Strategy for backcountry flying

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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 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 the lower into a canyon or valley they descends; the strategy of the approach and subsequent departure should be planned from the air at a safe altitude. 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

Stub for dealing with weather and non-standard atmospheric conditions

Landing site evaluation

Stub for off-airport or airstrip evaluation


Contributor Patrick Romano has written a few articles as part of a series on backcountry flying strategy, aptly titled The Approach. 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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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.