November 2, 2006
Virtual VFR FLIGHT PLANNING
By Bodeen, Chuck
FLY THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS ON YOUR COMPUTERSuppose you live near Denver, Colo., and you keep your Cessna 172 at Centennial Airport (APA). It's a nice spring day, and you're beckoned by the beauty of the Rocky Mountains to the west. What's the best route for a trip to Leadville Lake County Airport (LXV) and Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE)?
Frank Cohen and Chuck Gensler at the Aspen Flying Club (www.aspen flyingclub.com) have been kind enough to share their routes with us. The low-altitude VFR path follows highways over mountain passes and around tall peaks. There are several alternative airports along the way. Some of these are on the chart and some are private fields that show up on Google Earth (see below) even though they're not on the Denver Sectional Chart. The straight-line distance from APA to LXV is 71 nm; from APA to ASE it's 90 nm. The routes suggested are much longer: 125 nm to LXV and an additional 90 nm to ASE.
A shorter IFR route does the same thing, but uses airways and is flown at higher altitudes. A plane with a service ceiling of only 13,000 feet isn't what you'd want to use for that trip. For IFR pilots, Cohen suggests: APA SIGNE BJC RLG EGE LILXO ASE. This route crosses over 11,671-foot Corona Pass (G) on V8. One might be tempted to just follow 1-70 from APA to EGE, but that would take you over Loveland (H) and Vail (I) Passes, at 11,992 and 10,603, respectively, and would require flying close to some mountains higher than the recommended route.
Perhaps more than anything else, mountain flying around peaks and through passes is what you'd like to know more about before you go. You can plan the trip using the chart, but now there's an exciting way to look at the route before you fly it. The recently released Google Earth program for personal computers adds realism to planning a VFR cross-country flight. The free software can be downloaded from www.earth.google.com; it's available for Mac and Windows platforms, and is very easy to install and operate. Google Earth is a collection of satellite and aerial photos from different sources that cover, with varying degrees of resolution, the entire planet. Coverage of most of the United States is particularly good. The easy- to-follow instructions tell you how to locate places, zoom in and out, rotate the view, turn roads and airports on and off, and measure distances.
Until the "silver crash of '93," this was an area of gold and silver mining. Bat Masterson, Doc Holliday and the Earps were here. Leadville Lake County Airport is the highest airport in North America and the third-highest in the world. The 6,400x75-foot asphalt runway is at 9,927 MSL. You can obtain a free commemorative landing certificate from the airport's FBO, Leadville Airport, Inc. Many airplanes won't even make it to Leadville, and those that do need to negotiate the passes where turbulence is difficult to predict and counter. Experienced pilots usually stay on the ground if the winds aloft exceed 25 knots.
High-altitude mountain flying is always one of the more dangerous general aviation activities. In the mountains of Colorado, several people die annually in general aviation accidents. You need to be aware of the effects of altitude and temperature. On the day this was written, LXV had the following conditions: temperature at 37 degrees F, dew point at 18 degrees F, pressure at 30.16. At 1,000 feet over Tennessee Pass, the density altitude is 12,387. If the temperature should go up just 10 degrees F, however, the density altitude would top 13,000 feet.
Mt. Elbert, south of the straight-line route between Leadville and Aspen, is Colorado's highest point, standing at 14,433 feet, while Mt. Whitney in California is only 124 feet higher. In the lower 48 there are 73 peaks that stand taller than 14,000 feet; Colorado has 56, California has 14 and Washington has three.
According to the Aspen Historical Society, "By 1891, the production of Aspen's silver fields had surpassed even rival Leadville, making it the nation's largest single silver-producing mining district. By 1893, Aspen's 12,000 residents had six newspapers, four schools, three banks, electric lights, a modern hospital, two theaters, an opera house and a very small brothel district. Aspen's fortunes fell with the U.S. government's repeal of the Shetman Silver Act and the return to the gold standard in 1893." Aspen is now, of course, one of the country's leading ski resorts.
Follow The Route Online
On your computer, follow the 405 Loop from APA to the intersection with Highway 285.
Keep 285 in view as you clear Kenosha Pass (A).
Go on to Creek Pass (C).
Highway 285 winds down to Buena Vista and 7V1.
Now follow Highway 24 north along the Arkansas River to Leadville and Lake County (LXV).
If you want to continue to Aspen (ASE), you might consider Hying over Hagerman Pass (E) at 11,960 feet or Independence Pass (F) at 12,094 feet. Frank Cohen advises that both of these routes are extremely hazardous and should be avoided. It's better to go the long way around and continue following Highway 24 over 10,424-foot Tennessee Pass (D). Although the terrain to the west of this pass is relatively level, mountains just three miles to the east rise to over 12,000 feet.
At Minturn Highway 24 meets Interstate 70.
Follow I-70 on to Eagle (EGE).
Leave EGE on a "shortcut" heading of 202. This might look like more high mountains to avoid, but the highest point on this leg is only 8,900 feet above sea level and you've already flown a lot higher than 10,000.
The shortcut meets Highway 82 at IFR intersection LINDZ, where you can then follow 82 all the way to ASE.
If this article inspires you to go flying in the mountains, have at it, but be careful. If it makes you want to learn to use Google Earth and plan less-demanding trips (or even try to find a satellite image of your house), then download the program and go crazy. Google Earth is an amazing opportunity to actually "practice" your flight before you go.
[Note: The suggested route is for online purposes only.]
GOOGLE EARTH ADDS REALISM TO PLANNING A VFR CROSS-COUNTRY FLIGHT.
Google Earth's easy instructions allow you to locate just about any location on the planet. The software enables pilots to familiarize themselves with any mountain peaks and passes they may be flying through. This virtual flight planning provides an additional level of safety.
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Copyright Werner Publishing Corporation Nov 2006
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