Mountain Flying in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming
by Sarah Rovner (Commercial Pilot, CFI, CFII & FAASTeam Representative)
Most people have not heard of a small town named Logan, Utah unless they were from Utah. It sits in the Logan-Cache valley which consists of land in both Utah and Idaho. The valley has an elevation of between 4000-5000 ft and has tall mountains on every side of it that get almost as high as 10,000ft. Logan also has a general aviation airport that has 2 runways, of which one is always paved in the winter time. It is home to a flight school called Leading Edge Aviation, which has a diverse fleet of aircraft to train in. I had plans to visit Logan since I have family there, and it has become an annual tradition to visit the small town during the winter holidays.
In 2012 I had gone to the school and done mountain training with one of their instructors, and then rented the airplane the following day to take my family up. 2013 was going to host the same tradition, but this year I wanted to venture further than the valley. The flight school had a nice, well-equipped Cessna 182P that I had become fond of. After completing my annual check out with an instructor, I rented the airplane to fly around the mountains and log landings in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.
The weather can be challenging in the mountains, and even more challenging to plan for since most of the airports around do not have weather reporting nor do they even plow their runways. I had to find phone numbers for each of the planned airports to call and see what the condition of the runway was and the weather before departing. The valley and surrounding terrain bring very odd and unpredictable weather, with freezing fog, snow, and low clouds popping up without notice. Since the mountains are so high, you also cannot get radar services or flight following in the valley or below 10,000ft. The only way to have your flight tracked was through a VFR flight plan.
The morning of the flight with my grandmother, I decided that I wanted to log landings in surrounding Idaho and Wyoming. I picked an airport in Idaho called Bear Lake County Airport (1U7) that was just north of the popular Bear Lake in Idaho. I called the airport and they told me the runway was plowed but there were some icy patches. The next airport I found that looked inviting was in Evanston, Wyoming – Evanston Country Airport/Burns Field (EVW) – with a field elevation of 7138ft, which would be the highest airport that I ever landed at. I also was able to get ahold of people there, who stated that the airport had its runway plowed and jets had landed on it. I knew that density altitude was a concern, but given the very cold weather, the density altitude was somewhere around 6000ft for Evanston.
Weather forecasts were calling for AIRMETs of IFR and mountain obscuration due to clouds, but I was able to look outside and see how sunny it was. The weather reporting is not very accurate in this area, so every no-go or go decision is more of a judgement call than an educated guess. I could see all the surrounding mountains clearly with a clear blue sky ahead. Therefore, I decided to depart.
I took off to the north which would allow me to climb to a safe altitude before crossing the mountain range to the east. After reaching 12,000ft, I turned east to cross the range. I could see little clouds resting at the top of the mountains, but it was still clear and sunny everywhere else. As I crossed the range, I saw the most breathtaking view of Bear Lake which sported an aqua blue tint with white beaches surrounding the lake. I then had to immediately descent to reach the airport at the bottom of the valley. Some parts of the runway were icy but allowed for enough dry pavement to make a safe landing. After grabbing a few pictures, we departed again to fly to Evanston.
The view was breathtaking en route to Evanston. The terrain slowly rised above it and I did my first 8000ft + pattern ever. Evanston also had patches of ice on the runway but enough dry spots to land. After we were done taking pictures at Evanston, we headed back over the mountain range to Logan. The Logan valley is much more narrow in the south, so we had to circle around to lose altitude and land at Logan. Overall, the flight was very smooth and the views were amazing. The 182 was well equipped for the altitudes and had no problem climbing. Logan, UT was a little “hidden treasure” of aviation in the mountains.
If you ever travel somewhere, you can always check out the local airport or flight school. Often they will have an airplane that can be rented or an instructor who can ride along with you to explore the scenery. I try to explore different airplanes and airports wherever I go, and got to knock 2 other states off my list (Idaho and Wyoming) where I can say I’ve landed! If you do go flying in the mountains, make sure you have the proper training and skill level for it. Mountain flying can be much more challenging with the density altitude in the summer, so be sure you have looked through the airplane performance charts to know what you can and cannot do. And as always, fly safe and have fun doing it!
How it Started
One of my best friends in high school, (Doug Gray) was a private pilot. He offered to take me up for a flight in a 1967 Cessna 150, N6228S. We took off from Calhoun, Georgia, and he took me on a scenic tour of the area, I was hooked. I later found out that my English teacher, (Jan Haluska) was also a flight instructor and the school was offering a ground school course the next year, which he taught, along with flight training with the goal of becoming a private pilot. I managed to talk my dad into funding the training, at the time the total cost was right around $500. Cessna 150 rental rates where $12 an hour, and the 172 we used for cross country was $15 an hour including fuel.
It started August of 1977. The fall semester rolls around, and I am enrolled in ground school, and if memory serves me, we met twice a week. First came the paperwork for my student pilot certificate, which at the time was included with the 3rd class medical. I loved ground school, especially learning navigation, plotting courses on the sectional, again this was before iPads and GPS, so we did a lot of dead reckoning and VOR navigation for cross countries. At the end of the course, I made an 83% on the Private Pilot written exam, remember this was before we had the question-and-answer books that on future test I would consume before taking a written.
The fun really began on August 22, 1977, it was my first flight. To my surprise we used the same Cessna 150, N6228S that my friend Doug Gray had taken me for a ride in. The Cessna 150 had a standard VFR instrument panel, with one NAV/COM, and one VOR CDI. No intercom, so no headset, at the time I didn’t know what I was missing. I didn’t get my first headset until I started my instrument training in 2003. I was a big guy, I was 6’ 4” and weighed 245 lbs. but I do not remember being uncomfortable in the 150 even with the instructor in the right seat.
First flight lasted .8 hours, and we accomplished orentation, shallow turns, stability, and effects of flight controls. Over the next few months we added steep 720’s, slow flight, stalls, turns around a point, S-turns, emergencies, landings, (short field, soft field and normal).
At this point I want to talk about a training experience that still stands out. We were close to solo and were practicing takeoffs and landings. Turning base to final Jan got very upset at the way I was cross controlling the aircraft. Cross control is when you are in, say a left turn, and use opposite rudder to line the nose up with the runway. So, he had me depart the pattern and head east to the practice area, and climbing up to 5500 feet MSL, he had me slow down to just above stalling speed, start a left shallow turn and add right rudder. As the airplane stalled I had the strangest sensation, no roller coaster has ever come close, instead of blue sky in the windscreen I was looking at brown ground, and as far as I could tell we were upside down, through the terror of the moment Jan talked me out of the spin, controls neutral, oposite rudder, pull slowly out of the dive. As we leveled off he asked me what altitude we were at, as I remember it was around 2,800 feet MSL. Then he asked me what would happen if I experenced this on base to final in the traffic pattern. The answer was obvious, I would be a pile of wreckage off the end of the runway with a very short-lived aviation career. Needless to say this cured my cross-control tendencies.
Another training event the sticks out in my mind was the first time we did takeoffs and landings at the High School runway. The runway was 1,500 feet long, not sure of the width, but it seems like we had about 5 feet on each side of the wheels when on the center line of the runway. Landing from the south you also had to go between a cutout in the trees to be able to stop in time on the runway. After getting confortable landing here every runway since seemed huge. I remember landing at Chattanooga (KCHA) on a night cross country and commenting to Jan, that I felt like I could of landed sideways on the runway, it felt that large.
Very soon after this I started wearing old shirts to all my flight lessons, the reason for this occurred on February 8, 1978. The lesson that day was stalls, takeoffs and Landing. As we were taxing back in Jan told me it was time for my first solo. I was very excited, and after some last minute advice from Jan, including watch for floating on landing the plane will be light with him not in the right seat, complete 3 takeoffs and landings to a full stop. It was a blast, and at the end of my shirt was shorter in the back because Jan cut the tail out of it signed and dated my solo [an aviation tradition]. Total flight time accumulated on the day of my solo was 18.1 hours. I was now officially a pilot with solo priveleges.
In my next article I start cross country training, when Jan decided that it would be best accomplished this in the 172. Checking out in N5970R was like moving into a 747, this started a love affair with one of my faviriote planes to date. Since this time I have flown over 900 hours in many different models of the 172 and feel like I am stepping into an old friend every time.
More about Randy here: https://www.flyhpa.com/team/randy-delong/
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