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12/12/17    Home | Articles | Training | Instructor's Corner | Airplanes | Travelogues | PIREPS | For CFIs | ATPs | Pilot for Hire


Mountain Flying
By Ryan Ferguson

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Conclusion

Colorado Mountain Passes Click the image above to see specific passes and airports visited while flying the route.
The mountain flying course, particularly the flying portion, was excellent. I applaud the CPA for what they're doing on behalf of general aviation safety. As Mark put it to me, pilots who die in the mountains are not stupid pilots. They are, for the most part, as smart and cautious as anyone else out there; what they lack is knowledge. Knowledge is indeed a powerful ally when flying in mountains, and with it the pilot can go forth armed and confident that he or she is well capable of the task at hand.

Is the course for everyone? I think it's a good primer for anyone who hasn't flown out of high-elevation airports and/or has never left the flatlands. I, and some others, came prepared, with the benefit of having read Sparky Imeson's Mountain Flying Bible and having done quite a bit of aircraft performance computation, specifically calculating critical performance airspeeds. As such most of what I heard during the ground school was a good refresher; and although I would have preferred to delve into more specifics, it was clearly beneficial to many of the pilots in the group who were hearing this stuff for the first time. Therefore I do recommend this course, especially the flying portion, and I would like to reiterate my appreciation to the CPA for taking the time to put together such a well-groomed course and instructor crew.

For more information on the Colorado Pilots' Association Mountain Flying Course, please visit ColoradoPilots.org and check out the 'Mountain Flying' portion of their site. Classes are scheduled several times per year and are well worth attending!

I'm going to wrap up with a bullet point list of the 'Salient Points' I took away from the mountain flying course. Enjoy!

Mountain Flying 'Salient Points'

  1. Always fly the appropriate indicated airspeed for the intended operation.

  2. Never fly over terrain you're not prepared to walk out of; carry a complete set of survival gear, including but not limited to warm clothes, signal mirror, food and water, and medical supplies.

  3. Always know where the wind is coming from.

  4. Cross ridges at a forty-five degree angle, at least 1,000 feet above the ridge.

  5. If lift (updrafts/downdrafts) is not a factor, fly on the appropriate side of the valley so that your 180 degree exit turn can be made into the wind.

  6. Visualize water flowing over the mountains, ridges, and valleys like water. The wind is unstoppable; like water, it will fill every available nook and cranny.

  7. Know the performance of your airplane:

    • Vy decreases with altitude; as a rule of thumb, 1mph for every 1,000 feet of density altitude.

    • Vg decreases as weight decreases; as a rule of thumb, Vg decreases 2mph for every 10% under maximum gross weight.

    • Rule of thumb: for every 10% under maximum gross weight, performance improves by 20%.

    • Weight and density altitude are the two most important factors when considering the appropriate airspeed to fly for best rate of climb or best glide. Learn to interpolate to figure the proper performance data before you need it.

    • Don't use short field flap settings for high density altitude takeoffs (unless the field is truly short.) Short field flap settings offer a better angle, not rate of of climb; at the typically long high-elevation airports flaps will be a hindrance to reaching Vy more quickly.

  8. Slow down. Flying slower provides for a more reaction time and a tighter turning radius.

  9. Mountain flying requires good VFR conditions.

  10. For safety from eddies, wind shear, and gusty conditions, plan your approach using the runway numbers as your aim point, flare 500 feet down the runway, and try to touch down on the 1,000 ft. marks. High altitude runways are quite long and this provides insurance in case of a severe downdraft.

  11. The actual horizon is well below the mountaintops.

  12. Always be prepared to turn towards lower terrain. Always have an emergency landing spot picked out.

  13. Lean for the desired performance every time you change altitude.

  14. Mountain flying is not a guaranteed 'go.' Check the forecast, then test the waters. If you like what you see initially, proceed; if not, turn back. Don't become too attached to completing your flight.

  15. Think three-dimensionally. Be willing to use altitude to maneuver.

I hope you've enjoyed this article. If you have any comments, please email me at ryan@fergworld.com. Fly safe!