2010 Western Air Tour

‘I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.’
- Robert Frost

The longing for open spaces is raw this time of year in the midwest. After months of living indoor, the first tastes of spring arrive and taste as sweet as the finest chocolate. We’ve fallen into a habit the past few years of shaking off the torpor of winter by jumping into planning for our summer adventures and so we find ourselves again with spring at the doorstep and plans ready to execute.

This summer we will take on six national parks (Hot Springs, Carlsbad Caverns, Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce, Yellowstone) and a national monument (Mt. Rushmore).

To add to the excitement, we’re going to do this by air.

Mountain flying has a whole lot of complications that us flatlanders just don’t have to worry about very much. Many of the airports are high enough that you can really only use them first thing in the morning. Winds blowing through valleys create sinks and lifts that must be taken into account. And flight planning is complicated by the fact that you can rarely fly direct to your destination in a small plane. They simply don’t have the power needed to get up and over some of the mountains. Flight planning must therefore include a dogged attention valleys, passes and finding ways up the various ranges until reaching your destination.

There is a saying in aviation: There is a difference between being legal and being safe. This applies to this trip in that my license makes me legal to fly in the mountains, but I wouldn’t necessarily be safe without taking some additional steps. To get some education, I’ve been reading a couple books about mountain flying. These have been very educational for a couple reasons. First, they layout a pretty conservative approach, and we’ll be taking that advice to heart. Second, the authors of both the books I’ve been reading were killed violating their own rules in the mountains. One flying too low in less than perfect weather and flying into a forest and the other flying too low and hitting power lines. Our flight plan sticks with fairly accessible airports and avoids challenging terrain as much as possible.

The other major thing I’ll be doing is getting out to Denver and doing some mountain training with a flight instructor out there. If I get lucky, maybe I’ll even get to go soaring. But that’s a topic for another post…

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