Foothill and Mountain Flying, Part 2

To expand our overview of mountain flying it is important to understand that this summary is not intended to cover all aspects of mountain flight but to merely raise awareness of some of the special challenges you may encounter. In conjunction with the clinics previously discussed (Part 1) it’s also a good idea to postpone mountain flying until you have at least 150 hours of PIC time. With that experience most pilots feel more comfortable with the combined work load of flying proficiently, navigating, and dealing with mountain weather. The minimum BHP for an aircraft with a pilot of little actual mountain experience should be 160. Other sources state a good rule of thumb is 60 horsepower per person over 2 people. Carry enough fuel (once entering the mountains) to make a round trip plus 45 minutes. Keep your aircraft weight as low as possible.

It is suggested that ceilings be at least 3000 feet above the highest elevation along your route and you should plan to cross passes at a minimum of 2000 feet AGL. Experienced pilots recommend a visibility of at least 15 miles. Good visibility will keep you oriented in the sometimes confusing situation of losing site of the horizon when navigation is by pilotage and dead reckoning. Do not attempt flight if winds aloft at the mountain tops are 25 knots or greater. This creates potentially dangerous up and down drafts. Most all mountain pilots agree that IFR and night flight in the mountains should be avoided. Instrument approaches and departure procedures require a highly skilled pilot and high performance aircraft. When planning your trip it may be a good idea to call ahead to several airports (FBO’s) for recommendations on routes to use and to inquire about local hazards, etc., that may not be on the charts. See if these suggested routes correspond with highways, rivers and valleys — places that generally provide better emergency landing sites. Always have an alternate route planned no matter how good the forecast weather, which can change suddenly. Make sure your route provides ample room for course reversal if necessary. Know where major ridges are and always approach them at a 45 degree angle or less. This will provide an opportunity to turn around if your’re caught in a down draft and are unable to gain altitude for ridge clearance.

Learning about the added dangers of mountain flight and acquiring the skills to deal with them can minimize any apprehension you may have. This will enable you to fly the airplane every second rather than letting it “fly you.”


  • Aviation News April 2001 Thelma Bullinger
  • FAA Aviation Safety Program (AFS-820)
  • WCFC Ground School

Question: Do you know the 7 different types of Class E Airspace?
Answer: AIM 3-2-6 Class E Airspace

Foothill and Mountain Flying, Part 1
Foothill and Mountain Flying, Part 3

These safety tips are provided by the WCFC Safety Committee. They are intended to stimulate thought and discussion about flight safety and do not necessarily represent club policy nor are they intended to replace instruction from a qualified instructor.

Foothill and Mountain Flying, Part 2