Mountain Flying Presentation

Bill Standefer is Chairman of the Mountain Flying Training Program for the Colorado Pilots Association and has been teaching this class for about 27 years.

In Colorado, 54 mountains are over 14,000 feet and 600 are over 13,000. There are more than a dozen public use airports that invite pilots to come see their beautiful cities and enjoy the mountains.

But as in all things, “Know before you go…” is especially true when flying over or through the mountains.

Flying in the mountains is not a hit or miss kind of thing. It calls for precise flying made safer by knowing three things.
1. You have to know how to read a map.
2. You must be aware of weather and terrain.
3. You have to know where and how to turn around.

Mountain flying is a calculated risk where you are constantly evaluating and re-evaluating the options available to you at any given moment. How steep is the terrain? Don’t fly up a box canyon and don’t count on being able to climb out of the terrain.


Check the weather. Can your aircraft handle the wind? Does your route have opportunities for landing sites? Choose your route before you go. A slightly longer route over better terrain may be a better choice. Remember, the safest route is not always the shortest. Safety has no price.

When possible, avoid staying over the high terrain for long distances.

Always make sure your data is downloaded before your flight. GPS is not good for planning in the mountains, although some major passes have AWOS so you can get real time weather.

The thin air changes the way an airplane flies. The reduced weight of the air has less effect on control surfaces. Lift is reduced. Drag is reduced giving a higher true airspeed even though indicated airspeed remains constant. Horsepower is reduced because of fuel burn being a 1 to 16 factor by weight the air in the engine

When flying in valleys, watch for updrafts and downdrafts. Avoid flying down the middle of a valley due to wind shear and turbulence. If you can’t get an updraft on one side, try the other. Only fly in a canyon when there is adequate room to allow a turnaround maneuver. Otherwise, fly the terrain. That is, gain altitude and over-fly the canyon area from the high end to the low end. Approach ridges at a 45 degree angle and 2000′ higher to maximize your ability to turn away from the ridge prior to crossing. If you need to make a steep turn get as close to the edge of your turning space as you can. As a mountain pilot you must continuously position your aircraft to give the best selection of options available.

You cannot learn mountain flying by reading about it. Mountain flying is different because mountains limit your flight options. The effects of route, wind, weather, density altitude, emergency preparation, and aircraft performance are different and require a different pilot perspective. A pilot who views mountain flying as a routine flight is heading for a trap. There is always an alternative to making a dangerous flight, no matter how inconvenient. Have an alternate plan; be flexible. The ultimate alternate plan is cancellation.

As one pilot said of his flying in the mountains, “I was riding along just as pretty as could be. It was a little bumpy but not too bad. I was flying about 500 or 600 feet above the ridge, just about to clear it, when I got hit by a downdraft. It just pointed the nose straight down, and within two seconds, I was on the ground. It was like somebody took a fly swatter and hit a fly. It was just whack! And I was on the ground.”

Another thing to watch for out for are lenticular clouds. They are elongated shaped clouds that normally align at right angles to the wind direction. They appear to be standing still and are associated with a phenomenon known as mountain wave turbulence.

“When stable air crosses a mountain barrier…air flowing up the windward side is relatively smooth. Wind flow across the barrier is laminar – that is, it tends to flow in layers. The barrier may set up waves in these layers much as waves develop on a disturbed water surface. The waves remain nearly stationary while the wind blows rapidly through them. The wave pattern is a ‘standing’ or ‘mountain’ wave, so named because it remains essentially stationary and is associated with the mountain. The wave pattern may extend 100 miles or more downwind from the barrier. ”Pages 83-84 Aviation Weather, AC 00-06A, 1975

If you are thinking about mountain flying it is always good to take a class. Even if you are an experienced mountain flyer and just haven’t done it for a while, it would be beneficial to take a class.

Remember, always fly an airplane with your head, not your hands.

Bill Snodgrass

Bill Snodgrasss 1
If there is a “normal” way to become a pilot, Bill didn’t follow it. He took a different path. His journey started in 2004 when he and a friend took a 10 day hiking trip to Alaska. While there he took a sightseeing tour in a 1961 Otter. They flew around the peak of Denali and he remembered looking out the window as the pilot did a wing over and said they were 1 mile above the glacier.

At the end of their vacation they tried to climb a peak but got rained out. Bill told his friend how much he liked the sightseeing tour and they should see if they could take another one. At the airport in Seward they found one that took them over the Kenai Fjord, and the Harding Ice Field, down through the Exit Glacier and back to Seward in a 172. He was so enamored with the view and what he got to see from the air, that when he landed he asked the pilot how one learned to fly. The pilot said he needed to find a flight instructor. By happenstance the pilot was not only an instructor, but lived in Westminster, Colorado and flew out of Metro, which was Jeffco back then.

Bill was like, “Whoa! I’m from Thornton!” He decided right there and then he was going to take flying lessons. When he got home he signed up with Journeys Aviation and began flying a Diamond Katana, a 2 seater low wing, but being a single parent he ran out of time and money before he got his license. In addition to that he didn’t like to study so when it came time to do his check ride he wasn’t ready for the oral part.

While online one day he ran across Ultralights and discovered there was an instructor at Front Range airport. Bill tried them out and fell in love with them.

About the same time the Sport Pilot Rule was getting stronger, he was diagnosed with sleep apnea. He realized he might not be able to get a 3rd class medical and his ability to get a private license hinged on that. He decided to go for his Sport Pilot Certificate. He even bought some weight shifts but, once again his lack of study habits proved his down fall.

By now he was married and had moved to Fort Collins. He also decided to get serious and get his sport pilot certificate but he would have to do it in an airplane because Loveland doesn’t have weight shift. He had a few different instructors before he met Art Hoag who encouraged him to study.

So in 2013 he got his sport pilot certificate in the Remos.

The FAA was relaxing some of the medical standards so that all you had to do was prove you were under a Dr.’s care. Enter the catch 22. If you go for a 3rd class medical and get denied, you can never fly again, but to be a sport pilot all you needed was a driver’s license. Still he sent his medical in and they didn’t deny it, but they didn’t approve it either. They wanted proof he was under a Dr.’s care. Four months and a $2,000 sleep study later he got his medical.

In June of 2014, almost 10 years exactly to the day, he got his private license.

Now he intends to get his Sport Pilot CFI. He is also looking at starting a flying club. He’s not sure how much interest there is but he’s going forward with an informational meeting in a couple of weeks.

He loves promoting aviation and would love to get into the STEM + A network. After his solo he had an epiphany. If he can land a plane, he can do anything. The sense of empowerment he felt at that realization is what he would like to communicate to young people. He would love to take a weight shift to schools and show it to the kids.

“When you think of flying, you think of general aviation aircraft or big jets.” He states. “People don’t realize there is a whole group called ultralights which will let you fly cheaper and safer while building your hours. By putting young adults into a cockpit he’s hoping they can see for themselves that they can be bigger than anything they thought of.”

Collings Foundation

This July 15th, 16th, and 17th the Collings Foundation will make their annual stop at Northern Colorado Reginal.

The stop at our airport is traditionally one of their most financially successful stops.

Over the years I have watched it grow. I remember the days when Rob would hand me a radio and tell me what time I should start monitoring it so he could let me know how far away the planes were. I would let the crowd know when to expect the War Birds, as he called them, and the mighty rumble announcing their arrival never failed to elicit a response. I knew it wasn’t but, it felt like it was just the two of us working the planes. Then it slowly grew into an event, complete with WWII era music and cars as well as the later addition of the re-enactors. They brought with them military vehicles and set up camps like they would have set them up in WWII. They were a perfect setting for someone interested in not just the planes but the tanks and all.

We boasted the largest gathering of Veterans in Northern Colorado for the breakfast we held on Saturday mornings. We would cap off the evening with a USO type dinner and dance.

This year we made the difficult decision to not have both the breakfast and the dance. At the rate we are losing our WWII veterans there are not enough that are able to attend.

The planes will still be here for both static display and flights. We will, of course, give them all the support we can to make this a success for them.

We are looking towards a full event next year complete with breakfast and dance and re-enactors. We are refocusing who our veteran target audience will be, but we will have something.

Thank you to those who have volunteered to drive carts, I still need you. And a thank you to those who have volunteered your planes.

Without volunteers we could not do this event!!

WASPs the Original Fly Girls

World War II was a time when everyone pulled together. It was a time of Rosie the Riveter and scrap metal drives. War bonds and war rations.

My grandmother was part of the Land Army, women who worked the land, drove tractors and plowed fields and in doing so, freed up men to go to war as well as kept America’s bread basket alive.

Rosie the Riveter was the name given to any female that worked a man’s job so he could go to war, any woman except the WASPs.

In 1939, on the day after Germany’s tanks rolled into Warsaw, Poland, pilot Jacqueline Cochran sent a letter to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt encouraging the use of women pilots in the armed forces. In May 1940, another pilot, Nancy Harkness Love wrote the Ferrying Division of the Armed Air Forces with a similar idea but the Army was not ready to put women in the cockpit of its planes.

Who were these ladies that were ahead of their time?

Jaqueline Cochran had several jobs before she settled into cosmetics. In 1932 she met Floyd Odlum who would later become her husband. She told him of her desire to cover large areas in her quest to become a successful cosmetic sales woman. He told her to get her pilots license. He paid the $495.00 and three weeks later she had her license. That day a cosmetic saleswoman died and an aviator was born.

Cochran set out on her first solo flight to Canada, learning compass navigation from a fellow aviator. That was followed by a commercial license and she boasted that “There were few pilots who flew Gee Bees and then lived to talk about it. One was Jimmy Doolittle and she was the other.”

Nancy Harkness Love was the daughter of a wealthy physician, and developed an intense interest in aviation. At 16 she took her first flight, a month later she had her license.

In 1936 she married Robert M. Love, an Air Corp reserve major. Together the built their own Boston based aviation company, Inter City Aviation, for which she was a pilot.

In 1937 and 1938 she worked as a test pilot for the Gwinn Air Car Company. In one test she served as a test pilot on the new tricycle landing gear which became standard on most aircraft.

In 1942 Robert Love was called to active duty as Deputy Chief of Staff of the Ferrying Command. His office was near Col. William H. Turner who commanded the Domestic Division of the Air Transportation Command. (ATC). During a conversation between Love and Turner the question of women being used to ferry the planes back and forth came up. Love suggested the Col. Should talk to his wife directly. He asked her to write a proposal for a women’s ferrying division. Within a month the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron (WAFS) was created.

Nancy Harkness Love and the WAFS first gathered as a squadron at New Castle Army Air Base in Wilmington, Delaware. Although the WAFS were required to have 500 hours of flying time, those that arrived averaged more than 1,000 hours. The pilots checked out and trained for just a few weeks before they were assigned to their posts.

While the WAFS began their ferrying duties, Jacqueline Cochran was organizing the WFTD and recruiting classes of women pilots. The training involved six months of ground school and flight training. The first three classes trained in Houston, Texas, at the Municipal Airport. Bad weather and crowded skies prompted Cochran to move the program to Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas.

On August 5th of 1943 the WAFS and WFTD merged to form the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots.

In all 25,000 women applied for WASP training, 1,830 were accepted, 1,074 graduated from the program and were assigned to operational duties, 38 died. They earned $150 per month while in training and $250 per month after graduation. They paid for their own uniforms, lodging, and personal travel to and from home.

These young women, all civilian volunteers, flew every type of plane in the Army’s arsenal and served as light instructors as well as every type of military aircraft — including the B-26 and B-29 bombers — as part of the WASP program. They ferried new planes long distances from factories to military bases and departure points across the country. They tested newly overhauled planes. And they towed targets to give ground and air gunners training shooting — with live ammunition.

Margaret Phelan Taylor grew up on a farm in Iowa. She was 19, had just completed two years of college and was ready for adventure in 1943 when a Life magazine cover story on the female pilots caught her eye. Her brother was training to be a pilot with the Army. Why not her? She asked her father to lend her money for a pilot’s license — $500, a huge amount then.

“I told him I had to do it,” Taylor says. “And so he let me have the money. I don’t think I ever did pay it back to him either.”

But there was a problem. She was half an inch shorter than the 5-foot-2-inch requirement.

“I just stood on my tiptoes,” she says. When she arrived at Avenger Field in Sweetwater, Texas, where most of the WASP were trained, “Well, there were a lot of other short ones just like me, and we laughed about how we got in.” Short, tall, slim, wide, they all came in knowing how to fly. The military trained male pilots from scratch, but not the female civilian volunteers.

Once when Taylor was ferrying an aircraft cross-country, somewhere between Arizona and California, she saw smoke in the cockpit. Taylor was trained to bail out if anything went wrong. “But the parachutes were way too big. They weren’t fitted to us,” she says. “The force of that air and that speed and everything, why that just rips stuff off you. You’d slip right out.”

Her plane was smoking and Taylor faced a defining moment.

“I thought, ‘You know what? I’m not going until I see flame. When I see actual fire, why, then I’ll jump.’ ”
Was she scared? “No. I was never scared. My husband used to say, ‘It’s pretty hard to scare you.’ ”
The plane’s problem turned out to be a burned-out instrument.

But 38 female pilots did lose their lives serving their country. One was 26-year-old Mabel Rawlinson from Kalamazoo, Mich.

Rawlinson was stationed at Camp Davis in North Carolina. She was coming back from a night training exercise with her male instructor when the plane crashed. Marion Hanrahan, also a WASP at Camp Davis, wrote an eyewitness account:
“I knew Mabel very well. We were both scheduled to check out on night flight in the A-24. My time preceded hers, but she offered to go first because I hadn’t had dinner yet. We were in the dining room and heard the siren that indicated a crash. We ran out onto the field. We saw the front of her plane engulfed in fire, and we could hear Mabel screaming. It was a nightmare.”

It’s believed that Rawlinson’s hatch malfunctioned, and she couldn’t get out. The other pilot was thrown from the plane and suffered serious injuries. Because Rawlinson was a civilian, the military was not required to pay for her funeral or pay for her remains to be sent home. So — and this is a common story — her fellow pilots pitched in. Because Rawlinson wasn’t considered military, the American flag could not be draped over her coffin. Her family did it anyway.

Unfortunately, for the sake of expediency, the WASPs were hired under Civil Service. Cochran, Love, and Arnold intended the women pilots to be made part of the military, but the need for pilots was so great and militarization was slow, requiring an act of Congress. They began the program with the idea of militarizing the WASP later.

The fact that the WASP were forgotten by their own Air Force united the women. In the mid 70’s, the Navy announced to the media that, for the first time in history, women would be permitted to fly military planes. The announcement reverberated among the WASPs. You might say it kicked up a wasps nest. They lobbied Congress to be militarized. And they persuaded Sen. Barry Goldwater to help. He ferried planes during the war, just as the WASP did. And then, in 1977, the WASP were finally granted military status by President Carter.

As for the Rosie the Riveters, they gained no benefits except a job well done. Oh, that and the American Rosie the Riveter Association where any female direct descendant can join and become a “Rosebud”.