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Here's What It Takes To Land On A Mile High Invisible Runway

Illustration for article titled Heres What It Takes To Land On A Mile High Invisible Runway

Landing on a 900' grass strip at nearly a mile above sea level takes, precision, skill, and a perfect touch. Not to mention very good planning, maybe a little luck and without a doubt a very large set of brass balls.

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Beyond the obviously tall pine trees, valley walls, encroaching boulders and a 37' foot wide crooked runway challenging the path of the aircraft and testing the talent of the pilot, the attitude threatens to suffocate the normally aspirated piston engine. Simonds landing strip in the Idaho backcountry lies at 5243 feet above sea level, and if my math servers me correct, that's just 37 feet shy of one mile. As altitude increases, and the air thins combustion weakens and power is reduced.

Illustration for article titled Heres What It Takes To Land On A Mile High Invisible Runway
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Power that is essential to squeak out every bit of performance from this 38 year old Cessna Skywagon when its time to leave and takeoff from the tiny strip scraped from the side of a mountain. But more critical, power that's needed in the event of a poorly timed approach, or an unexpected wind shear that all too often swoops through a mountain valley disrupting what would otherwise be a perfectly executed flight path causing the need to go around and abort the landing. With peaks reaching 3,000 feet above the landing zone, and no room to turn around, a climb over is impossible and flight through the valley is the only way navigate any exit attempts.

Illustration for article titled Heres What It Takes To Land On A Mile High Invisible Runway
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According to the airport diagram, which is basically a hand drawn sketch of the surroundings, there is no windsock, large rocks border the runway, the surface is rough with an uphill slope and a side gradient and is not maintained. To some this might discourage even the thought of entering, but to others its a challenge worthy of acceptance.

Illustration for article titled Heres What It Takes To Land On A Mile High Invisible Runway
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This remote airfield lies in the heart of Payette National Forest and is maintained by the Forest Service. Such is the danger considered to operate out of this area that the service has discourage its use entirely, designating it for emergencies only because of its condition and location. It requires special skills and equipment beyond what is anticipated for general aviation.

Even though operations are not recommended, they are perfectly legal and it goes without saying "land at your own risk." This type of flying can only be done safely with prior experience flying mountains, intimate knowledge of the local area and getting training from someone who's been there before. With proper planning and all available knowledge at your fingertips, a whole new world becomes accessible.

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Checkout Leigh on Vimeo for even more breath taking landings at remote Idaho mountain airports.

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ShiftsAndGiggles is a pilot who loves airplanes and cars. He runs the Planelopnik blog and his writing has been seen on Jalopnik. Contact him with questions or comments via twitter or email.

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