canyon flying

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 insignificant.

Novice pilots often fly down the centre 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 the airplane.

There 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 side.

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 end.

It 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 surface.

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 enforcement).

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 canyons

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 point-of-no-return.