Backcountry flying etiquette


Flying media is full of mountain flying tips. Instead of recapping those here, I’d like to share the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) philosophy that we hope will lead to assured aviation access to some of our nation’s special places.

It’s important to remember that we share the wild country with a variety of users, many of whom are out there for quiet and solitude. There are ways to fly quietly.

Maintain a good height — 2,000 feet AGL is recommended over wilderness areas. Power back, slow down, and enjoy the scenery. Respect wildlife.

Avoid touch and goes in the backcountry. Do most of your practice close to home. Review your performance charts. Higher temperatures, elevations, and aircraft weights will decrease performance…a lot!

You can — and should — perfect your short field/soft field technique before you head to the mountains.

MacPhersonJust like good instrument pilots learn to “fly by the numbers,” nail down what power settings and configurations you will use for each phase of flight. And try adding whatever load you’ll be packing in, so you are practicing at the weights you expect to carry into the backcountry.

Mountain flying instructors agree that flying a stabilized approach at the exact target airspeed to a predetermined spot is the way to a successful landing. This should reduce the likelihood for a go-around.

Repeated approaches and high speed fly-overs are a pet peeve of non-flying backcountry users.

Avoid formation flight, and minimize radio chatter. If flying together, keep some separation and pre-arrange a frequency that will not interfere with traffic at the fields in your proximity.

Taxiing and parking require courtesy as well. Avoid taxiing in a way that your propwash will throw debris on your neighbor’s aircraft or campsite. If there is no way to turn into your parking spot without blowing dirt on a neighbor, stop short, turn your plane by hand and push it back into place. If there are other aircraft present, there is usually plenty of help available. The same goes for run-ups — be aware of what’s behind you.

Practice “leave no trace” outdoor ethics. Use designated campsites and fire grates. In fact, carry garbage bags and leave the place nicer than you found it.

Etiquette is basically following the Golden Rule. Once you shut down your engine and hike out to your secret fishing hole, what do you want to listen to while you await that subtle tug on your line?

The RAF mission is to protect and preserve the nation’s backcountry airstrips for the future. It encourages pilots to take part in airfield maintenance. Volunteer when your state’s pilot association organizes work sessions. Add purpose to your enjoyment of the backcountry and plan your outings to help at maintenance sessions. I invite you to consider being a part of this exciting mission to preserve backcountry access for the long term.

Jeanne MacPherson is a Master Flight Instructor, and Safety and Education Coordinator for the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF).


  1. Chris H. Byrd says

    Good points Jeanne!
    You are right about being good neighbors in the back country. It is good to be reminded. Back country strips are a real treat for us pilots. We need to be vigilante and keep them in good condition.
    Chris H. Byrd

  2. says

    It is my experience that no pilots fly into the back country to do touch and goes. There are a lot of landing strips that doing a go around is not even a good idea. Some of your other ideas are good and I practice most of those. If we don’t take good care of the back country strips we probably won’t have them.

    • says

      Bob Bement is an amazing backcountry pilot! And Bob has just pointed out to me on an aviation forum that he (and other backcountry pilots) do not do runups on gravel or dirt strips. He says:

      “Most back country pilots don’t do a runup on dirt, or gravel either. One pilot I know checks his Mags when landing when he is running his engine 1700 rpms. Then he doesn’t have to do a runup to check the mags. I usually check my mags on taxi while moving on gravel and dirt. We don’t do go arounds on most strips because they are one way strips. You have to land on the first attempt. You have to know your plane and be able to touch down at the end of the runway.”

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