This weekend kicks off the 2022 college football season. It is always the most exciting time of the year for fans who are optimistic about their team’s chances for the season. How many of you have plans to fly yourself to see a game this fall? Are you excited for a certain away game rivalry? I started pondering about the airports I have seen and the ones that seem fun to fly into. So, this week I did a good amount of research to determine the coolest GA airports to visit for a Power 5 football game.
You are probably asking, “what makes an airport cool?” Well, as a yardstick, they are airports where the approach, view, location, or on-site attractions make it worthwhile to visit regardless of a college football Saturday. In other words, it’s a trip where you’re just as excited for the flight as you are for the game (potentially more so).
When flying into an exciting event such as a college football game, it’s necessary to recognize the potential of the ubiquitous human frailty of Get-There-Itis. If the conditions prevent you from conducting a safe flight, DO NOT GO! The lives of those onboard your flight are not worth the cost of the tickets, hotel, or game experience. Realistically, with every game being televised, being able to watch the game from the safety and comfort of your own home rather than in the stands outweighs the risks of a flight in poor weather conditions. Whenever you intend to fly to a game, be ready to recognize the expenses of the trip as sunk costs in the event of adverse weather.
The Ohio State University
KOSU – Ohio State University Airport
Few universities own and operate their own airport. Ohio State University is one of the few that hold this distinction. Upon research, there were no complaints from fans who have flown into KOSU to see a game. Everyone participated in the camaraderie of fellow pilots at the FBO. It is known that the FBO is fantastic at welcoming all fans. When a Michigan fan agrees that it is a great airport to fly into for a game, I knew it needed to make the list.
Texas Christian University
KFTW – Fort Worth Meacham International Airport
Flying into a regular controlled field under Class B airspace may often be uninspiring. However, KFTW isn’t any ordinary metropolitan overflow airport and includes some interesting facilities. On the southeast end of Meacham Field stands the Vintage Flying Museum. There aren’t many places in the world where you can see a Japanese Mitsubishi A6, notoriously known as a “Zero.” Include visiting the museum to behold all of their historic aircraft on display into your weekend game schedule.
N51 – Solberg Airport
A 20-minute car ride from Rutgers, Solberg Airport provides access to the New York City metropolitan area. Without the hassle of Class B airspace, it is a true gem for GA pilots looking to land at an uncontrolled field in rural New Jersey while being a stone’s throw from Metro NYC. This quaint airport also hosts the New Jersey Festival of Ballooning each summer.
(Image courtesy of Solberg Airport)
University of Southern California
KHHR – Jack Northrop Field/Hawthorne Municipal Airport
Jack Northrop Field/Hawthorne Municipal Airport is located southwest of Los Angeles International Airport (KLAX). VFR pilots have several options to transition through the Los Angeles Class B airspace including the Coliseum Transition that takes you right over the stadium. Flying over Southern California is a sight to see on its own, but include the California beaches and you’ll be wanting to listen to The Beach Boys as soon as you land.
University of Colorado
KBDU – Boulder Municipal Airport
Boulder Municipal Airport lies just west of the Denver Class B airspace but within the 30-mile Mode C & ADS-B Out veil. If the airport was just a couple miles further to the west, you would be landing on a mountain. Without an instrument approach, you’ll have to fly into KBDU VFR while enjoying the sights of the Rocky Mountains.
KBCB – Virginia Tech/Montgomery Executive Airport
You need to spend adequate time preflight planning your trip to Virginia Tech/Montgomery Executive Airport. KBCB is located within a mountain valley. While you may technically be able to fly the New River through a mountain pass, you won’t be able to on an IFR day, so KBCB is effectively located in a box canyon. Both Runway 13 and Runway 31 have instrument approaches, but neither has the traditional upside-down T approach where there are IAFs in multiple directions. Due to the mountains on both sides of the airport, both IAPs are straight-in approaches. But, why fly there on an IFR day? You’re flying there to experience the sights of landing in a valley surrounded by lush forests. And on a VFR day, you’ll see Lane Stadium just off your left wing when landing on Runway 13, or just off your right wing when taking off on Runway 31.
University of Miami
KOPF – Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport
Florida beaches are renowned around the world. The views of the beaches and South Florida are worth flying into and out of the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport. Take advantage of the shoreline transition of Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport Class C and fly 500 feet MSL or lower over the water just beyond the beach. In addition, it is not uncommon, when flying from the north into KOPF, for ATC to have you fly very close to the Hard Rock Stadium, and it may be a landmark position ATC provides to you.
University of Tennessee
KDKX – Knoxville Downtown Island Airport
The Knoxville Downtown Island Airport is located on an island in the Tennessee River. It’s also just to the west and north of the Appalachian Mountains. Depending on your inbound direction of flight, you may need to descend at a steeper rate than normal (or choose to circle and descend) after passing over the Appalachian Mountains. Another interesting aspect of flying into KDKX is that Neyland Stadium is just west of the airport. If you’re landing on Runway 08 or taking off on Runway 26, you’ll be following the Tennessee River into/out of KDKX and you’ll get a fantastic view of Neyland Stadium when it passes by just off your wing.
University of Washington
W55 — Kenmore Air Harbor Seaplane Base
Kenmore Air Harbor Seaplane Base sits between Lake Washington and the Ballard Locks and is home to the shores of downtown Seattle. As you land and dock at Kenmore Seaplane Base you will essentially be at the footsteps of the Space Needle. Be sure to call ahead for dock availability. If you have an amphibious aircraft and the dock is full, head on down to Boeing Field (KBFI) and check out the Museum of Flight before or after the game. Don’t be disappointed if you need to divert to KBFI. “Split the uprights” and fly between the Space Needle and downtown over Elliot Bay to align for final approach into Boeing Field. It is a remarkable view and experience that is difficult to find anywhere else.
West Virginia University
KMGW — Morgantown Municipal Airport-Walter L. Bill Hart Field
The Morgantown Municipal Airport lies in a mountain pass of the Appalachian Mountains. The RNAV 36 Approach is not a typical upside-down T approach where there are IAFs for multiple directions. This approach starts southwest of the airport and parallels a mountain before turning left onto final for Runway 36. The RNAV 18 approach is also not a typical upside-down T approach because it is also straight-in; however, it does not maneuver you around mountain obstacles like the RNAV 36 approach. But, like so many of the other airports, why fly into KMGW on an IFR day? Enjoy the scenery on a VFR fall day. With the leaves of the trees changing or snow on the mountains, the flight in and out will be a sight you won’t forget.