With its grass runway and rustic air, Haysfield Airport off Sheppard Lane near Clarksville is a low-tech, laid-back facility in the shadow of airspace crowded with commercial jets speeding to and from three major airports.
But the 2,000-foot-long, slightly sloping airfield gets fliers off the ground -- and back again -- in a kinder, gentler way, they say.
First, there's the takeoff:
"You just go out and make sure nobody's in the way and just do it. It's kind of like pulling out into the highway," says Dick Kreis, who rents single-engine airplanes and coordinates flight instruction at the airport.
Then, there's the landing:
"Just look out the windshield and make sure nobody else is out there, and land," Mr. Kreis said.
In the event of low visibility from bad weather, there's always the radio to help out. And anyway, Mr. Kreis adds, the landing strip's sod is a little more forgiving than asphalt when planes touch down.
Though the privately run airstrip is cherished for its uncrowded ambience, airplane owners are lined up for tie-down space there.
"We could have 100 here if we could take that many," said Mr. Kreis, who has a fleet of five single-engine Pipers and Cessnas he rents out. But the airstrip's special exception to county zoning regulations -- one that was opposed by neighbors for 11 years -- allows no more than 50 planes to be based there.
Local demand for more airport facilities is precisely why county officials are collaborating with Anne Arundel County officials to create Howard's first public airport.
Fort Meade's Tipton Army Airfield, which the U.S. Army plans to cast off as surplus by 1996, would be open to private pilots and controlled by both county governments. The two governments' executives signed a pact to create the airport in November.
The effort was lobbied for by the Howard County Pilots Association in the face of five years of opposition from the neighboring National Security Agency and the state Aviation Administration's unwillingness to run the airport.
According to current plans, the two counties would jointly run the paved 4,000-foot runway and provide enough parking space to base 300 aircraft.
The new facility also would help Haysfield maintain its character, says Alfred S. Bassler, who owns the 20-acre airport and the 430-acre farm it sits on.
"We're satisfied with it as a small-aircraft airport," Mr. Bassler said, adding that he expects fewer than 10 percent of his pilots would move to the proposed Tipton airport.
Mr. Bassler's airport is not much different from the informal landing strip that he and a few other pilots used on his old farm on Cedar Lane, where Howard County General Hospital now sits.
"That was more or less landing airplanes in a cow pasture. We shared it with the cows and the mules and so forth," he said.
Now, the horses of Misty Manor Farm next door greet pilots as they drive up the quarter-mile driveway to the airport's office trailer and main hangar. Near the northwest end of the runway, Mr. Bassler keeps his own single-engine plane, a Piper Vagabond, in a small open hangar connected to his house by a carport.
When he leaves home, his transportation is a matter of immediate choice: take the car or "just walk further and you're in the airplane."
Although many Haysfield-based pilots use the airport for recreation, it also serves a serious transportation need, says Fred Gray, former president of the county pilots group.
"It's a very nice alternative to the commercial hubbub of BWI [Baltimore-Washington International Airport]," said Mr. Gray, who flies his Cessna Skyhawk on business trips to such places as Wilmington, Del., Roanoke, Va., and New York City.
If fliers don't own their own airplanes, Mr. Kreis rents them for $42 an hour. He'll add lessons for another $25 an hour.
Mr. Gray says that the airport brings together people from many walks of life, from a county police officer to engineers from the nearby Applied Physics Laboratory to one of the owners of Eyre Bus Service in Glenelg. "A number of people find real happiness here."