I will admit that I am not a big cross-country guy. Most of my flying has been to interesting places to visit friends or landing on my way to SUN ’n FUN or another convention somewhere. I prefer short hops to short or interesting strips. I am a “takeoffandlander” kind of guy. Most of my flying is just a step or two more than flying home to see Mom.

From my early days of flying, a couple buddies and I would see how many airports we could land at on a Sunday. We raced everywhere and flew formation in some very unequally performing airplanes. Fun was the thing on weekends. A lot of those airports are closed now; one was so up and downhill you could not see over the south end. Landing to the north you thought you would never touch down!

While it sounds frivolous these days, it honed our pilot skills, especially the “close to the ground” skills that create a lot of confidence when you find things getting dicey. I thoroughly enjoy new, different strips that challenge my creativity and airmanship.

Downtown Airport in Springfield, Missouri.
Photo courtesy of Jim Cavanagh

Downtown Airport (3DW)

One airport that has always stood out is Downtown Airport in Springfield, Missouri. It was the first weird airport I ever landed at! 3DW is a privately owned airport pretty much in the middle of town, surrounded by a light industrial neighborhood and homes. There are about 40 aircraft based there. What is interesting is that there is a huge radio tower right on the field. If you are not used to having a tower and guy wires just off the runway, it is memorable. We are spoiled at altitude with all of the space around us and towers, drones, flying formation, or just missing a bird makes us think.

The airport itself is very nice — 1,374 feet MSL and more than 4,000 feet long. It is almost a perfect nontowered home base. I have been in and out of 3DW a few times and, while I suppose you get used to the tower, it certainly stands out as a talking point!

Pea Patch Airport

Pea Patch Airport in Ozark, Missouri, has disappeared but it was legend in the area. Pea Patch was owned by a retired NASA scientist whose hobby was finding meteorites.

The runway was turf with 50-foot oak trees at one end and a drop off into a deep valley that meandered off toward Arkansas at the other. In all but a stiff wind, one would land to the north, flying up the valley level with the end of the runway. With the valley getting closer and closer to your wheels, you would chop power just before the end of the strip. People would come early to the annual roast beef picnic just to watch landings because they averaged pranging one airplane every year!

To use every possible inch of runway, you had to approach as slowly as possible and touch down with one hand pulling up flaps and the other pulling the yoke into your throat. The straight part of the runway was only 600 feet then it made a slight turn to the left for 300 more feet then back to the right for 200 feet with a little overrun before hitting the oaks. It was shaped like a lightning bolt! You braked to cheers from the crowd!

This was a real test of skills. Aircraft there ranged from a Bellanca Cruisair to a Beech T-34 plus Bonanzas, Cessnas, and the vintage planes you’d expect. It was an absolutely magnificent view with a small chapel for weddings at the southern end and a log home where the owner lived. You could see 40 miles down the valley. Great food, great airplane talk, and heading out was like a carrier launch. On hot days they canceled! Everybody — and I mean everybody — misses Pea Patch!

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