Alaska Wants To Upgrade Runways to… Grass
Grass runways might seem like a relic from an era when open cockpits and biplanes ruled the skies, but there are still a whole lot of them out there and they’re getting a boost from science.
In an effort that would make Carl Spackler proud, researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks are testing several varieties of turf in an effort to reduce the damage airplanes often endure flying into rural airfields.
Although paved runways have become the norm since World War II, thousands of dirt, gravel and grass runways are still used across the country. In an aviation-dependent state like Alaska where airplanes are used to carry everything from food to high school basketball teams great distances, such airstrips are vital. Problem is, Alaska isn’t the easiest place for grass to grow, and its brutal temperatures and freeze-thaw cycles wreak havoc on paved runways. That means most runways are dirt or gravel. But dirt and gravel can cause dings and other damage that is at best unsightly and at worst a safety hazard.
Enter the researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. According to the Anchorage Daily News, Stephen Brown has found a common variety of grass (red fescue for you Poaceae fans) that grows well in the state’s unforgiving climate, doesn’t need much water and can easily be planted on gravel strips.
“I planted my lawn in it,” Brown told the paper. “The cold weather doesn’t kill it, and it can stand up to drought. It has very low nutrition requirements as far as fertilizer.”
The hope is by planting the robust red fescue grass on gravel strips around the state, pilots and the communities they serve can save money in the long haul.
Photo of a plane landing at Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska: Flickr / steynard