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Now Open: The Only FAA Registered Ice Runway

Looking for a winter adventure in your airplane? How about landing on the only ice runway charted by the FAA in the lower 48? Here's what you need to know...

The Airport

During the winter months, the Alton Bay Ice Runway and Seaplane Base (B18) in New Hampshire opens up Runway 1/19 for general aviation use. It's the only airport in the lower 48 that has an ice runway registered with the FAA, and it appears on your sectional chart! "During the winter, Runway 01/19 is plowed and is [usually] marked as 100 feet wide and 2,600 feet long. A parallel taxiway and aircraft parking apron is also provided" (NH DOT).

NH DOT

When consistently open, the airport sees well over 600 operations during a single winter season. It's not unusual to find over 50 airplanes and even a few helicopters flying in on a good day. Volunteers manage the day-to-day operations of the airport and maintain it through the winter season.

With wind direction usually from the North, Runway 1 is the preferred runway. "Markers are used to define the operational surface of the runway. The runway, parallel taxiway, and the aircraft parking apron are plowed throughout the season, providing a clear ice surface for aircraft to operate. Because of its unique nature, the airport draws pilots from all over New England and beyond who fly to the airport to experience landing on an ice-covered lake without the aid of skis" (NH DOT).

NH DOT

The best part about flying into this airport is the extra level of scrutiny provided by FAA registration. Officials check the airport to make sure it's properly marked and safe before opening. Airport manager Paul LaRochelle consistently checks various points along and around the runway to ensure that ice thickness is at least 12 inches.

Flexible Runway Length

Snowfall and ice conditions determine the length of Alton Bay's runway. Volunteers determine how long the runway can be based on plowing capabilities. Because of this, the Alton Bay ice runway may vary in length from 2,300 to 2,700 feet from year to year, or even in the few hours after a significant snowfall.

Landing On Ice

If you plan to land on ice, you should be aware of a few things. The most ideal conditions for landing is after a light snowfall when the runway is covered by a thin layer of snow. The snow provides traction, and allows your aircraft to decelerate naturally. When the ice looks black or deep blue, it's likely to be most slick and has the worst braking action.

Pilots who have flown into Alton Bay when the runway has a dusting of light snow describe the landing as a similar feeling to landing on a grass runway. Because of that, using a soft-field landing technique is a good way to approach the landing

As you approach the runway, make you're flying the correct final approach speed, and hit your touchdown point. Don't slam on the brakes, because skidding can cause you to lose directional control. Allow the airplane to decelerate with aerodynamic braking, and use light braking to slow and stop. Be cautious in crosswind conditions, as limited traction can make it impossible to keep the wind from pushing your aircraft horizontally across the ice.

ND DOT

Seasonal And Daily Changes

By nature, the availability of the Alton Bay ice runway changes with the seasons. The earliest it has opened was January 10th, after ice thickened to an appropriate level. In 2016, the ice runway never opened due to warm temperatures and reduced ice thickness. Fortunately, it's open this year!

The airport usually shuts down in March due to rising temperatures and deteriorating ice conditions. Temperature changes and weather fronts have a big impact on this airport, so you need to check NOTAMs before you depart to make sure it's open.

Alton Bay Ice Runway and Seaplane Base

Want To Visit? Here's Where You Can Find Out More

Check out the Alton Seaplane Base and Ice Runway's Facebook Page to find out more. Volunteers update the page frequently during the winter season to post plowing and condition updates. You can also call 603-875-3498 for updates.

Have you ever flown into the ice runway? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Swayne Martin

Swayne is an editor at Boldmethod, certified flight instructor, and an Embraer 145 First Officer for a regional airline. He graduated as an aviation major from the University of North Dakota in 2018, holds a PIC Type Rating for Cessna Citation Jets (CE-525), and is a former pilot for Mokulele Airlines. He's the author of articles, quizzes and lists on Boldmethod every week. You can reach Swayne at swayne@boldmethod.com, and follow his flying adventures on his YouTube Channel.

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