One of my favorite places to fly for an afternoon or evening visit is a place in the crook of Florida’s Big Bend region. Where the coast turns more southerly, there is a sleepy little town called Cedar Key. I like the runway; it is a challenge that helped make me a Navy pilot and still reminds me of flying off carriers.
Each end of the runway almost meets the water and the length is only 2300 feet. This is plenty of space to operate most airplanes, including light twins. You just have to be careful.
Another thing about the airport is that it is unattended. There is no FBO–no fuel, no restrooms, no rental cars. No taxis.
There used to be an old lady who would drive down and offer a lift to those who flew in. She never charged, but always got hefty tips.
She died and then others took over. Occasionally, drivers will offer aviators and their passengers a ride into town. Even if there is no ride, the walk is only a mile and a quarter or so and it is about another half mile to the restaurants on Dock Street.
Cedar Key is a very unique place. There are indications of human habitation all the way back to 500 B.C. Spanish explorers actually mapped the area in 1542 and named the island Las Islas Sabinas.
During the early years of the nation, Cedar Key was one of the more important ports of the South. The lumber industry became responsible for the rail system leading to the island. They harvested their trees throughout the region, moved the wood to the key by train, and then shipped it to other destinations through Cedar Key’s port.
During the War Between the States, the USS Hatteras attacked the port city in 1862 setting fire to several ships at the docks. They were loaded with cotton and minerals and prime for ignition. The attack also destroyed the railroad facilities and dealt a severe blow to the South.
Today, the town is a little sleepy burg serving original Florida natives who have lived in the area for generations, and artists, who have found the town an ideal place for writing, artwork, and more. One of the best things to do at Cedar Key is kayaking, boating, bird watching, and relaxing.
Now, a word of caution for the aviators. Always be primed for a go around if your first approach is long or fast. Floating down a runway and leaving most of it behind you is not a plan for landing on a runway bounded by water.
If you are going to fly to Cedar Key with the intention of leaving after dark—don’t. Unless you are instrument rated and current, and the airplane is appropriately equipped. Taking off, particularly to the southwest on runway 23, is similar to a catapult shot off an aircraft carrier without the rapid acceleration. There are no lights in the Gulf of Mexico and many an inexperienced pilot has met his or her untimely end trying to fly out in the dark. In a phrase, be careful.
One of the best ways to enjoy time at Cedar Key is to fly into the airport in the afternoon, walk into town for a late lunch or early dinner, and then a sunset takeoff to return home. Or, stay over in one of the many hotels on the island and enjoy more time the next day. Then you can fly home in daylight.
© 2011 J. Clark