time to go the wind still favored taking off the same direction as I had landed. It looked short because you couldn't see the other end over the hill. In order to get full length we would have to push the cub backwards about 150 feet into a hole between the trees. The wife and I pushed it back thinking we would need all we could get. At about 150-200 feet from the takeoff end there was a small washout we had to go thru on takeoff. On takeoff we hit the wash and started bouncing (almost flying) and I pulled some flaps and we were airborne. My wife immediately fell in love with the cub. She said she likes to go slow and see things. On the way home we saw lots of moose and on approach to the old Fairbanks ski strip we saw a black bear sow with 2 cubs just 1/4 mile off the end of the strip by the Tanana River. Five years later we bought our own cub. We bought floats for it (the wife really loves it on floats) a couple years later. We still have the same cub today. Twenty seven years (Hunting Alaska) later I still have to smile to myself when I think of that day on takeoff with the wife, thinking I had a heavy load in that airplane! It is amazing what a cub can do. Safe flying to all.
Good for your wife she sounds like a keeper. I too took my wife on a similar adventure but was on floats out of Juneau she likes taking pictures with her "everything on it camera" we saw whales, bald eagles, fishing villages and more. even though the weather wasn't that good she loved it more than traveling around in my C-185. Thanks for the reminder, great story.
Thanks Pete for the story! Reading the story of your memory is a great way to start the day, made me smile!

My first, with an instructor, was on a dry lakebed near Havre, MT, in a 90hp Champ. My first one solo was at my future father-in-law's farm, on a mechanically leveled hay field, with irrigation dikes 60 ft. apart, about 2000 ft long, in a 150. That field was longer and smoother than many of the public-use airports in the area, but it was, by God, off airport! Both of these occurred in 1971.

The strip on my farm is considered "off airport" by some city pilots I know, but it seems quite civilized to me.

Good memories indeed. My addiction started in a PA-12 on straight skis.

I had flown maybe 4 hours in a Citabria out of a 5000’ asphalt field almost 10 years prior to the ski flight. A month previous I flew an x-country in a 185. Besides that, almost all my flying was off pavement in 172’s, 182’s and Piper Arrows. Everything I learned taught me the more speed and altitude you could get the better.

The day I took my first flight in the PA-12 was slightly overcast, cold, and we had about a 10 knot wind. As we taxied onto the middle of the lake my instructor Brian told me he would demonstrate the first take off and landing. The windscreen was filled with the trees at the end of the lake when he asked if I was ready. Ready?! You’ve got to be kidding me I thought. There’s 5000’ feet of lake behind us and nothing between us and the trees. I asked if he was sure we had enough room to which he reassured me with “Oh… I think so.”

My heart rate doubled when the power came up and I started to wonder how we would egress from the treetops. However, before I even completed the thought the tail came up and an instant later we were lifting off the lake. By the time we crossed the tree line we were 800’ AGL and to my surprise in one piece.

Right off I was blown away by the visibility over the cowl and out the seaplane door. The ball seemed to have a mind of it’s own but the stick and rudders were fairly responsive. By my third or fourth turn I was pretty much able to keep the ball from being pegged to one side or the other. As the fingers on my throttle hand started to go numb I become more aware of the cub’s interior. It was a little draftier than I was used to and a little louder. It even had a different smell.

Soon enough we were setting up so Brian could demonstrate a landing. The first landing in the snow was something else. Here we are settling into ground effect with the tail low at what feels like a brisk walk. All of a sudden I realize the sound I hear has to be the skis gliding through the snow. The power comes out and we coast to a stop. At this Brian tells me.. “Ok… Now your turn.”

We are even further away from the trees than we were on our last take off. I saw the tracks in the snow and I know we were airborne right after we started moving. I clearly remember crossing the trees with lots of altitude to spare. But damn… they still fill the windscreen and I can’t help but ask… “Are you sure we have enough room?”

I’m grinning as I write this now and I was grinning even harder then. We of course cleared the treetops with 700 feet plus to spare and the Cub came off the lake effortlessly. We spent the next 2 hours bouncing in and out of lakes that I forgot existed. The dozens of nearby slews became playgrounds and I was able to watch the wildlife with a clarity I hadn’t seen from another airplane.

And that was it… I was hooked on Cub’s and flying off airport. If by some miracle that wasn’t enough to get you hooked… It turns out float season was right around the corner…
lucky husband

Yes Jerry I have been very lucky to have a wife that supported my flying bug. This next March will have been married 36 years. Another short story about my wifes first ride on ski's the next year, spring 1980. Same borrowed cub N9925D. I think you get an attachment to your first cub. I still like that cub better than the one I've had for 27 years. Back to my short story! It was spring in late April and about 45 degrees F out side, bright sunshine, great day for flying. I took the wife out on ski's. This was my first season on ski's, all on frozen lakes & rivers or packed snow. It was always interesting leaving Fairbanks ski strip in this cub because it had a real old tube Narco radio and a generator. It needed 1500 RPM or more for the radio to work. Well on ski's that can become a problem on packed taxiways. I learned to taxi off the side of the taxiway into the deeper snow and stop for a moment before calling the tower. Ski's would stick a little and usually hold enough for a call to tower. We departed Fairbanks and flew east about 25 miles. This was supposed to be just a sightseeing flight. But I wanted to try my new found skills (or lack of) and land somewhere. We are flying along and I told the wife we should stop to take the oil cooler cover off. Soon we saw this small lake about 1000 feet long and a couple hundred feet wide that had ski tracks (decoys as I call them now) on it. I thought hey there is one that has been tried with success. Didn't pay attention to the fact that it was just a touch and go, and could have been made earlier in the winter when it was cold. I made a couple passes on it. There was no wind at the time, a cub loves the wind. The third time I landed (remember it is a 45 degree's afternoon) reduce power and sank in about 3 feet of snow, I goosed it and wobbled around breaking through the snow. By then it was to late to go around so I made a turn around and went back to the approach end. As I came to the end I was barely making headway and getting close to the trees so I cut the power and we sank before completing the turn around. I shut it down and told the wife I'm just going to get out for a minute and lift the tail around to get us pointed in the correct direction. I get out and go up to my hip pockets in snow. :( At least there was no overflow. Well I couldn't budge the tail around, so the wife had to get out and join me. What I hadn't realized was just as I stopped my ski's had been burrowing under 2 foot high dried lake grass that had been snowed over. Struggling we finally got the tail around. I didn't have a snow shovel along, just snow shoes. I dug out the ski's I found the ski tips under this dried lake grass. So I removed the grass and tromped out in front of both skis for about 30 feet so I could get on top for takeoff. Knowing the way it acted at almost full power while breaking thur the snow during taxi made me wonder if we could get out of this lake with both of us in the airplane. I suggested for safety sake that my wife wait and let me make one takeoff and then come back after I saw how things went. Exact words were HELL NO, :evil: you are not leaving me here, we either make it or we don't but we are going together. (My wife still like to tell this story about how I tried to get rid of her). OK we will try it and if I have to abort that will work, it's not like you can't get stopped in 3 feet of partially wet snow. We buckled in and away we went, I think we used about 200 feet and were airborne and smiling once again. :D I have learned a lot since those years. I guess I don't know how to write a short story, sorry.
I wrote this in 2002.

The original post is in "Tales of the PA-18" Forum, Page 2, called "My Shadows"


It was a cool Saturday morning in the Mississippi Delta. Not a common occurrence for this part of the country. Thomas Butler had invited me to go for a ride in his Dad's plane the previous day. I hardly slept a wink that night. We arrived at the airport early the next morning. The sun had just come up and the dew was still on the ground. As we walked through the gate towards the ramp it caught my eye. A yellow airplane with a black stripe. Nothing special, just an airplane that I thought was perfect. I can remember thinking "I can fly this" it looked so easy, no switches, no key, just two pedals and something to hold on to. When I found out that this was the airplane we would fly on that life changing morning I was the happiest boy alive. After a quick walk around Mr. Butler fired the old cub up and we were on our way. I can remember Thomas and I were strapped into the back seat together. And even at eight years old I was a little closer to another guy than I would like to be. We taxied past airplanes and bean fields to the intersection of one of the runways. The next thing I knew we were accelerating down the runway, I was looking out toward the west as we took off. I saw the shadow of the plane slide across the ground away from us until we turned. It was a very sure feeling. And it was one of the first sure things in my life that I can truly remember. From the 8000' runway we flew low over to a small grass strip. Upon touchdown the wet grass shot water up from behind the mains like a fire hose. We did a few touch and go's and flew over our houses. From there we went back to the airport and as we got closer to the ground the shadow came into view. I reluctantly watched it as it came to greet us on the ground. My first flight was over and I never flew in that plane again, but on that day I was the luckiest boy alive and I have never forgotten the sight of that shadow breaking ties with the object that created it. To this day, every time I fly, I watch my shadow slowly slide away. I hope that I will always be able to put some distance between my shadows and me. After all, the one thing that connects us to our shadow is the ground, and only those of us who fly will ever know what that means.


I recently spent some time with Thomas. We took our children Skiing. It was his birthday that week and I had a photo of us blown up, framed, and had this story written on the back of the frame for his birthday. Flying sure is an emotional thing ain't it?
My first off airport landing was when my dad flew my wife and I on a 2 hour flight to visit his dad in Arnold, Kansas. We landed on a dirt road and taxied right up to his front door. I will never forget the grin on my grandads face when he open his screen door to see us there in his yard. We started back late and had to fly the last hour in the dark. We were in the pattern to land when I looked back at my wife and I noticed she was sleeping. I yelled we were almost to land but she did'nt hear me so I yelled again. I finally had to slap her to wake her up. I thought she passed out or was getting to much carbon monoxide, anyway she came out of it and soon was awake, kinda. Then, my dad noticed that only one line of run way lights were lite. He must have been ready to get out of the tri-pacer, I don't think a go around was in his mind at all. He made a stab at landing only to relize we was outside the runway on the grass, so he crossed over taking out a light or two and finally got the plane safely down. Driving home he felt bad that he forgot he had landing lights on the plane and could have used them to help him find the pavement. teeweed
off airport landing

Must have been when I was about 6 years old and my Dad kept his Cessna 120 in the back yard and flew out of the neighbors alfalfa field.
About my only memory from 6 years old, but it's a good one.
My first "cub" off airport landing was when I was 3 or 4 years old in the back of John Clauses Super Cub. Probably 1970ish when they flew off a little strip where Independce Park subdivision sits now. It was winter, on skiis then.
My very first off airport landing was with the Cub Guru in the J-3 I had purchased on a whim. We were landing at his private grass airstrip adjacent to a seaplane base on a lake. All I remember thinking is that "that is waaayyyy too small" and thngs happening so quickly that I was just along for the ride... :lol:

He slipped it in over the wires and we swished into the grass. All I could think was that I would never be able to do that! But I did about three weeks later. :D It's still one of my all time favorite fields and a rush of memories of planes, people and events everytime I land there. It is like coming home.
These are great stories, so I guess it's up to me to add a strange one....
Had to think hard about this, it was in 1970, and I was a 12 hour student. My instructor talked me down to a landing on the salt flats when I was 'under the hood', (in a cherokee 140) to prove to me that a private pilot had all the skills he needed to land in total IMC if he let himself be talked down by a tower person....(don't know for sure if THEY would be up to it...)...the week before, we had done this in a Frasca simulator (the kind that dragged a grease pencil around on a scale map of the SLC airport) and, foolishly, I thought he was done with that particular lesson.....

Didn't slow down too much after landing...might have sunk....
Two memories come to mind. The first was landing the J-3 cub that I got my tailwheel rating in at a little tiny grass strip that was private. Still almost qualified as an airport as the school it was associated with (near Enumclaw, WA) used it regularly.

My first, true, off-airport landing was in my PA-12, following Chris Duros (Mikey here on the site) into a sandbar on the Skagit. This was on 8.5X6 tires and me being a low-time pilot. He landed first and walked the bar, and then talked me in with a hand-held radio. Took a week for me to wipe the grin off my face. Somewhere I have the picture from that day...
Being a Mooney owner at the time, BUT being allowed to fly fobjob's airplane (with him in the back) we landed at a local desert truck stop with two gravel runways adjacent to the parking lot.

Bought my SuperCub six months later. kept the Mooney for another year, flew it rarely and sold it! That was almost 8 years ago.
I don't know about the first off field landing but I do remember my first takeoff from a trailer with straight floats. (and this is my first time trying to post a picture so it may not take)
Jerry Gaston said:
oops! It didn't take what did i do wrong?


your "]" was in the wrong spot, need to have it after the "[img" so it looks like this and you need to take the "]" off after the jpg.

Got it?


Let me know when you read it and I will delete this junk.....
My first off-airport landing was in a P-35 Bonanza... Certainly not a back-country airplane, but the circumstances under which this landing happened were unique.
No, it wasn't a mechanical problem... more like hydraulics.. But, you interject, a Bonanza does not have a hydraulic system........

The story begins with an invitation to go motorcycle riding in the desert east of Palmdale, California. Some friends at work planned to spend a weekend in the vicinity of El Mirage Dry Lake. They were going to camp at the east end of the lake and ride dirt bikes, cook burgers, and do all the fun things one can do on a weekend out in the boonies.
My wife and I were invited. HMMMM, I thought. A dry lake... it sounds like I could take the Bonanza.. My friends were enthusiastic. I could take them for airplane rides and they would loan me a motorcycle.. win-win for all!
Saturday morning arrived and we drove down the hill to Torrance Airport. It was a beautiful day and I was looking forward to the 45 minute flight over the mountains to El Mirage. Our Bonanza had excellent range, however, my wife did not. About 15 minutes into the flight, she began the usual fidgeting that preceeded the question "When will we get there?"
"Soon" I assured her and the flight continued. We arrived at El Mirage and I descended toward the spot where we planned to meet. The dry lake is quite large and I had never been there before so I began a search for the area that had been described to me. (This was before GPS was invented - we had to navigate the old fashioned way by looking out the window.)
We circled what I thought to be the east end of the dry lake with no luck in finding our friends. In fact, there was almost nobody in the area at all.
Of course, my wife was growing increasingly restless and the fidgeting grew more pronounced as the flight time lengthened. Finally, the statement I was expecting was issued. "We've got to land - I gotta pee!"
"We'll find them soon" I assured her, but soon turned to 20 more minutes as I widened my search area. "I'm declaring an emergency!" she stated firmly. "You have to land NOW!" "Where?" I asked. "ANYWHERE - find a bush and land near it!" she yelled! "There are no bushes! - this is a dry lake!" I responded. "JUST LAND!!!" she shouted.
I looked around for a suitable landing spot and saw what I thought might be an answer to her distress. There was a motor home parked all by itself at the edge of the dry lake. No one else around for at least 5 miles. Apparently, all this guy wanted was some peace and quite away from all the interruptions on city life.

Even to to this day, I have never forgotten the astonished look on his face when an airplane lands, taxies up to his remote hideaway, a woman jumps out and announced that she'd like to use his bathroom! :crazyeyes:
my first off-airport (more off pavement i guess) landing was while working on my tailwheel rating in a 150 horse 7kcab. my instructor did AG work in the summers so he knew all the other local guys with their own dirt strips in the area. so rather after we did a good 40 take off and landings in a couple hours, we started flying to various little strips in the area. another fun/challenging part of it was that my instructor didn't want me to develop any habitual pattern work, so after evert takeoff he would make up some new pattern for me to fly, " this time just climb to 600 feet and do a left 90, then a right 270 back to final" i think that maneuver was reminiscent of his AG spraying maneuvers, but it was a lit of fun. we did a bit of aerobatics, but the stuff that really got me was off airport flying, no aerobatic maneuver matched the rush of working on wheel landings on a 18x1800 strip in a citabria, the taxiways at my home airport are wider than this thing.... the only "problem" was that, i really had no drive whatsoever to climb into a 172 and work on my instrument rating. i got the tailwheel bug something fierce. it seemed like every time i got in a 172 id be asking my instructor if it was supposed to be soo heavy on the controls. it felt like i was flying a garbage truck. he thought it was completely normal though, poor guy. so now i have about 20 hours in citabrias, and wishing i could get some time in a supercub. or maybe just get a supercub, i'd like that too.
My first was in an PA-18-150 on Gar-Aeros (or whatever they had back then that was around 29 inches high) with my primary instructor.
He was always pulling the power and having me do emergency landings. One cold, but sunny winter day, he did it over a double wide snow-machine trail. All that practice worked out.
My first was in my first plane, a Stinson 108. A neighbor near where I lived had a field and gave me permission to land there. Man it was rough. Didn't land there many times. It sure seemed like the trees were coming at me fast, but I had walked it off and here was plenty of room, just not what I was used to seeing........Ron
My first off airport landing was in 1989 when my PA-12 had a O-235 w/ 8.50x6 tires & I had my solo endorsement. The location is a gravel bar at the mouth of Lake Creek on the Yentna river 60 miles NW of Anchorage.

A friend offered me the use of his cabin on a lake about two miles upstream from the mouth of Lake Creek. Great I thought, I'll land on the gravel bar and bushwack up to the cabin. The following weekend, about Oct 7th, off I went. The flight up was great. The landing was uneventful since the Yentna was low and the gravel bar long. I secured the plane, pulled out the backpack, and headed up the river. About an hour later I arrived at the cabin and settled in. About ten that evening I went out to do my business and check the weather. All was fine.

I woke up Saturday morning to 9" of wet heavy snow. The snow had stopped and turned to a light rain. I scrapped my plans to trout fish, packed up and headed back to the river mouth. When I arrived back at the gravel bar I immediately cleaned the heavy snow off the plane.

I knew could not take off in 9" of snow w/ 8.50 tires on a 1500' gravel bar. I needed to figure out how to pack a runway. Well, I didn't have to figure very long because soon enough out of the snowy forest came a guy on a Skidoo Alpine. Tom, who owned a lodge near by pulled up to say he would pack a runway and if the weather improved would be leaving as soon as possible.

Ok. I'll fast foward. Tom and his wife took off for Willow in their Bird Dog. I did not trust the weather so I decided to fly to Skwentna and land on the maintained airport and wait out the weather at the lodge. I made about 10 attempts to take off. I could not get the plane airborne. The snow was too soft. I was committed to spend the night and hope for a freeze. I started to repack the runway with Tom's Alpine. About half way through
Tom and his wife returned. They could not get to Willow. So we all spent the night at their Lodge.

The next morning was still scratchy weather wise for a rookie like me but the runway was hard. Tom and his wife left for Willow and I went to Skwentna and the lodge. On Wednesday I left Skwentna for Anchorage, got to within 10 miles of town, ran into a heavy snow squall, turned north towards Wasilla and eventuall landed in Willow. I left my plane in Willow, hitchhiked to Wasilla, then caught a ride with our company truck back to Anchorage.

Thats my story and I'm sticking with it. Thank you Tom.
I have to admit that I don't remember anything about this, but this is how my parents related it to me. My mother went to see her folks in the Ozark Mountains of NW Arkansas shortly after I was born. I stayed home with my paternal grandparents. My father got the bright idea that he and I would fly from Dallas to join up. I was 6 weeks old! We got off of Love Field later than planned, but he said it was a pleasant flight, with me asleep in his lap, and the BT-13 hummed along, leaking fuel all the way. Arriving after dark, we circled town (down low, I suspect) until a string of cars headed to the family farm, just on the edge of the town limits. My grandfather had been through this drill before, so he lined the cars up on both sides of the pasture runway, with their headlights angled in slightly. After an uneventful landing, my dad handed me, still asleep, to my mother, who proclaimed that she would never let him take me flying again! She did though, and the rest is history.
Landing in the water in a Grumman Goose close to Skagway Ak. Don't remember any details on why we were in the a/c or where we were going as I was only 7. But, I do remember all the dials, levers, buttons etc. that I watched the pilot twiddle with from the right seat. Remember the big radials starting up and the airplane threatening to come apart. Also remember touching down in the water and the spray going everywhere. I remember thinking right then and there that I wanted to fly airplanes someday.
I had been passenger on many off airport landings, mostly floats, a couple on roadways but never on a gravelbar. At some point I got the silly idea that I could afford my own plane and bought a really nice T-crate. I was about 8 hours into my training for my ppl and my instructor would always pull the power and declare "engine out, what you gonna do?" After going through the glide/grass/gas routine I would be headed for a marginal swamp and thinking about how ugly my plane would look if I really had to put it down there. This time we were over the Knik river and a monstrous gravel bar, probably big enough for a DC-6. Went through the normal routine and was all lined up for landing, waiting for the word that my fuel had regenerated or what ever miraculously changed that I was again at full power. He never gave the word so I just continued to a full stop landing. He said "Thanks, I gotta pee!". I casually gave a nod and shut it down. I will always remember that landing as one of the greatest moments I have had in flying, I think of it often after landing in a new place, climbing out of the plane and feeling like I am in the middle of nowhere. Of course that time I could hear cars on the old Glenn Hwy, after I had calmed down a bit.
I had 20hrs TT, 11hrs Solo. I was on my long cross country in the rugged sky king C-150. Things were fine and then holy s--t, what the hell, were the first thoughts that came to mind as I had a sudden loss of power and the C-150 was now vibrating like hell. Didn't have a clue, I was wondering what did I do to cause this, added power things only shook worse, pulled power back things were better. I was 20 mi. from nearest airport and wasn't maintaining altitude very well. Could I make it? Was this thing going to hold together? Hell if I knew, but what I did know was that beneath me was a farmer harrowing his field for a nice smooth seed bed.
I circled down, made a pattern entry and landed in the field, uneventful except for the beating of my heart.
Called a friend to fly out and get me (Instructor was at a meeting)
Shaft running thru the rocker arm had broke causing valve failure.