IFR Mountain Flying | Instrument Flight Rules Considerations


Considerations When Planning IFR in the MountainsA couple years ago I had a Private Pilot come to Eagle for a two day mountain flight training course.  As with all pilots that attend this training, the starting place is a discussion about the type of flying they do, the flying they plan to do, skill level, their goals for the training, and their aircraft.

Based on these conversations I tailor the training to suit each pilot.  While every pilot will learn the same basics… mountain weather, density altitude, etc, some things will be different for each student.  For example a Malibu driver looking to fly to the Rockies mostly in the winter to ski will have a different training experience than a husky pilot looking for unimproved fields in the summer.  Along those same lines the experience will differ from a VFR pilot to a pilot planning to fly IFR.

In this case, the pilot I was working with had a very capable (turbine) aircraft.  He planned to fly instrument approaches and departures into mountain airports.

During the first day of training I asked the pilot to fly and instrument departure from Meeker airport.  This pilot promptly put on his foggles, throttled forward and got in the air.  Within about 15 seconds I knew he was not following the DP, and was just flying runway heading….(as he didn’t have the chart out). I asked him to continue with his instrument departure but to please take the foggles of so he could see how this departure was playing out.

5 minutes later his comments were that "I guess maybe my aircraft doesn’t have the performance to fly IFR out of mountain airports".  I politely responded that I didn’t think aircraft performance was the issue.

The next few minutes was a chain of leading questions that lead nowhere.  As it turns out, this pilot had spent the last 10 years flying from flat land airports in an aircraft with incredible performance.  He was completely unaware that textual departure procedures even existed.  In fact he had never even noticed or looked at that section of the NOAA chart book.  For this pilot, if there was no SID that meant runway heading, contact atc.

For those of you Jepp users that I just lost… NOAA charts have all the DP’s in the front of the book – not like Jepp charts that have them with the airport.

While this a somewhat comical situation, there is a moral to the story.  All pilots should seek mountain checkout, not just VFR, and not just those with aircraft short on performance.  I offer IFR mountain flying instruction as well as VFR mountain flying instruction.

Consider the how these are influenced by mountainous terrain:

  • SID / DP’s – Climb Gradient / Density Altitude / Performance
  • Approaches – Steep – VDP’s (visual descent points are common)
  • Missed Apporoaches – What happens if you go past a VDP and need to go missed? (This is sticky – I’ll cover in the next post)
  • Circiling Approaches
  • Off-Angle Approaches (LOC, VOR and LDA)
  • Weather
  • Airframe Icing