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Businessman has plan to extend airport runway

The field at the north end of Hummel Airfield could become a temporary runway extension that would enhance safety of the 2,200 foot-long runway. Pilot and businessman Oscar Barber purchased the house (above) and 24-acres that once belonged to Elizabeth “Bankie” Nuckols. (Photo by Tom Chillemi)

by Tom Chillemi

A 24-acre parcel at the north end of the runway at Hummel Airfield in Topping has been purchased by pilot and builder Oscar Barber, who would like to make safety improvements.

Barber told the Middlesex Airport Committee (MAC) at a special called meeting on December 21, 2017, that he wants to build a temporary 500-foot-long runway extension on his newly-acquired property at no cost to Middlesex County, which owns Hummel Airfield. The proposed runway extension would be covered with grass over compacted, smooth soil, explained Barber, who added he has built grass runways before.

The extension would enhance safety by giving pilots a place to run off in an emergency, said Barber. It also could be used for take off and landing and add almost 25% more usable runway length. 

Hummel Airfield’s runway is 2,200 feet long and is one of the shortest runways in Virginia. Runway expansion is not possible on the south end, which borders Route 3.

The proposed extension that would add a 500-foot buffer at the north end was met with enthusiasm by the MAC members, who unanimously adopted a motion by Randy Coulson to recommend the Middlesex Board of Supervisors (BOS) approve the extension. (The airport committee advises the BOS, which is responsible for decisions regarding Hummel Airfield.)

Chip Holt, the BOS member representing Pinetop District including Deltaville, is the BOS liaison to the airport committee. Holt, a pilot, told the airport committee that possible legal issues would need to be considered before the BOS could make its decision on the runway extension.

Barber said he is ready to start work as soon as the BOS gives approval. After the meeting, Barber said he will be cutting down some tall trees on his property. They are several hundred feet from the runway’s north end and affect take-offs and landings.

Coulson, an airport committee member since 1978, noted the property that Barber purchased has not previously been available to the airport. The 24 acres had been owned by Elizabeth “Bankie” Nuckols, whose house was flown over by planes using Hummel Airfield. Nuckols had a strained relationship with the airport and at one point sought a court ruling for permission to erect a windmill on her property.

The extension will enhance safety with a smooth, flat area for pilots to use when needed, said Jamie Barnhardt, who chairs the MAC. The extension is a “win-win” for pilots and neighbors who live under the path of planes, said Barnhardt. The extension would give pilots more room at critical moments during take off and landing—time to build speed for take off; and more room to slow down after landing, he said.

Read the rest of this story in this week’s Southside Sentinel at newsstands throughout the county, or sign up here to receive a print and/or electronic pdf subscription.

posted 01.03.2018

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