The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the general aviation (GA) community’s national #FlySafe campaign helps educate GA pilots about safety, including loss of control (LOC), powerplant failure, and controlled flight into terrain (CFIT).
Stay safe! This series will show you how you can incorporate safety into every flight.
What Is Mountain Flying?
Flying over mountains can offer beautiful scenery and views you just can’t get from the ground. Whether it’s the Sierra Nevadas, the Rockies, or the Appalachians, mountain flying is often an unforgettable experience. However, keep in mind that mountain flying also involves more risks than flying over the flatlands.
Flying in mountainous areas is challenging, not only because operational altitudes and winds are higher, but also because weather reporting and off-airport landing opportunities are fewer than in other flight environments. Thus, while there are fewer accidents in mountainous areas than in the flatlands, mountain flying accidents are more likely to result in fatalities.
Keep in mind also that the conditions of “mountain” flying can be found in many areas that are considered to be non-mountainous. For example, density altitudes over 8,500 feet can be found over the eastern plains of Colorado in the summer. Mechanical turbulence and even mountain waves can be found in areas that aren’t considered to be mountainous.
Know Before You Go
Mountain flying is precise flying, and it’s made safer by using every available clue about the weather and the terrain. While all flying involves risk, mountain flying brings even more challenges. You need to be on your toes, think quickly, and weigh your options. You will need to fully understand your abilities as a pilot, and the limitations of your aircraft.
For starters, it’s essential that you attend a recognized mountain flying course, which is a good first step in giving you the knowledge and skills you will need. Contact your local FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam Rep) or an FAA Flight Standards District Office for references.
A good rule of thumb is to have about 150 hours of pilot-in-command time under your belt before you take mountain training. These hours will give you the experience you need to be familiar and comfortable with your aircraft. You’ll also have gained greater experience with flight planning.
Mountain flying can stretch your abilities to fly the airplane proficiently as you navigate and confront weather challenges. There are many do’s and don’ts of mountain flying, and it’s important that you take the time to understand all of them.
- Don’t allow yourself to be pressured into completing a flight. Mountain flying requires you to think clearly and evaluate quickly. Understand your aircraft, and know how to read the weather.
- Don’t fly too close to rough terrain or cliffs, even for that perfect picture.
- Don’t fail to recognize that air, although invisible, acts like water and will flow along the contours of the mountains and valleys. Visualize where the wind is coming from, and imagine what water would do in the same situation.
- Do recognize that frost and air density are real threats with mountain flying. Understand how they both could affect your aircraft’s performance.
- Do ensure your aircraft is properly fueled and that you have survival equipment onboard.
- Don’t be too proud to check with experienced mountain pilots when you have a question.
- Do consider a training course! Training is essential to fully understand all the challenges with mountain flying.
The Final Word …
Fly regularly with a flight instructor who will challenge you to review what you know, explore new horizons, and to always do our best.
Be sure to document your achievement in the WINGS Proficiency Program. It’s a great way to stay on top of your game and keep your flight review current.
Did you know?
Loss of Control happens in all phases of flight. It can happen anywhere and at any time.
There is an average of one fatal accident involving Loss of Control every four days.
This FAA Fact Sheet will give you solid, helpful tips.
A long list of do’s and don’ts can be found in this FAA Tips document.
The FAA’s Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge covers aircraft performance in Chapter 11 here.
Chapter 5, Section 7-5-6 of the Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM) covers Mountain Flying.
The NTSB has prepared this important Safety Alert on Mountain Flying.
This AOPA Safety Advisor also has excellent tips.
Curious about FAA regulations (Title 14 Code of Federal Regulations)? It’s a good idea to stay on top of them. You can find current FAA regulations on this website.
The FAASafety.gov website has Notices, FAAST Blasts, online courses, webinars, and more on key general aviation safety topics.
The WINGS Pilot Proficiency Program helps pilots build an educational curriculum suitable for their unique flight requirements. It is based on the premise that pilots who maintain currency and proficiency in the basics of flight will enjoy a safer and more stress-free flying experience.
The General Aviation Joint Steering Committee (GAJSC) is comprised of government and industry experts who work together to use data to identify risk, pinpoint trends through root cause analysis, and develop safety strategies to reduce the risk of GA accidents. The GAJSC combines the expertise of many key decision makers in the FAA, several government agencies such as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and stakeholder groups. Industry participants include the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Light Aircraft Manufacturers Association, National Business Aviation Association, National Air Transportation Association, National Association of Flight Instructors, Society of Aviation and Flight Educators, and the aviation insurance industry. The National Transportation Safety Board and the European Aviation Safety Agency participate as observers.