Mountain flying opens up new opportunities for the general aviation pilot for unique and interesting destinations, plus a view of spectacular scenery. However, mountain flying, even more so than flight in the flatlands, is very unforgiving of poor training and planning. There is a narrow window of safety that an untrained pilot can easily stray out of without the experience and knowledge gained from a recognized training program and a mountain checkout by a qualified mountain flight instructor. This publication is not intended to be a complete mountain flying training course. Instead, it can be used as an overview before you take recognized mountain flying course that includes adequate mountain ground and flight training.
What is mountain flying?
Rather than offer a definition of "mountain" flying, it should be pointed out that many of the subjects discussed in this publication can be found in non-mountainous areas or at low altitudes. For example, density altitudes over 8,500 feet can be found regularly on the eastern plains of Colorado in the summer. Also, dangerous mechanical turbulence and even mountain wave can be found in areas that arenžt usually considered mountainous. Of course, places like the Rocky Mountains are where all of these concepts can be experienced first hand and you should have mastered them before you attempt a flight through these areas.
Because of the more demanding nature of mountain flying, you should carefully consider your experience and background before beginning a flight into mountainous terrain. First, it is essential that you consider attending a recognized mountain flying course to give you the knowledge and skills you will need to be safe. There are numerous recognized courses taught, usually in the summer months, and you can contact an FAA Flight Standards District Office in mountainous areas for references.
Second, it is usually a good idea to wait until you have at least 150 hours of pilot in command time logged before taking mountain training. Pilots with this amount of time have usually had time to become more familiar and comfortable with the airplane and with planning flying trips. Mountain flying in many areas will stretch your abilities to fly the airplane proficiently, navigate, and deal with weather.
Mountain flying presents demands on both the pilot and the airplane that may require more performance than light training aircraft have to offer. There are, of course, stories that are told during hangar flying about flying very low power airplanes into high mountain airports. 160 horsepower should be considered minimum for the airplane with a pilot with minimum mountain experience. Even that, however, will greatly limit your ability to react to strong winds and the up and down drafts they may cause. The aircraft gross weight and its affect on performance should be carefully considered. A minimum of 60 horsepower per occupant should be considered minimum.