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Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument Airstrips

Background

Bullwhacker Airstrip

Montana is known for its majestic mountains. But there is another spectacular place that is largely unchanged since Lewis and Clark ascended the Missouri River over 200 years ago, the Missouri River Breaks in north-central Montana. Much of this rugged landscape is now in the Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument, created by Presidential proclamation in January, 2001.

The Monument encompasses over 377,000 acres and includes ten primitive airstrips within the Monument boundary, dating back to the 1950s. The Montana Pilots Association (MPA), closely followed by the newly created RAF, became active participants in the federal Monument planning process. Representatives of the two aviation groups attended public meetings and provided educational material for the BLM in making knowledgeable decisions in regard to airstrips and recreational aviation. The planning process lasted six years, resulting in the continued public use of six of the ten airstrips. Under the plan, pilots may use only hand tools for sagebrush control within the original footprint of the airstrips. Cooperative work parties from the MPA and RAF continue to clear sage re-growth from substantial portions of all six airstrips.

Precautions

The Breaks area is under the west half of the Hays MOA. The floor of the MOA is 300 feet AGL. Flying beneath the floor of the MOA could compromise your own safety and is inconsiderate of those on the ground. It is advised that you fly the area when the military is not using the airspace generally before 0830 and after1530. For one week each month there may be night operations, the hours being dependent on the times of darkness. The F-16s fly at 500’ AGL and above and the B-1s do not go below 400’ AGL. Plan your times of arrival and departure in the Breaks area when the MOA is inactive and you will have a stress free and safe flight.

To obtain current information on the MOA contact Salt Lake Center on 133.4. Great Falls Approach Control may be another source of information. While at one of the airstrips you may be able to talk to center when on the ground or just after takeoff. For the military to use the MOA, they must have an IFR clearance from Salt Lake Center, so this is the source of real time information. Radar coverage is spotty below 6000 MSL, so don’t count on flight following.

The six airstrips are dirt with a moderate cover of native grass.  The soil is dense clay known as gumbo. When wet, the ground is slippery and balls up on your tires. You will, in all likelihood, not be able to taxi or take off if the ground is muddy. If it has recently rained, do not land. If it looks like it will rain while you are on the ground and you do not want to stay awhile, take off and go somewhere else. If you have wheel pants, the mud will pack in so hard that the wheels will not turn, and once it dries, it is like cement. The positive side is that when the ground is dry, it is hard like pavement and there are no soft spots. During a heavy rain, much of the water runs off and the ground will dry quickly after the sun comes out.

What is the best way to decide if the airstrips are dry enough before you leave home? There is a NOAA weather-reporting site in the Bull Whacker Coulee area. To get previous and current hourly information on wind, temperature and precipitation go to www.wrh.noaa.gov. Use the search function by typing in Bullwhacker. You can determine if it has been raining in the area and how much has fallen each previous hour. How about a weather forecast while on the ground? All you need to do is get out your cell phone and call Flight Service.

What’s There? Do’s and Don’ts

Black Butte North Airstrip

This area of the Monument is noted for having a population of record setting Big Horn sheep and Rocky Mountain elk. Be sure to bring your binoculars. Hiking is unlimited with miles of country begging to be explored. Be sure to keep track of your location so you return to the same plateau where your plane is parked.

“Leave No Trace” camping is permitted at all airstrips. Camp fires are not advised due to the danger of range fires. There is no potable water available at any airstrips. Summer temperatures can be quite hot.

Do not leave your plane unattended if there are livestock present. They just love to rub on airframes.

Be sure to sign in at the pilot registration box located at each airstrip.

Be a good neighbor to other Monument visitors. Do not fly over the Missouri River below the canyon rim.

The Six Airstrips


BLACK BUTTE NORTH (BB0): N47° 50.73' W109° 11.22'
RWY 09–27: 1800X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS: Unattended. No snow removal. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy maintenance irregular. Rwy soft and muddy when wet.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9
NOTES:There is a nice short hike to the top of Black Butte just to the east of the airstrip. From here there are good views of the rugged landscape of Lion Coulee and a portion of Bullwhacker Coulee.


BULLWHACKER (BW8): N47° 50.87' W109° 05.97'
RWY 09–27: 1500X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS: Unattended. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy soft and muddy when wet. Rwy maintenance irregular. No snow removal.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9


LEFT COULEE (LC0): N47° 53.12' W109° 01.37'
RWY 09–27: 1600X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS: Unattended. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy soft and muddy when wet. Rwy maintenance irregular. No snow removal.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9
NOTES: Left Coulee is a great place to camp. There are good views down into Left Coulee and Cow Creek. There is a hike down into the Cow Creek area where there is an old homestead. This airstrip has a slight dog leg and the surface is rougher that the other five airstrips.


COW CREEK (CW0): N47° 56.85' W109° 00.48'
RWY 09–27: 2200X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS: Unattended. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy soft and muddy when wet. Rwy maintenance irregular. No snow removal.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9
NOTES: Cow Creek has the best location for pitching a tent. The ground has a good sod cover of gramma grass, making for a surface like a lawn. There are great views to the west with the Bear’s Paw Mountains on the horizon. Take a hike to the east along the edge of the escarpment and search for the old plane wreckage down over the edge.


KNOX RIDGE (MT3): N47° 37.00' W108° 50.88'
RWY 09–27: 2100X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS:Unattended. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy soft and muddy when wet. Rwy maintenance irregular. No snow removal.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9
NOTES: Knox Ridge is the only one of the six airstrips that was built using some cuts and fill. It has a steady gradient without any humps or dips. There are some old tire markers at each end of the runway. A nearby livestock water tank may supply non-potable water.


WOODHAWK (WH0): N47° 46.77' W109° 04.72'
RWY 09–27: 1200X60 (TURF)
AIRPORT REMARKS:Unattended. Arpt CLOSED from Sep 1 to Nov 30 each year. No snow removal. Wildlife and cattle on and in vicinity of arpt. Rwy maintenance irregular. Rwy soft and muddy when wet. Trees at either end of runway.
COMMUNICATIONS: CTAF 122.9
NOTES: This airstrip should only be used by aircraft suitable for a relatively short strip with moderate uphill gradient. Woodhawk airstrip is the nearest airstrip to the Missouri River. For the ambitious hiker, a trek to the river is a good day hike. Be sure to look at the nearby “guzzler”. Rainwater is collected on a large plastic lined catchment, stored in an underground bladder and then meted out to livestock when needed.


RAF Contributions

The RAF continues to participate in the maintenance of the six airstrips. The RAF funded the purchase of the material for building the pilot sign-in boxes located at each airstrip. RAF volunteers constructed and installed the boxes in the fall of 2010. RAF members, along with MPA members, perform on-going airstrip maintenance, primarily sage brush removal using hand tools. If at some point in the future the BLM will permit the placement of windsocks, the RAF will fund that project.

For more information, contact RAF director Chuck Jarecki at: , or by phone at: 406-883-2248.