FAA helped sponsor a seminar up here in Alaska on building sod airstrips just this August. It was written up in the Anchorage Daily News at the following site: http://www.adn.com/news/alaska/aviation ... 95260.html
The center piece of the recommendation is to use "Red Fescue" grass seed. It is hardy down to about -40F and quite resilient in drought conditions as well. Our runway is planted with a mixture of Red Fescue and Kentucky Rye, and although our airstrip is now 2,200 feet in length, it used to be only 1,100 feet before we extended it a few years ago.
Although I am now flying a Husky with 31s, I used to fly a C-182 in and out of the strip with 8.50-10s on the mains and a 8.50-6 on the nose. My neighbor regularly flew a C-185 (550) out of there with 8.50-6s (he is now on 29s). As a general rule, we only have to mow the runway twice during the summer. We get a few guys that land here now with smaller than 8.50-6s and they have done fine so far.
Of course the bears love to eat the grass, so they can be a hazard to watch out for.
Following is the news article on Red Fescue for the runway:
"Experiment Farm growing grass that saves planes
RUNWAYS: Turf-covered landing strips can avoid problems caused by gravel.
By RINDI WHITE[email protected]
Published: August 11th, 2009 06:13 PM
Last Modified: August 11th, 2009 10:15 PM
PALMER -- Amid test plots of lettuce and barley, researchers at Matanuska Experiment Farm on Trunk Road are testing turf aimed at cutting down on airplane dents and dings.
University of Alaska Fairbanks Agriculture and Horticulture Agent Stephen Brown said the turf grass, a red fescue variety, is inexpensive to grow. It doesn't need a lot of water and is hardy enough to grow on gravel runway strips.
"I planted my lawn in it. The cold weather doesn't kill it, and it can stand up to drought. It has very low nutrition requirements as far as fertilizer," Brown said.
The grass grows readily around Barrow, he said. That's an indication of how Alaska-hardy it is. And if fertilized correctly, it will stay about 10-12 inches tall without constant mowing, he said.
"As we've gone out and done surveys on runways, most that have grass on them now, the grass just popped up. Or the grass is being maintained, and they're following the same process as homeowners (maintaining a lawn)," he said.
Brown is hoping to persuade small airstrip owners to switch to turf instead of gravel. It would help them slash maintenance costs, he said.
"It's a huge problem," he said. "When airplanes land, take off and taxi, the gravel kicks up in the propellers, gets in the engine and can actually punch right through the fabric of planes."
Brown is holding a workshop for small private runway owners to learn more about the grass runways from 2-4 p.m. Aug. 18 at the UAF Cooperative Extension Service office in Palmer. The office is in Suite 2 at 809 S. Chugach Street.
The workshop will cover runway preparation, grass selection, fertilizer strategies and techniques for getting the grass to grow, and soil sampling and interpretation. Brown said the extension service will help participants and others interested in growing grass runways. They won't supply grass seed but will offer tips on growing it, he said.
Melvin Wick, who operates Wick Air, an aircraft maintenance shop near Trunk Road, said gravel nicks and dings are a minor maintenance issue that can become particularly bad in coastal areas, where gravel nicks will open a plane up to corrosion from saltwater. In the Valley, he said, the problems from gravel aren't major."