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Get a bird’s eye view – visit the Landing

By Staff | Apr 1, 2011

The coolest thing about The Landing restaurant isn’t the food.

It’s the view.

The food is okay. The restaurant at Martinsburg Airport, formerly known as The Runway, was taken over in December 2010 by new owners Jason Shade and Ray White. It has been downscaled from a fine dining experience to kitchen-table lunchtime staples, including a fried bologna sandwich. Salads are basically iceberg lettuce, and on the day I visited, the kitchen had produced no soups and was out of tuna fish.

Now paper placemats dress the tables and the silverware might need a little, well, “polishing” with a napkin before use. And when you order coffee, make sure you specify fresh, and with a lightening agent that came out of an authentic cow. Little plastic cups of non-dairy creamer and spotty spoons just don’t cut it.

But the view looks over the multi-million dollar, extended airport runway, where C5 military aircraft are loaded for deployment overseas. The 167th Airlift Wing of the National Guard is stationed at what used to be called Shepherd Field, and on any given day, multiple massive airplanes may be prepared to support our troops in the Middle East.

On the day I visited, there were four C5s being loaded, as well as a smaller, still-huge aircraft, which while I watched, took off. Even when you see it with your own eyes, it is nearly unbelievable that those enormous, slate-grey birds can fly.

Additionally, coming and going was a large helicopter operated by Allegheny Power, equipped underneath with a video camera that allows technicians to visualize power lines from midair.

On weekends, leisure pilots land in their Cessnas and Pipers. Since a single C5 is already longer from nose to tail than the entire runway used by the Wright Brothers to initiate aviation, it takes an extensive runway to launch it into the air. For weekend pilots, the Martinsburg field offers a big, flat, easy place to touch and go.

At the restaurant, stick to what aviators call the “hundred dollar hamburger.” It’s a term given to the meal around which a pilot will build a flight – as in, “Honey, let’s fly up to Martinsburg for lunch.”

With the cost of aviation fuel at around $5 per gallon currently, a simple burger becomes a luxury proposition. The burger at The Runway is large and well-crusted on the surface, on a nice, big roll, with lettuce, tomato and onion. And you will certainly salivate the first time you smell French fries emerging from the kitchen.

The restaurant also just acquired its beer and wine licensure, and a drum kit assembled in one corner of the room attests to open-mic nights, now on Thursdays. Dinners include turkey and roast beef, as well as a seafood platter and crab cakes, and each Saturday night offers a 10-ounce steak special.

Leave yourself time to appreciate the small museum that extends from the terminal lobby. Wall fixtures tell the story of Shepherd Field, which was established in 1923. Images of antique postcards, with biplanes and leather-helmet aviators, are interspersed with a copy of the 1934 contract that gave residence at the field to the Berkeley Aviators Club.

Enormous orange field lights fill one end of a room, in which old barometric instruments and charts recall a time before computers. Model airplanes fill a case.

Old radio equipment is next to a display of munitions, including practice-bomb fragments that attest to the area’s longstanding position in military readiness. A letter from the long defunct All American Airways offers one-way fare from Martinsburg to Chicago for $40.54. A 1956 written register lists the Cessnas, Beechcraft and Apache aircraft that landed at the field, as well as a Piasecki helicopter for which the owner’s name was given as Uncle Sam.