October 11, 2013
By Dan Namowitz
"Are you tough enough?" is the tourism motto of Battle Mountain, a mining and ranching town ringed by mountains in Nevada’s Humboldt Valley. No chain coffee shops or giant warehouse stores, just—as its tourism website proclaims—"rugged, tough terrain that goes on as far as the eye can see."
An instrument pilot planning next year’s vacation won’t have to wait for that first hike into the hills to thrill from the experience. Just a glance at navigation chart depictions of the flight environment around Battle Mountain's airport should set a piston pilot’s pulse pounding.
In all directions from the Battle Mountain VOR, five-figure minimum enroute altitudes await. The navaid’s uncommon symbol shows it to be a compulsory reporting point. Inbound from the Salt Lake City, Utah, area on V32 (MEA 11,000 feet), a changeover point at 30 nautical miles cues you when to switch navaid frequencies.
A flight approaching Battle Mountain from the west might also be in the oxygen altitudes depending on routing. V6 is a straight 80-mile leg. Dog-legged V32 is slightly longer, but has a lower MEA, and takes you to WIKLO, an initial approach fix for one of Battle Mountain’s VOR-based instrument approach procedures.
If all that cartography sells you on IFR architecture as the product of its underlying terrain, let the area’s sectional chart fill in the visual effects. It highlights with contours and colors how all three instrument approach procedures (IAPs)—each routed from southwest of the airport (elevation 4,536 feet msl)—fit like snug puzzle pieces into the Humboldt River valley, while high peaks rise in all quadrants.
Keep that pounding pulse under control as you cross the VOR inbound on the VOR/DME RWY 3 approach. Then promptly turn right another 11 degrees to intercept the final approach course; you are only 1.6 nm from the missed approach point, HUGVU, when you change course.
Planning extra fuel for the approach phase would have been wise: The published missed-approach (an excellent simulator exercise if you have no vacation time coming up) is a maneuver-packed six-step procedure taking you back out past the VOR to FESUD on the 205-degree radial at 15 DME, then turning you back to the navaid for holding.
A real-life missed approach could mean 40-plus miles of additional flying, presumably in bumpy or icy mountain weather.
Welcome to Battle Mountain, described by its (nonpilot) adventure advocates as "an adrenaline addict’s dream."
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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