Mountain and Backcountry Flight Training

Lesson 1

Coordination Maneuvers

  • Coordination Rolls (misnomer “Dutch Rolls”) — maintain nose on a point on the horizon, roll the aircraft back and forth, pivoting on the point. Too much rudder = nose in direction of turn; too much aileron = nose opposite turn.
  • Climbing Turns — Greater right rudder during left and right turns.
  • Level Flight Turns — Once established, relax rudder pressure.
  • Descending Turns — Less right rudder during right turn.
Lesson 5

Canyon Flying

  • Path through mountain drainage — if possible fly the right side.
  • Avoid the downdraft area. If you can’t gain altitude on one side, try the other.
  • Turn around prior to the point-of-no-return (500-feet AGL); gain additional altitude to continue.
  • Avoid the center of a canyon — wind shear possible and poor position to turn around.
Lesson 9


  • Check for obstacles and power lines (structures).
  • Maneuver to approach the top of the drainage without compromising safety.
  • Approach the top at slowest, safe speed. Use flaps and reduced power.
Lesson 13

Check Out Airstrip

  • Surface condition — frost (slippery)
  • Game or livestock on runway or nearby.
  • Other aircraft operations.
  • Plan the approach (and departure) path.
  • Possible emergency landing spots during the approach and departure.
  • Miscellaneous — gradient, wind direction and velocity, surrounding terrain and obstacles.

What we will do together:


Preflight with greater detail for a backcountry flight.
Particular attention to landing gear, tires, brakes, brake lines (no missing clamps), flap rollers, seat rail locks, cargo net tie-down, clean windshield (up and down, not circular), fuel quantity (calibration stick).
Survival Vest and tracking device
Flight Plan


Power settings, airspeeds and configuration for mountain flying, using the POH.
Know takeoff and landing distances and the climb performance of your aircraft.
Conduct aircraft by the numbers performance test
Density altitude performance, Reduce weight!
Learning the mixture


Early in the morning
In the evening
Pilotage & Maps
Drainage & Canyon flying


Coordination Rolls – maintain nose on a point on the horizon, roll the aircraft back and forth, pivoting on the point. Too much rudder = nose in direction of turn; too much aileron = nose opposite turn.


Slow Flight at minimum controllable airspeed.
Accelerated Stalls with distraction
Rudder Stall, Falling leaf
Forward Slips Right and Left
Simulated skidded turn


Slow down! 80 kts. 20 degrees of flap (remain within flap speed)
Flying in a canyon with plenty of room to turn around at an altitude of no less than 500’ AGL.
Slow down! 80 kts, 20 degree flap, no more than 45 degree bank turn.


Visualize Orographic Lift – mechanical lift due to mountains.
Visualize wind as water – visualize updrafts, downdrafts and turbulence areas.


Visual aspects can be deceiving.
If you can see more and more of the terrain on the other side.
Approach at an angle to allow turn toward lower terrain.


Mountain flying speed, maneuvering speed or less
Flying slowly in canyon is critical to safe operations; keep you head and eyes outside the cockpit!
Path through mountain drainage – Fly the updraft side.
Avoid the center – wind shear possible and poor position to turn around
Avoid shadows if possible–usually the downdraft area. If can’t gain altitude on one side, try the other.
Always be in a position to turn around.


Reduce to Va.
Visualize what is causing the turbulence and reposition to avoid.
Maintain aircraft control – Fly attitude, not altitude.
Turbulence is found:
On the lee side of mountain ridges
Near changes from sunlit to shaded terrain
In canyons when winds aloft exceed 20 knots
In canyons where orographic and thermal effects are in opposition
At the confluence of two drainages
Where a canyon narrows –Venturi effect


Flying Blind – Climb 2,000 feet above the highest terrain
Snags – Avoid flying within 100 feet above timber.
Power lines may be invisible, look for support structures.
Dirty windshield – especially when the sun is at a low angle to the horizon.
Always remain in a position to turn toward lowing terrain


Minimum altitude 500-feet vertical
Best to fly 1000 to 2000 AGL in noise sensitive areas
Fly Quiet
Avoid gullies and narrow ravines


Approach landing area at canyon speed 80 knots
800-1000 feet above field, thoroughly check out approach and departure
Do not land unless you are sure you can take off again
This is the time to checkout the departure route
Runway surface conditions and hazards
Game or livestock on the runway
Other operations
Runway Gradient, Gradient versus wind
Surrounding terrain and obstacles
Your planned approach path
Your planned departure path
Aim point
Abort point and abort path


Best to fly as close as you can a standard traffic pattern
Fly a constant airspeed, power on, controlled descent to a precise spot.
When landing in the backcountry you will fly a full or near full flap steep approach (4 to 4.5 degree) ,
Power on, stabilized with the airspeed pegged to a precise aim spot.
Power on approaches:  precise control over descent path, compensate for wind gusts, lift, sink and turbulence.
Steep approach (4 to 4.5 degree) clear obstacles and see the runway better, shorter ground roll.
Precise Airspeed: so there is no float
Avoid dragging the airplane in on a low, flat, mushing approach


Make all turns with a minimum of power after proceeding forward. Don’t turn from a stopped position.
It takes too much power and propeller damage can occur. Shutting down and turning the airplane by hand is a     good practice. Be very mindful of other aircraft and people and their belongings (tents etc.) do not blast them in at high power turn around.
On the ground, propeller awareness, uneven surface, animal holes, trees. Often it is best to move off the landing strip and shut down and check out the parking area.


Walk the airstrip before departure mark 50%. At 50% of the runway have 70% of  liftoff speed.
If not ABORT.
Flap position for maximum lift
Mixture for density altitiude
Combination short-soft field takeoff; just enough back pressure to lighten the load.
High DA airplane takes a long time to accelerate.
After breaking ground reduce the AOA and fly in ground effect
Pitch attitudes at high DA are much flatter. If you can’t see the ground over the nose lower the pitch attitude
Common mistake is to over rotate
Gusty wind VR, plus gust factor
**As a general rule when wind is less than 10 knots takeoff downhill

Rules of thumb:

Runway and wind:
When computing runway gradient, every 1.0% grade equals a 10% change in effective runway length
Every 9 knots of headwind will decrease takeoff or landing distance by 10%
Every 2 knots of tailwind will increase takeoff or landings distance by approximately 10%
A 10% increase in groundspeed results in a 20% increase in landing distance
If the tailwind is more than 10 knots consider not taking off on a downhill airstrip, wait until the wind dies down or changes directions.
Taking off uphill creates other considerations: tall trees and rising terrain, downdrafts and wind shear.
Power loss:
3.5% normally aspirated engine for every 1000’
A 10% increase in gross weight results in 10 % increase in landing distance

Recommended Reading:
“Mountain Flying Bible and Flight Operations Handbook” by Sparky Imeson