In keeping with this mission the RAF recently announced that it is endorsing and supporting a new work by Idaho’s noted author and pilot Galen L. Hanselman. Hanselman has received widespread acclaim for his pioneering work in educating and promoting aviation safety in his backcountry flying guides: Fly Idaho!, Air Baja!, and Fly the Big Sky! Four years ago, he started a new guide to Utah’s backcountry airstrips. The research involves flying to each of the airstrips, photographing them, landing (if possible), surveying, and documenting the findings. Collecting stories and recording histories of these mysterious places adds to the lore as well. Hanselman describes his early Utah findings: “During the uranium boom of the 1950’s, many airstrips were carved across the fabulous desert landscapes of the Southwest to shuttle men and supplies in support of the mining industry. There were airstrips on top of airstrips back then, but 65 years of neglect turned many of these outposts back into desert.
The Dirty Devil airstrip in Utah
The Utah Back Country Pilots Association (www.utahbackcountrypilots.org) provided a list of over 260 largely uncharted airstrips that I’ve been exploring. Many of the airstrips are now overgrown and unusable in their present condition. Yet, a good number remain usable and many more could be made so with only minimal improvements. With dramatic approaches and unmatched solitude, these airstrips represent some of most spectacular aviation destinations in the U.S. At a time when airports are disappearing on a daily basis, being able to add many of these airstrips back to the aeronautical charts would be a monumental feat.” Hanselman soon realized that this project was of a far greater magnitude than his previous endeavors. “I felt like a paleontologist discovering that the fossilized bone I had just found was attached to a complete dinosaur. It was a tremendous find, but now I had an entire dinosaur to dig up.
I’d been personally financing this project since it began, but when I understood its scope I realized I needed some help. I had the inspiration and certainly the perspiration, but to continue I needed some financial backing.” Hanselman took a break from his flying long enough to apply for some assistance. Fortunately, the Pennsylvania based Wolf Aviation Fund, took an interest in what he was “digging up” in Utah. Rol Murrow, Wolf’s Executive Director, said, “His proposal caught the attention of our selection committee because small, privately owned airstrips and those on remote public lands are among the most endangered airports in America today. These airstrips not only offer emergency access to rural and remote areas but also provide recreational access with a minimum of environmental impact. Airstrips are truly trailheads without roads. We also believe the new methods Hanselman is developing to assess the safety of these airstrips will be useful in evaluating airstrips everywhere. We feel that his work will reduce the risk of accidents by providing critical information to pilots. We at the Wolf Aviation Fund urge pilots everywhere to support the preservation of these backcountry airstrips.” RAF spokesman, Karl Spielman added: “The benefit of Galen’s publications go beyond that of a typical travel guide. His books not only bring an awareness of the existence and importance of these relatively unknown airstrips, but the stories he passes along preserve and enhance our aviation heritage. In addition, we hope that some day many of these airstrips will be included in aviation databases, and available to cross-country aviators as an emergency airfield network.
We are excited to have him working on this project and encourage others to contribute to his work as we have done. The RAF is assuming a lead role in saving backcountry airstrips and creating new ones across the western U.S. Our Foundation works with the BLM, Forest Service and private individuals to preserve and, in some cases, actually acquire recreational flying opportunities.” Tax-deductible contributions to support Hanselman’s project, or the work of the RAF on future projects to enhance and legitimize backcountry flying, can be sent to: Recreational Aviation Foundation 1711 W. College Street Bozeman, MT 59715. Please include a note to indicate how you wish your contribution to be used. RAF will furnish a receipt confirming the tax-deductible status of your contribution. For more information on the RAF, visit www.theraf.org or call 406-587-5516.
Submitted on April 5, 2005.