Aircraft Spotting Pages
Naval Auxiliary Landing Facility Fentress, Virginia



The above map, with modifications, was provided by Google Maps.

About the Spots and What You Will See

Spots A and B:  Both of these spots are located along Fentress Airfield Road and cover both sides of the Fentress' Runway 5/23.  The spots, along with locations between the two spots, require you to pull completely off the road and into the brush.  It is very risky to do so in some spots, so please be very careful where you pull off because there is also a ditch and you can very easily get a car stuck there.  Exercise good and safe judgment here; Fentress Airfield Road is a narrow two-lane road with no paved shoulder and people will routinely drive by at a high rate of speed and there is no fence separating you from the runway so keep out of the field at all times.  Your vehicle is parked in the brush and vegetation there and it can become stuck especially after it has rained or snowed and you could potentially get cuts from the vegetation.

Both spots listed on the map as well as locations between them will give you an excellent view of all operations on the runway.  Since it is only one runway, it is relatively easy to figure out which way they will be landing based on the winds. 

Recommendation:  Sun angle changes here around mid-day so keep that in mind.  A 300mm lens or greater is recommended along with hearing protection as it gets quite loud over there.

Facilities:  There are multiple fast food restaurants and convenience stores located within fifteen minutes of Fentress.

Both photos above were taken near Spot A with Runway 5 in use.

Spots C and D:  These two spots are located next to the landing signal officer shacks by Runways 5 and 23Right off the bat I will say that the general public is not allowed to visit these locations.  The only way any member of the public is allowed to visit here is through an invitation by a member of the United States military.  They are listed on the map above for reference only because any search for photos and videos online from Fentress will produce results showing that they were taken runway-side.

Recommendation:  If you do have the opportunity to get invited out to the LSO shack don't turn it down.  Any size lens would be fine here, ideally the smaller the lens the better since the jets land right next to you.  Bring only what you would need for the time you are out there and please include hearing protection with that.  You may be looking into the sun from morning until mid-afternoon.

Facilities:  There are multiple fast food restaurants and convenience stores located within fifteen minutes of Fentress.

Normal Operations

To sum it best, weekdays are the best days to see anything at NALF Fentress.  There is no rhyme or pattern as to which days of the week see more flying over others and what times of day are more popular than others, though it is expected that there will be fewer operations on days in which a federal holiday falls.  There is flying on weekends, but this is very rare.  If the weather is ideal, you could potentially see a lot of activity from the Oceana-based Hornets and Super Hornets as well as the C-2 Greyhounds and E-2C/D Hawkeyes from Chambers Field.  When there is a deployment coming up, the respective squadrons in that air wing will ramp up their operations and pilots will practice landing on the carrier deck painted on the runway at NALF Fentress potentially at all hours of the day and night.

Naval aviators use NALF Fentress to practice FCLPs, which are field carrier landing practices.  This is part of the normal training regiment for any naval aviator prior to becoming a carrier qualified pilot.  Without going into specifics, naval aviators are required to perform FCLPs on land at places like Fentress to hone their skills at landing an aircraft on a pitching aircraft carrier deck and to land in the same spot on the carrier deck every single time.  To do this, there is a simulated carrier deck painted on the runway at Fentress and at almost every Naval Air Station and outlying landing facility.  Next to this painted carrier deck is an LSO shack usually manned by at least one Landing Signal Officer, and a Fresnel Lens Optical Landing System, which is commonly referred to as the meatball.  The meatball aids the naval aviator to a precise landing along with radio instructions from the LSO.  The LSO uses his perception of the landing aircraft to give instructions to the naval aviator to let him know if he is high, low, needs to be a little left or right, add or reduce power, or wave off.

It is perfectly normal to see each landing of an aircraft appear to look like the naval aviator is slamming the airplane onto the runway in what appears to the untrained eye to be a controlled crash.  The naval aviator does this so that it can ensure the arresting hook on the back of his/her aircraft can grab any one of four wires stretched across the landing area.  When on the carrier deck, the throttles on the engines are pushed all the way forward in case the hook skips or misses all four wires and there is enough power and momentum to get the aircraft airborne again for another attempt.

Naval aviators need a minimum number of excellent landings at a place like Fentress before training on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  This includes landings during the day as well as at night.

Aircraft working Fentress are identified by their nose number and not callsign.  Sometimes when there are multiple squadrons from different air wings operating Fentress at the same time they may use their air wing's tail code in addition to the nose number of the respective aircraft.  This makes the LSO's job easier to grade each aircrew's landing.

Security

Please keep in mind that local, state, and federal law enforcement routinely patrols this area.  The cities of Virginia Beach and Chesapeake have their jurisdictions in this area and you will see Virginia State Police as well as Sheriff's Offices patrolling the area.  U.S. Navy Police also have jurisdiction here since Fentress Airfield Road borders federal property and if you wander beyond the road you will be considered trespassing.  Residents that live along this road have also been known to call in anyone suspicious, but they are also used to seeing people pulled off the road to watch aircraft.