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Discover the backcountry

If you are looking for something different to do, think backcountry flying. When you approach it with the right training, equipment, and mindset, you’ll encounter breathtaking views while exploring the pristine countryside. Here are some key considerations to get you started.
Photography by Mike Fizer
Photography by Mike Fizer

Flying in the backcountry comes with a unique set of challenges and risks. Therefore, enlist the help of an experienced backcountry flight instructor to learn mountain flying techniques needed for a safe and enjoyable adventure. You’ll want to be backcountry flying proficient before venturing into remote airstrips, so book dual time with your instructor and practice in the airplane you’ll be using. Your instructor will also be a great resource to help you choose the right equipment for landing on and departing from unpaved or even rough terrain.

Talk to pilots who are local to the area as you can benefit from their experience, knowledge, and advice. You can invite them along on your excursions—a great way to establish lifetime friendships and enjoy the camaraderie of likeminded pilots.

Dress for the weather and carry emergency equipment and a first-aid kit. Backcountry fields can be remote and often don’t offer services, so plan ahead for fuel and food. If you intend to fly in the mountains, study local weather patterns. Mountain weather can change quickly from passable to treacherous.

At high elevations—depending on temperature and humidity—be prepared to understand and deal with high density altitude. High density altitude can be hazardous as it degrades your aircraft’s performance, resulting in shallower climbs and longer landings.

If you plan to fly in high terrain, identify mountain passes on VFR aeronautical charts by name and a symbol depicting two parallel lines that narrow in the center. These allow passage at a lower altitude than nearby terrain. Find prominent landmarks (for example, lakes or reservoirs) so you can identify the passes during your flight. Also, pay attention to maximum elevation figures for areas you’ll traverse and consider if your aircraft will be up to the challenge.

To help you enjoy a safe adventure, visit the AOPA Air Safety Institute Backcountry Resource Center that delves deeper into the various components of backcountry flying, including our responsibility for its stewardship. Also, find links to nationwide and local backcountry airfield and airstrip guides. You’ll be pleasantly surprised that there are plenty of backcountry strips all across the United States, from east to west and north to south.

Get to know the backcountry and have a safe and enjoyable flight.

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Machteld Smith

Machteld Smith

Senior Editor
Machteld Smith is a senior editor for the Air Safety Institute. She holds a commercial pilot certificate with multiengine, instrument, and seaplane ratings. She loves flying seaplanes and the adventure of landing on rivers and lakes.

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