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After the Checkride: Flying the National ParksAfter the Checkride: Flying the National Parks

Yogi would approve

Flying over and staring straight down at the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park has to be one of the greatest reasons to fly a general aviation aircraft over and to the United States national parks.
After the checkride

Or sliding alongside Crazy Horse’s nose near Badlands National Park. Or viewing the inside of a volcano in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park. Although Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) is the nation’s only commercial airport inside a national park—Grand Tetons—many GA airports can get you close to a park's entrance, or in some cases into the park (use AOPA’s Airport Directory). Flying into these magnificent sites and parks is one of the least invasive and most enjoyable ways to get to the parks; however, it does require careful planning and consideration:

  • Don’t overfly trails/rivers since they are usually transited by hikers, rafters, and others.
  • Plan your route over high noise areas, such as roads.
  • Fly later in the day when convection will lift your noise.
  • Fly downwind of noise-sensitive areas. The wind will take the noise away.
  • Fly as high as practical with a minimum of 2,000 feet separation requested from terrain.
  • Minimize your run-up as much as practical when near noise-sensitive areas and point the aircraft toward that area.
  • Use best angle of climb speed (VX) for takeoff and climb to keep as much of the noise over the airport as possible. You can also climb over the airport to (or close to) your cruise altitude.
  • Reduce takeoff power as soon as possible when safe.
  • Avoid repetitive patterns (like flying up and down a beach as an example) and high-power maneuvers.
  • Use good, short field landing techniques. Avoid “dragging it in” and having to apply power close to the runway because you are low.
  • Helicopters should minimize descent time spent at 55 knots or less.

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Julie Walker

Julie Summers Walker

AOPA Senior Features Editor
AOPA Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker joined AOPA in 1998. She is a student pilot still working toward her solo.

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