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Mountain Flying

by Jason Schappert

Mountain Flying can be dangerous if you don’t take the time to prepare for it. CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) is best defined as flying a perfectly good airplane into some sort of terrain usually a mountain.

This is primarily due to pilots having a lack of understanding when it comes to flying in the mountains.

In the video below you’ll learn
- How to approach a mountain pass
- How to always leave yourself a way out
- How mountain waves effect you as a pilot

Hey everybody. Jason Schappert of MzeroA.com bringing you an awesome video podcast that I actually just got the chance to do today and that is mountain flying. Here is a picture from today, and here also is a video we took from today. This is all part of our flying across America journey.

We departed from El Paso and headed due west to Tucson today. So you can see we can some real exciting experience flying in the mountains. I want to share with you this week about our experience and about some of the dangers of mountain flying. Like, the weather’s getting bad and a lot of pilots are getting out there flying, the Rocky Mountains are a lot different mountains than the Appalachian Mountains or anything on the East Coast for that matter. Remember, I’m just a Florida-based pilot so this is all new to me although I have a good idea of what mountain flying was.

So let’s go ahead and I’ll show you a little bit along with some pictures that we took today about mountain flying.

So approaching a mountain pass. Today was all about finding the right pass and the right route to go through. So we take a look at our mountain and we can see here we have three peaks and we have some gaps in between or a pass in between. The thing you always wanna do, you never wanna approach a pass or a mountain gap like that head. You always wanna approach it at a 45-degree angle. This allows you to get a better look at the pass and it also leaves you a way out. That way, if you get there and you realize you don’t like what’s on the other side or it’s getting a bit too turbulent for you, you can just make a 90-degree turn. Whereas if you approach it head on, you would have to make a 180-degree turn. So you’re leaving yourself an easy way out and also give you a good look at the mountain pass so always approach at that 45-degree angle.

Also, check out the weather in the pass. One thing you’re gonna notice when you’re starting to fly out west is that the FAA has put ASOS and AWOS stations in the mountain pass that you can tune to and listen to what the weather is like in the pass. Because, just because the weather is beautiful at the airport or at the other side of the ridge that you are going to doesn’t mean the weather is also beautiful in that pass. It’s a different elevation, different winds, different conditions. So, if they have an ASOS or an AWOS in that pass, it’s real important that you listen to that so check the weather just like the METAR at the airport that you’re going to.

What about mountain waves? Let’s look at this picture. So we got our strong winds. This is what actually happened to us today. Let us look at it from left to right. We had a great tailwind carrying us up the mountain and over it. However, on the other side, this is where you get those low clouds and you can see how it kinda eddies down the mountain and that’s what causing your turbulent air because the air gets so disrupted by that mountain. You get a lot of turbulence on the backside of that mountain. So just because it’s all nice and easy that way, you know, it’s gonna get turbulent on the other side and that’s the same if you’re approaching on the opposite direction and there’s turbulence first. Turbulence and mountains go hand in hand especially on a windy day.

I talked to flight instructors that fly the mountains and when they know the wind is at 15 to 20 knots, they just don’t go flying because this is the kind of turbulence that can beat you up right into that mountain.

You know we had a ton of updrafts and downdrafts today as you can see in some of these pictures. It’s nothing to mess around with especially with the tailwind that close to you. So let’s go ahead and talk about some tips for safe mountain flying.

First one. Know your density altitude. This is gonna directly relate to your aircraft’s performance. The Cessna 150, this has a 100 horsepower. So with density altitude on top of we’re already flying at 8500 feet, didn’t make things easy for us today. Today had to be a really early morning flight and the airplane, you could feel it, it was so sluggish. I wouldn’t dare do what we did today in the heat of the afternoon. There’s no way you could be able to do it. The airplane may be able to get off that ground and get that high but it wouldn’t be maneuverable enough to do what we needed to do today.

Know your route and know your backup route. Have your first route and have a backup route as well just in case that pass is blocked. Remember we said, the weather in the pass can always be different. And the last tip I have for you is always have a way out. Just like we said approach a pass or the gap at a 45-degree angle you are leaving yourself a way out. So when you’re turning around, just leave yourself an extreme back up where you can turn around to where you know it’s safe and you can put the airplane down in another airport or at least get flying ina better direction. So that’s all I have for you guys on mountain flying today. Beneath this post if you’re looking at it from MzeroA.com, there are some great pictures of my mountain flying today. If you’re not, you’re watching this in Youtube, go to MZeroA.com/mountain-flying. So go ahead and take a look at that and, I look forward to seeing you guys next week. I will be in California, or actually later this week so we can have some video podcasts coming to you direct from California, the west end of our flying across America journey.

So that is all I have for you today. Remember, a good pilot is always learning. See you guys later.

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  • Jim M

    Thanks, nice photos too!

  • Bugdoctor

    Great information and nice presentation.

  • Jai Pagare

    Hey Jason,

    Gr8 video!! Mountain flying broadcast is surely gonna help me long sAmerican cross country starting June 30th from California to Kansas..

    JAi

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  • http://www.facebook.com/MyScien Michael Mayes

    Mountain flying instruction also might be helpful :P. I know I wouldn't try it without at least some instruction. Hey! Might be a good excuse to take a vacation to learn heh.

    Good thing I live in the plains I guess.

  • mzeroa

    Michael!

    Yes the plains are good for keeping it flat :) so it Florida!

    A class on mountain flying or flying with an instructor who knows the area and a bit about mountain flying is also quite helpful.

  • mzeroa

    You know it! Please keep us updated on your trip.

    Jason

  • mzeroa

    Thanks for the kind words Jim!

    Jason

  • Charles Earl

    That was a great video! Thanks. Passing it on to friends. Is it almost better to simply fly over with 1,500 between you and the peaks and wear oxygen? When in doubt of wind and density altitude I mean? Perhaps not in a 172 but lets say a 182?

    Charles.

  • mzeroa

    Charles,

    All depends on you as the pilot and the terrain ahead. In our case we could pass over at an altitude of 8,500 ft. In some places this is just not an option unless it's early morning because of like you said… density altitude.

    Jason

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luke-Hornaday/153101432 Luke Hornaday

    Good video, Jason. I did my MEI in AZ so thanks for the memories. While you're flying West I've been Eastbound in a PA28 to Ocala of all places. Great town.

  • mzeroa

    Awesome Luke! Man you're coming to Ocala and I won't even be there! What a bummer!

  • http://twitter.com/110knots Mike Bennett

    Great tips Jason. I once flew out of Reno with a flight instructor for a scenic flight around Lake Tahoe and she gave me the same tips. We flew the 172m at a 45 degree angle to the pass “Mt Rose” and when we were sure we could make it we did.

  • Jack

    Nice video, makes a lot of sense – I hope some day I get some first-hand mountain flying training. Looks awesome, so long as you stay safe!

  • mzeroa

    Jack,

    That's the secret! Knowing what the heck you're doing to stay safe :) makes for awesome pictures and a great experience.

  • mzeroa

    Mike!

    Awesome! On a side note i'm a big Ski fan so Lake Tahoe and Mt Rose are all familiar names. Ya sometimes you just barely squeeze by but that can be some of the best flying of your life!

    -Jason

  • Jai Pagare

    Hey Jason,

    My America cross country from 1O2(Lampson) VIA 06C (Schuamburg RGNL) to KGPH (Midwest) Kansas city went through perfectly fine in C-172.. I don't know, but your mountain flying video did helped me a lot.. In all it took 21.8hrs in 2days..
    Guys, Every pilot should plan a lon cross country before CPL; believe me, I got first hand experience in Class C, D, E & G while talking to ATC and flight following controllers.. ATC & Controllers were very helpful..

    JAi

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  • Brandon

    Don’t think that mountain flying is only in the Rockies, I live in Knoxville, TN at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains which are almost 7,000ft high. We pull crashed airplanes off the tops every year. The major cause of accidents? NOT density altitude. The primary cause of accidents in the Smokies is VFR into IMC which ends in controlled flight into terrain. Also, strong winds are a major factor too but usually are in conjunction with IMC. Add to this that there are far more airplanes in the Southeast that have to cross the Appalachians to get somewhere, one could argue that the Appalachians can be far more dangerous than the Rockies due to population.

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