Have you ever been on a plane that took so long to take off, it felt as if you were going to taxi all the way to your destination? If you’ve flown out of some of the airports on this list, that might explain why. Here are the longest runways in the US.
The runway is one of the most important parts of an airline’s infrastructure. Airplanes need plenty of space to build up enough speed and prepare for takeoff or to safely touch down. Busy airports that have plenty of flights need enough runway space for all the planes leaving as well as those waiting their turn to taxi.
As airplanes are getting bigger, the demand for larger runways is growing. Heavy intercontinental passenger liners or massive cargo planes need more space to safely take off and land, which is why airports with this infrastructure are becoming more and more important.
Some airports plan for this infrastructural challenge by building long runways, while others had to scramble to extend existing runways. Regardless of how they got there, here are the longest runways in the country.
Table of Contents
- 10. Runway 5/23, Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington
- 9. Runway 13R/31L, Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada
- 8. Runway 8L/26R, Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
- 7. Runway 14/32, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
- 6. Runway 13R-31L, John F. Kennedy Airport, New York City, New York
- 5. Runway 12/30, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California
- 4. Runway 15/33, Shuttle Landing Facility, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
- 3. Runway 05R/23L, Edwards Air Force Base, California
- 2. Runway 17/35, Southern California Logistics Airport, Victorville, California
- 1. Runway 16R/34L, Denver International Airport, Colorado
10. Runway 5/23, Fairchild Air Force Base, Spokane, Washington
Fairchild Air Force Base just outside of Spokane is one of the Air Force’s largest bases in terms of surface area and population. It also has one of the longest runways in the country. It has just one, but it makes it count: the Air Force Base’s runway is 13,899 feet long.
Military bases tend to have long runways, particularly if they are testing larger aircraft. Military craft tend to be larger than many passenger airliners because they need to transport military equipment in addition to people.
Fairchild Air Force Base has the additional challenge of being located very close to the Spokane civilian airport—in fact, they share airspace. The long runway is even more important to minimize interference with traffic from the local civilian airport.
Naval Air Station Fallon in Nevada boasts a very long runway of its own. The base’s main runway, 13R/31L is 14,000 feet long and the longest that the Navy has in its ownership.
The Navy uses Naval Air Station Fallon mostly as a training center. Pilots from the Navy come here to train for important military operations, which is why the base needs such a long runway. Besides the impressive runway, Naval Air Station Fallon has other training facilities such as an electronic warfare range and a whopping four bombing ranges.
The long runway also prepares Naval Air Station Fallon in case of an attack. In fact, the base was first built during World War Two to defend against a possible attack on the West Coast by the Axis.
8. Runway 8L/26R, Harry Reid International Airport, Las Vegas, Nevada
Harry Reid International Airport in Las Vegas (formerly McCarran International Airport) has one of the longest civilian runways in the country. The monster Runway 8L/26R is a whopping 14,515 feet long. Some lists put Harry Reid above JFK Airport in length, but a recent reconstruction means that JFK just beats it out for the #7 spot.
The extreme length is not the only interesting thing about this runway. Until 2017, the airport’s longest runway was known as Runway 7L/25R. However, because runways are named after their compass bearing, a shift in the Earth’s magnetic poles meant the runways at Las Vegas’s airport had to be renamed.
Harry Reid International Airport boasts plenty of unique features besides its runways. It is one of the few airports in the United States with slot machines in the terminals, and every so often, somebody wins big.
7. Runway 14/32, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska
Everything is bigger in the biggest state in the United States, including the runways. Runway 14/32 on Eielson Air Force Base is 14,530 feet long and 150 feet wide.
The Air Force uses Eielson Air Force Base to train soldiers for work in an arctic setting. The base’s location near Fairbanks means that the soldiers get plenty of exposure to freezing temperatures and Arctic conditions. It has a massive surface area stretching over thousands of acres for all sorts of wilderness training purposes.
Besides the soldiers, the ground crew at Eielson Air Force Base also needs to train hard for winter conditions. That’s because clearing snow off the runway is a stunning effort—and in Alaska, snow is a pretty frequent occurrence!
6. Runway 13R-31L, John F. Kennedy Airport, New York City, New York
John F. Kennedy Airport has the longest civilian runway on the East Coast of the United States. Although some lists put it just below Harry Reid in terms of length, a recent reconstruction made JFK Airport’s longest runway even longer. As of 2011, the revamped Bay Runway is 14,572 feet long—that’s nearly 3 miles.
The Bay Runway is one of the largest passenger runways in the world, not just in the United States. Besides its length, it offers a smooth concrete surface and a great width.
In fact, JFK’s Bay Runway is so long that NASA designated it as an official backup runway for space missions. Not only is the runway good enough to serve the hundreds of passenger liners that fly out of JFK’s several terminals daily, but it can also even host space shuttles!
5. Runway 12/30, Vandenberg Space Force Base, California
Some of the longest runways in the country belong to military facilities because the aircraft that fly out of these bases are much larger and heavier than most civilian craft. Runway 12/30 at California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base is one of those monster runways at a whopping 15,000 feet long. It is the second-longest runway in the Department of Defense’s possession.
Although it boasts the second-longest runway, the U.S. Space Force is the smallest branch of the United States military. It focuses on space operations, including military defense systems, satellite communications, and new space equipment.
The Vandenberg Space Force Base uses its runway to test new Department of Defense-sanctioned projects and can even use its runway to launch satellites and other spacecraft.
4. Runway 15/33, Shuttle Landing Facility, Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Space shuttles need much longer runways than regular airplanes. They’re bigger, and they go on longer journeys, so it makes sense that they need more space to build up speed for launch or to touch down. That’s why it also makes sense that one of the longest runways in the country is at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.
The paved runway at Kennedy Space Center is 15,000 feet long, as long as the runway at Vandenberg Space Force Base. However, it edges out the competition on the ranking list because it has a 1,000-foot paved overflow at the end.
The runway is larger than regular airport runways in other ways as well. It is as wide as a football field (160 feet) instead of the more standard 150 feet. The pavement is also a whopping 16 inches thick to withstand the weight of shuttles thundering over it.
3. Runway 05R/23L, Edwards Air Force Base, California
The longest military runway in the United States is located at Edwards Air Force Base in California. The monster runway 05R/23L is 15,024 feet long.
The runway at Edwards Air Force Base is so long that NASA even uses it as part of its Dryden Flight Research Center, which is very close to Edwards Air Force Base.
Besides offering prime space for testing large equipment, the runway is extremely long for safety. Test pilots have plenty of space to gain control over their aircraft, and if the 15,000 feet of the runway is not enough, the dry lakebed provides enough space to act as an overflow.
2. Runway 17/35, Southern California Logistics Airport, Victorville, California
The second-largest runway in the country is located at Southern California Logistics Airport in Victorville. The main runway is 15,050 feet long.
To serve its purposes, Southern California Logistics Airport needs a runway that is this long. Major airlines use this airport to transfer, store, and even test their aircraft, including massive passenger liners. Occasionally, the airport serves as a transport facility for freight.
Southern California Logistics Airport used to be a military facility, George Air Force Base, until 1992. The military usage can help explain why the runway needed to be so long. Now it is an important facility for major airlines, even though the average passenger will never take off from this runway.
1. Runway 16R/34L, Denver International Airport, Colorado
Denver International Airport boasts not only the largest runway in the United States but also one of the longest in the world. The main runway, 16R/34L, is a whopping 16,000 feet long.
Overall, everything is bigger at Denver International Airport. In terms of surface area, it is the second-biggest airport in the world and the largest in the United States. It has six runways, the most of any airport in the United States. Denver needs so much space because it is at a higher altitude than many major airports. The challenging atmospheric conditions at high altitudes mean that pilots need more space to safely take off and land.