What are basic mountain route planning considerations?

Loren French, with Alpine Flight Training, teaches an introductory mountain flying course aimed at piston-engine pilots navigating below 12,000 feet in VFR conditions. His guidance is to develop a strategy that puts conditions in your favor. Loren’s route planning strategy includes these four basic topics listed below:

Basic Mountain Route planning considerations:
Foreflight VFR chart Rocky Mountains with user defined waypoints, photo credit wikiWings
ForeFlight VFR chart of the Rocky Mountains with user defined waypoints, photo credit wikiWings

Survival: Avoid routes over inhospitable remote terrain were it would be difficult to survive at least one night waiting for rescue. GPS direct is usually not the safest route in the mountains.
Terrain: Children of the magenta line beware.  Mountain flying below FL120 involves user waypoints – points in space – not predefined aeronautical intersections. Only fly terrain routes compatible with your aircraft and your capabilities. You’ll want to be knowledgeable in reading topographical maps. Plan your route over the correct passes, valleys, drainages, etc.
Performance: Understand the performance of your airplane and develop critical decision making skills for takeoff, climb and landing at mountain altitudes.
Weather: What are your go – no go mountain flying weather minimums?

Develop your mountain flying proficiency with an expert local instructor.

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What’s the mountain performance of your airplane?

2008 Cirrus Perspective SR22TN Turbo, Eagle County Airport (KEGE) Colorado, blue sky and scattered clouds, photo credit wikiWings
2008 Cirrus Perspective SR22TN Turbo, Eagle County Airport (KEGE) Colorado, blue sky and scattered clouds, photo credit wikiWings

What’s your airplane’s performance at mountain altitudes? Airplane performance is one of five primary topics discussed in the Alpine Flight Training course.

The Pilot Operating Handbook (POH), Section 5 contains performance data for takeoff, climb gradients and landing distances, which you’ll want to study. Your airplane’s performance will vary based on weight, altitude and air temperature. And, keep in mind the POH numbers listed are for a new aircraft. Your plane’s age and condition can be a factor in actual performance.

Alpine Flight Training, suggests creating a blank table template and entering the actual performance for your individual airplane. Training with a local expert can help you gain a better understanding of your airplane’s true performance in the mountains at high altitude. It’s said, a normally aspirated airplane will lose about 3% in engine performance for every 1,000 feet.  At an altitude of 10,000 feet that’s a 30% loss in engine power. Continue reading “What’s the mountain performance of your airplane?”

We completed a mountain flying course with full motion Redbird FMX simulator

Mountain goat above the clouds in sunset - Alpine Ibex - in Julian Alps_credit iStockPhotos
End of the Day, mountain goat above clouds in sunset, credit iStock Photos

This year, we also completed a mountain flying course with Professional Aviation Resources (PAR), based in Addison Texas. Rachel Palmer, CEO of PAR, ensured all the scheduling and onsite arrangements were flawlessly managed.

The course included a day of ground instruction, followed by flight training in a full motion Redbird FMX simulator with the configuration based on our make and model aircraft. Robert Palmer is the lead Cirrus Standardized Instructor Pilot (CSIP). He has more than 18,000 hours flight experience and many levels of certification. He has put together a very well designed program with high quality instruction.

To begin our day, an old mountain flying joke provided the context for training. It’s a cartoon of two pilots looking out from the cockpit into the clouds and asking the question “What’s that goat doing up here in the clouds?” When flying close to mountains you don’t want to see goats in the clouds. Continue reading “We completed a mountain flying course with full motion Redbird FMX simulator”

Here’s the syllabus for our Introduction to Mountain Flying Course

Mountain Flying above Beaver Creek Colorado Ski Resort
Mountain Flying above Beaver Creek Colorado Ski Resort, photo credit wikiWings

If you’re interested in flying near mountains you must realize it’s very valuable to receive expert instruction. There are many mountain flight training programs based around the Rockies. Choose one and get with a local expert for personal training.

In Cirrus speak, you’ll want to have a plan to increase both your Critical Decision Making (CDM) and Cirrus Pilot Proficiency (CPP) skills. But CDM may be the most important, as astronaut Frank Borman said, “A superior pilot uses his superior judgement to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.”

Here’s the ground instruction syllabus for our Introduction to Mountain Flying Course, by Loren French with Alpine Flight Training. The course introduction begins with a strategy discussion. You’ll want a personal strategy to put as many conditions as possible in your favor. Continue reading “Here’s the syllabus for our Introduction to Mountain Flying Course”