Most pilots don't read a book about
aerobatics and go out to practice on their own. Flying in canyons is
usually done after you have gained experience from someone
knowledgeable in canyon flying. It is far better to go out with an
experienced flight instructor first.
Generally speaking the best path to fly through a
canyon will be on the updraft side (a narrow canyon is the
exception). The canyon may be more or less level terrain, or it may
be sloping terrain.
The airplane will have to be close to the
mountain side to take advantage of the potential orographic lift.
Manoeuvre the airplane to within a couple of hundred yards of the
canyon side if lift is desired. Beyond this area the lift is
Novice pilots often fly down the
of a canyon. This places them the farthest away from the sides of
those scary old mountains. But, this is not the correct position for
are two good reasons for flying the side of a canyon.
First, you will avoid the shear area
caused by the mixing of air flowing down one side and up the other
And, second, you will be in a better
position from which a turnaround can be safely made. You have the
full canyon width to perform the turnaround manoeuvre if the terrain
becomes unsuitable, adverse weather is encountered or you don't want
to be there.
Always remain in a position to turn to lowering
terrain; and, never fly beyond the point of no return. These two
axioms encompass the idea that you will never enter a canyon if
there is not room to turn around.
Only fly in a canyon when there is
adequate room to allow a turnaround. Otherwise, fly the terrain.
That is, gain altitude and over-fly the canyon area from the high
end to the low
doesn't matter which side you fly down a canyon, either the updraft
or downdraft side, because flying downhill makes it easy to
transition to either side. Normally we associate updrafts with the
sunny side of a mountain, but in canyons it depends on the airflow
down a slope more than whether or not the sun is shining on the
The majority of mountain instructors will
caution you when flying in canyons to gain sufficient altitude to go
to the head of the canyon and then fly downslope terrain. This is
sage advice. But, often it is necessary to fly up canyons (fire
patrol, game and fish surveys, search and rescue, law
flying up canyons
There is nothing wrong with flying
up canyons ... when you do it properly. In addition to never
entering a canyon where there
is not room to turn around, you must remain in a
position that allows a turnaround if the canyons narrows or if the
terrain begins to out climb the airplane. It is a good idea to fly
at a speed faster than Vx (best angle-of-climb airspeed).
Have you ever flown over water beyond
power-off gliding distance from the shore? Have you noticed the
engine goes to "automatic rough?" You start hearing strange noises
that you haven't noticed before. The oil pressure gauge begins
ticking and the engine seems to run rough.
A similar thing happens when flying
upslope terrain in a canyon. Your left arm become shorter and the
airspeed decreases without you noticing it. When flying up a canyon,
fly the UPDRAFT SIDE. If you can't gain altitude on one side, try
the other side (Mother Nature may be fooling you about which side
has the updraft).
flying up narrow
One thing can be said about flying up
narrow canyons ... if it's not done properly, it's not habit
forming. Until you are experienced (with a knowledgeable mountain
instructor), stay out of these areas.
Speaking of a mountain instructor,
do you have to fly with a certified flight instructor to obtain
mountain flight instruction? Absolutely not. Many excellent,
knowledgeable pilots can provide a wealth of information about
mountain flying, but they can't sign your logbook.
Let's define a narrow canyon. This is
one, where, if you have to turn around the turn radius exceeds one
half the canyon width. This can be intimidating to experienced
mountain pilots when conditions aren't perfect.
Flying up a narrow canyon requires a
different technique from the "regular" canyon. Rather than flying
the updraft side, you are better off flying the downdraft side. This
way, if you get into trouble, when you turn around you won't be
getting into a worse situation. You will be entering an area of
updraft during the turn. BUT REMEMBER, the turnaround will be
subject to a tail wind that will increase the radius of turn.
It is not uncommon when flying in unfamiliar
terrain to encounter a blind canyon. Blind canyons leading to a dead
end shouldn't be a problem, but they are. The reason is that the
pilot violates the basic premises of mountain flying.
To avoid potential problems stay out of
canyons where there is not room to turn around, remain in a position
to turn to lower terrain, and never fly beyond the