This month’s SJPA End of the Month Lunch featured an excellent talk on mountain flying by Long Nguyen. Long, who has over 15,000 hours of flight time, flies search and rescue missions out of Boeing Field Seattle. His objective in talking to our group was to keep us from being one of his search and rescue customers.
The backdrop of his talk is that we are flying IN the mountains, not OVER the mountains. Long advises a “relax-and-go-slow” approach. For a small single engine aircraft that might mean flying at about seventy knots with ten degrees of flaps. Determine the airspeed you are going to fly and watch your VSI. Pay attention to the winds in order to have a sense of where the updrafts and downdrafts are.
Because you are flying slow, you can turn in a smaller radius. Slow standard rate turns are usually all you need to change direction. In tighter canyons, steep turns are necessary. Long suggests practicing steep turns so you can complete them without losing altitude. When you are flying through canyons, don’t go up the middle. Choose one side or the other so you retain a larger turning radius. He suggested favoring the sunny side of canyons where the lift is usually better.
Long’s go-to resources for checking mountain weather are satellite, radar images, and wind bars. He pointed out these are freely available at no charge — if you don’t count your tax dollars. Look for the icon to click on the webpage that puts these in motion. Wind arrows on charts are tricky. Long said many pilots misinterpret them by 180 degrees.
In addition to our standard aeronautical charts, Long carries USGS topo maps for greater detail.
Concluding with his “relax-and-go slow” theme, Long told us an important mountain flying tool is your credit card. If you’re in Eastern Washington headed back to Friday Harbor, and conditions are unstable in the Cascades, stay in a motel or rent a car and drive home.
Check out Long’s website: http://longbachnguyen.com/portfolio/