Instrument Rating Eagle Airport | Colorado Mountain Instrument Flying

Considerations When Planning IFR in the MountainsA couple years ago I had a Private Pilot come to Eagle for a two day mountain flight training course.  As with all pilots that attend this training, the starting place is a discussion about the type of flying they do, the flying they plan to do, skill level, their goals for the training, and their aircraft.

Based on these conversations I tailor the training to suit each pilot.  While every pilot will learn the same basics... mountain weather, density altitude, etc, some things will be different for each student.  For example a Malibu driver looking to fly to the Rockies mostly in the winter to ski will have a different training experience than a husky pilot looking for unimproved fields in the summer.  Along those same lines the experience will differ from a VFR pilot to a pilot planning to fly IFR.

In this case, the pilot I was working with had a very capable (turbine) aircraft.  He planned to fly instrument approaches and departures into mountain airports.

During the first day of training I asked the pilot to fly and instrument departure from Meeker airport.  This pilot promptly put on his foggles, throttled forward and got in the air.  Within about 15 seconds I knew he was not following the DP, and was just flying runway heading....(as he didn't have the chart out). I asked him to continue with his instrument departure but to please take the foggles of so he could see how this departure was playing out.

5 minutes later his comments were that "I guess maybe my aircraft doesn't have the performance to fly IFR out of mountain airports".  I politely responded that I didn't think aircraft performance was the issue.

The next few minutes was a chain of leading questions that lead nowhere.  As it turns out, this pilot had spent the last 10 years flying from flat land airports in an aircraft with incredible performance.  He was completely unaware that textual departure procedures even existed.  In fact he had never even noticed or looked at that section of the NOAA chart book.  For this pilot, if there was no SID that meant runway heading, contact atc.

For those of you Jepp users that I just lost... NOAA charts have all the DP's in the front of the book - not like Jepp charts that have them with the airport.

While this a somewhat comical situation, there is a moral to the story.  All pilots should seek mountain checkout, not just VFR, and not just those with aircraft short on performance.  I offer IFR mountain flying instruction as well as VFR mountain flying instruction.

Consider the how these are influenced by mountainous terrain:

  • SID / DP's - Climb Gradient / Density Altitude / Performance
  • Approaches - Steep - VDP's (visual descent points are common)
  • Missed Apporoaches - What happens if you go past a VDP and need to go missed? (This is sticky - I'll cover in the next post)
  • Circiling Approaches
  • Off-Angle Approaches (LOC, VOR and LDA)
  • Weather
  • Airframe Icing

Cross Country Flying to Colorado Mountains

Take a quick 5 minute journey from Baltimore Maryland across the USA to the Colorado Rockies

I recently had the opportunity to reposition our Diamond DA-20 from Baltimore Maryland to the Colorado Rockies.  This is a neat little video, traveling over the mountains of Maryland and West Virginia, through Ohio, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado and right into the Colorado Rockies, ultimately landing in Eagle Colorado.

As the video progresses you'll see the air get clearer and clearer - the haze of the moisture layer from Missouri disappears as we get into Kansas. As we reach Colorado the air is crystal clear and the view is vibrant. The flight through the mountains is probably the best of the footage. As I crossed over Leadville, the density altitude at the field was 12,800, at 13,500 where we were cruising the density altitude as well over 16,000 feet.

If you have interest in flying through the Rockies as we did in this video then I suggest getting formal mountain flying training from a local company like Alpine Flight Training - 970-401-5105.

Renewing Your Pilot's License | Recurrent Flight Training in Eagle Colorado

The process to get flying again after you have been out of it for years.

Frequently I am asked what type of process is involved in getting back into flying after a person has been away for 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years or more. The process is surprisingly practical and straight forward.  Unlike the initial certification process, this process is entirely based on proficiency.

Perhaps you may have noticed, US pilot licenses are issued without expiration. This is different from driver's licenses and a source of confusion on the topic. Where as a driver's license needs to be renewed every couple years, the pilot's license does not need to be renewed, however the regulations do require the pilot to have had a flight review in the prior 24 months and be current in the category and class of aircraft in order to carry passengers. Additionally, a pilot is required to have a medical.

So as a flight instructor, how exactly do we help get a rusty pilot back into the air? Our strategy has always been to go back to reviewing the basics - we start just as we would start a new student. Straight and level, turns, climbs, descents. We move on to slow flight, stalls, ground reference maneuvers, and finally landings. Along the way, the communications skills come back naturally, as do navigation skills through the process of simply flying. On the ground we do a similar exercise, reviewing regulations, airspace, weather, performance, flight planning.

Ultimately the graduation from recurrent training occurs when the pilot has at a minimum demonstrated the basic skills we would expect from a freshly minted private pilot. We treat the final flight as a flight review consisting of 1 hour of ground and 1 hour of flight. As the instructor, we simply sign the logbook as a successful flight review and at that point the pilot is cleared for flight assuming they have also received a new medical.

The last element being currency in make and model is really not an impediment to flying, but rather a requirement for carrying passengers.  Technically speaking, a pilot can get a flight review in a single engine land airplane, even though they also have a multi-engine land rating on their license.  Where the currency becomes relevant is if the pilot who is considered current in single engine land wants to take passengers in the multi-engine airplane, then they must perform three landings in the last 90 days in the multi-engine airplane, and similarly, if the pilot wants to carry passengers at night then the landings must have been at night to full stop.

So there you have it. No written tests, no checkrides. Simply work at your own pace with an instructor until the skills return. I think you'll be surprised as to how fast they come back.  In general I've found that getting a pilot back to currency and getting a review done requires 1.5-2 hours of ground and 1.5-2 hours of flight per year they have been away from flying.  So, a pilot who has not flown in 10 years will probably require between 15-20 hours of instruction in ground and air to return to currency.

If you would like to learn more about recurrent training to get back into the air please contact us. We operated from Eagle County Regional Airport and service the areas of Eagle, Vail, Glenwood Springs, Gypsum, Edwards, Avon, Minturn.