Grand Canyon

Flight Preparation

Across the Desert

Grand Canyon

Going back home

Web Flight Planning

Grand Canyon Scenic Tour
September, 1998

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Flight Preparation RoutesCessna 182 RG, Cal Aggie Flyers, Davis, CAThe meteorological conditions in the Southwest guarantee for high temperatures most times of the year. For our trip from the S. F. Bay area to the Grand Canyon, the airplane of choice is a Cessna 182RG which delivers sufficient performance even under the 'hot and high' conditions of the desert and Grand Canyon. In any respect this plane makes the journey a real fun trip.

Flying the Grand Canyon asks for sound preparation. VFR traffic in the Canyon is subject to special rules which are outlined in SFAR-50-2. Heavy commercial tour operations in the Canyon and commuting from and to Las Vegas can result in serious traffic congestion.

Private fliers are not allowed within the Canyon itself, which is limited to commercial tours. The rules will usually put you 2000 ft AGL anywhere in the SFRA. Moreover, several flight-free zones have been established below 14.500 ft. Corridors in between these flight-free zones allow to cross the Canyon. Detailed radio procedures and altitude restrictions are laid out in the mandatory 1:250.000 scale navigational chart.

The destination Grand Canyon Airport (KGCN) also calls for a careful review of your load and performance graphs. The field elevation of 6600 ft can, with summer temperatures in the daytime, easily bring an average airplane to density altitude limits.

Las Vegas (left) and the Grand Canyon (blue frame)

Across the Desert

Before departure at University Airport, Davis, CAHeading South over the Sacramento River Delta

The first leg of our three-day adventure takes us from Davis (KEDU) on a southeasterly heading. We are following Interstate 5 South all the way down the San Joaquin Valley - miles and miles of farms and fields, passing on our route the towns of Stockton, Fresno and Bakersfield.

The valley ends south of Bakersfield, so we climb over the Tehachapi Mountains at 9500 ft. and turn east into the Mojave Desert. This seems a good time to get us lunch and fuel at General Fox Airport (KWJF), since we have already done 320 NM. It's noon - and it is getting pretty warm outside.

General Fox Airport, Lancaster, CAFinal Approach 24 General Fox Airport, CA

After lunch, we head out for the Mojave Desert. For the next 180 NM we have to rely mostly on radio navigation, since roads, towns, and other man-made landmarks are getting fewer. Tuning in HECTOR und GOFFS VOR, we follow heading 057 across the barren, yet surprisingly colorful landscape.

Final Approach 16 Laughlin Bullhead International Airport

Our destination, Bullhead City, is basking in the afternoon heat at 105 Fahrenheit. Approaching the area is surprising already at first sight: as a stark contrast to the yellow, gray, and brown shades of the desert floor, the Colorado valley opens with a bright blue lake - Lake Mohave has been created by backing up the Colorado River. Over the lake we turn to initiate our approach for Laughlin Bullhead International Airport (KIFP). While we descend and set up the plane for landing, we are in for another surprising view. The east shore of the Colorado and the town of Bullhead City are Arizona territory, but the west side is easily recognized to belong to Nevada. Gambling is a big attraction, and numerous huge casinos are located just on the riverfront. These glittering entertainment machines amidst the desert rock are driven by a huge power plant nearby that sends a brown veil of exhaust into the clear sky.

Laughlin Bullhead International has a 7500 ft runway to accomodate passenger jets that haul in weekend gamblers. General Aviation parking is located on the old airport at the riverfront, and to get there you taxi all the way down the hill to the FBO building - quite odd. The casinos create a lot of competition, which results in affordable room rates any side of the river. Given the 105 degrees, we head straight for the pool. Today we have put in a total of 500 NM.


Grand Canyon

Even before sunrise, we wake to 90 degrees and the constant hum of motel air conditioners. After picking up a coffee-donut breakfast, we have a walk to the airfield in the rising light. We do our weather check, file the flight plan - and off we go for our Grand Canyon scenic tour. The plan is to follow the North Rim all the way to Page and Lake Powell.

Quartermaster Canyon and the Colorado RiverMarble Canyon cliffs

The morning haze and glare from the sun still low over the horizon keeps us from flying directly towards the Canyon. Instead, we climb out to the north, tracking the Colorado River to Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. Then we turn northeast to follow our route along the North Rim. The Canyon cuts through a mesa of up to 7000 ft, therefore we have to climb to 9500 ft to comply with the altitude restrictions of the National Park. Even at altitude the dimensions of the Canyon are still amazing, the gorge is up to 15 miles wide. The river has eroded the mesa one mile deep, every now and then we can spot its flow deep in the Canyon.

Glen Canyon Dam, PagePage, AZ, and Lake Powell

We follow our heading over the North Rim for almost one hour, until we pass over the cliffs of Marble Canyon and the Colorado river. From this point we turn north again and head for the town and airport of Page (KPGA), where we take a short break. Our distance flown of 200 NM also illustrates the dimension of the Canyon.

Pit stop in Page, AZ

Located just 80 NM south of Page, we want to fly direct to Grand Canyon Airport (KGCN). We pass through the Zuni corridor over the Canyon at 10.500 ft as published. The Grand Canyon Airport tower frequency is crammed with requests, reports, and clearances. At noon, this is rush hour. Tour planes of any size take off and land almost by the minute. Our initial call to ATC prompts the following response: "Six-zero-one-six Charlie, you're number seven behind a green Cessna. Report traffic in sight."

Entering Grand Canyon Airport Traffic from the SouthGrand Canyon Airport, Tusayan, AZ

ATIS already gave us a clue - on landing, we are kicked around quite a bit and finally touch down in 25G30 kt gusts. Strong winds, thermals and turbulent air seem to be a common condition in the Canyon , maybe due to irregular heating of the huge geological formation in the sunlight. After landing, the hourly shuttle bus takes us to Grand Canyon Village. We are happy for having carried our windbreakers - at 6600 feet, despite bright sunshine, the Rim is far cooler than the desert.

Flight Crew: Jan Monzer, PilotFlight Crew: Herbert Monzer, Navigator

The village has all what you expect from such a place - the visitor center, shops, and galleries. But now it is time to get a first-hand impression of what we saw with a bird's eye in the past hours. On the South Rim, buses circulate on a 10 minute schedule and stop at numerous vista points, so one can get off the bus anywhere and take a hike between the different spots. The views are much beyond imagination.

Attempting to catch the impression of the Grand Canyon by photography appears a futile exercise. The scenery is far too large and contains too much detail. We just watch and walk.

The Colorado River has eroded the terrain 15 miles wide and one mile deepSouth Rim view of the Grand Canyon

Having spent some hours enjoying the views off the South Rim, it is finally time to pack up and get back to the airport. By 6 p.m., we have readied the plane and take off for the final 150 NM leg of the day that brings us back to Bullhead City, 105 degrees, and our hotel pool.


Going back home

The next morning is as hot as before, but today we have to go back home. After departing Bullhead City early, we head out over the desert. Being early in the morning means little turbulences in the desert, and we add to this comfort by climbing to 10.500 ft cruise altitude. On our smooth ride we pass Lancaster and General Fox airport, and continue on our flight path into the San Joaquin Valley.

To the left: Ridge towards the Los Angeles BasinComing up: Lancaster, CA

At lunchtime we stop for a decent meal of pancakes and orange juice at Fresno Chandler Airport (KFCH). After 360 NM we also gas up the plane, just for our peace of mind. Fresno Chandler dates back to the early days of aviation, and their 1937 terminal building is not only a sight, but also has a nice restaurant.

The remaining 150 NM to Davis are routine, going home. In three days we put up 13 hours flying and accumulated a total of 1450 NM in the flight log. More impressive, we had plenty of time to enjoy one of the most spectacular nature monuments of the whole U. S.


Web Flight Planning Useful Web Sites for Flight Planning

METAR und TAF worldwide databases (require ICAO identifiers).
AirNav is an absolute 'Must See' regarding Flight Preparation in the U. S.: Detailed Airport and Navaid Data, Fuel Prices and a Fuel Stop Calculator, and Web links of airports and FBOs. I found Airnav particularly helpful in the selection of flight schools and airplane rentals - Airnav provides Comments pages on the FBOs, where users can post what they have experienced with these businesses.
Current US Satellite Imagery by NOAA and US Navy.

Jan Monzer 1998