Strategy for backcountry flying

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A safe trip into the unknown starts with strategy and planning.
Initial page build
A safe trip into the unknown starts with strategy and planning.

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Why is strategy in backcountry flying so important? There is an old aviation adage that goes something like: The superior pilot uses their superior judgement to avoid situations which would require use of their superior skills.

That adage holds true across all aspects of aviation, and especially in the challenging environment of secluded mountainous terrain, where elements of weather, thin air, terrain, and obscuration can all make for a delicate situation requiring some forethought or just plain prudence. Terrain in particular can make for the most interesting element of the equation, as a pilot may have fewer options for maneuvering as they descend lower into a canyon or valley. The strategy of the approach and subsequent departure should be planned from the air at a safe altitude, while options are still numerous. That requires knowing winds and the terrain's effect on air movement, slope gradient, surface elevation and performance profile of the aircraft, and surface condition or texture.

Obviously, there's more to a safe and successful flight into a backcountry mountain airstrip than just setting a waypoint on the GPS and pointing the aircraft. There's a recipe for success and it includes the following:

Research and information

Stub for section on pre-planning of destinations

Routes: Make a plan, or two, or three

Stub for routing using sectional chart and terrain considerations

Know your aircraft

Stub for aircraft performance profiles and density altitude

Weather and conditions

Hazards of Wildfire Smoke is an article on the dangers of flying in the low visibility of forest fire smoke, and how it differs from meteorological visibility.

Stub for dealing with weather and non-standard atmospheric conditions

Landing site evaluation

Guide to Off-airport Landings: Learn a basic methodology for evaluating potential landing zones and putting down safely.


Contributor Patrick Romano has written a few articles as part of a series on backcountry flying strategy, aptly titled STOL Tips. complete with videos a detailed explanation of methodology/philosophy.

  • Mountain Flying Bible by Sparky Imeson
  • Flying the Mountains by Fletcher Anderson

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  • Wow first one to submit a comment on the new forum! My strategy for Backcountry flying is to don't over estimate your abilities. Reading this forum is a good place to start but is not a substitute for proper instruction. I am also a firm believer that you have no business in the backcountry if you are not just intimately familiar with the capabilities of your aircraft but are proficient in it as well. You need to be comfortable flying near trees and rocks and be able to hit within 50ft of your intended landing spot everytime all the time!

  • Yesterday I returned later than planned in the Cub to Minden. The ASOS wind was 23022G30. By the time I landed it was more. Fortunately I could taxi almost directly into the wind to the lee shelter of the hangers and then to my hanger. Literally landed across runway 16-34 on the runway. I have never been on the ground in winds that strong in a light plane. The mains were rocking off the ground during taxi. But what I learned was to get the tail up and taxi. That smoothed everything out and was controllable. It felt odd not to have the stick back initially but it worked getting the AOA down. It didn't require much power. Does anybody have any more methods for surviving strong surface winds besides don't be there? Mike

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While this knowledge base is a compilation of information from various sources, some official in nature, it is not a recognized or acredited source of aviation training information, and thus should be considered entertainment. Please consult a FAA-certificated flight instructor or mechanic prior to putting any information found here into practice.