PIREP: Arizona Backcountry Flying

Enjoy this captivating guest-post by Nate Van Ness. Thanks for contributing Nate!

I recently spent some time receiving some backcountry flying instruction from George Hoover of Coulee Air Services. I had contacted George via email indicating that I was looking for some “mountain flying instruction”. George was friendly and approachable, and tailored a three-hour flight to meet the learning objectives I had stated.

I met George at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. After a few minutes of ground instruction, I was introduced to his airplane, a beautiful CarbonCub 100. Soon, we were departing Falcon for the wilds of the Tonto National Forest, northeast of greater Phoenix. There is a small mountain referred to as Red Mountain on the departure path. George flew us up and over the mountain, cutting the power and diving over the top downhill. It will certainly get your blood pumping!

George got me warmed up with some performance maneuvers: slow flight, stalls, steep turns, and lazy 8’s. Then he introduced me to some survival flying maneuvers, notably canyon turns and a modified wingover, useful for escaping a box canyon. I should say that while these maneuvers were outside of my comfort zone, George was a patient and knowledgeable instructor, and had me kicking the rudder with gusto in no time.

After learning just how tight a turn the CarbonCub will make with full flaps (very tight), we began making our way up the Verde River. This was a low-speed, low-altitude affair, and again I found myself outside my comfort zone. George and his airplane were in their element though, and treetop flying at 50-60 MPH and a notch of flaps soon became the norm. George showed me how to judge my height above featureless terrain, how to navigate the twisting riverbed, how to anticipate and avoid wires and other obstructions, and how to milk the maximum climb performance out of the airplane to get over obstacles. The scenery was gorgeous, and we regularly saw wild horses, javelina, deer, and even fish from our 50 foot perch.

We made a couple of touch and goes in the river bed area before stopping at the Red Creek airstrip. Since I lack a tailwheel endorsement, my instructor handled the landings, although he did give me the opportunity to follow him through. The carbon cub is built for backcountry landings, and we were stopped in the first half of the 1200 foot strip.

A pitstop, a snack, and a bottle of water later, we loaded back up for the downhill takeoff. The cub became light on the wheels very quickly, and when I pulled on 20 degrees of flaps, we leaped into the air. Soon, we were winging our way over the mountains near Payson at 6,500 msl. Once through a mountain pass we dropped down into a wide basin that led us to Roosevelt Lake, where we resumed our low-and-slow regime. George flew us by some ancient indian cave dwellings, and then we began flying a canyon stretch of the Salt River. Up and over a couple of dams, then into twisty sections of the river, banking, yanking, and using power to pull us through tight-radius turns. By the time we exited, I felt like this type of flying was really no big deal!

Too soon, I found myself relinquishing the controls for the landing at busy Falcon Field. As we put the airplane to bed, I was truly glad for the experience. George is a great teacher and has a great airplane. If you ever find yourself in the Phoenix area, I strongly recommend you look up Coulee Air Services for some confidence-inspiring backcountry instruction! Visit CubDriving.com for more information.