Flying near the Grand Canyon

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Rick
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Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Rick »

I am planning a trip next week to the Grand Canyon area, spending a few nights at KGCN, then heading on to Las Vegas. I have already received some excellent suggestions and advice (thanks Steve), but I wondered if the larger group had any suggestions, specifically for flying around the Grand Canyon, while staying out of trouble with the FAA!

I have been studying the special Grand Canyon VFR chart, but that raises more questions. Take the Pearce Ferry Sector, for example, which is defined as surface to 7999'. If I remain clear of the dark "SANUP Flight-Free Zone", can I descsend below 8000' within the Pearce Ferry Sector? In fact, along V235 north of PGS 20 miles or so, could I not theoretically descend VFR down into the canyon, following the river, without violating any regs (not saying I want to do this!)? I guess I'm trying to understand what additional limitations the "sectors" provide beyond the nomal VFR regulations.

Anyone "been there and done that"? Also, any other unique flying opportunities I shouldn't miss while I'm in the area?

Thanks!!!
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by CFIDave »

I haven't "been there and done that" but expect to fly the Grand Canyon in about 2 months as part of a x-country trip to/from CA. As a result I've also been looking at the Grand Canyon VFR chart. It has no-fly "Flight Free Zones" where flight is prohibited below 14,500 feet, as well as "Sectors" within the SFRA. Within the Sectors, flight is prohibited from the surface up to the Sector floor altitude (e.g., you can't descend below 8000' within the Pearce Ferry Sector).

What this means is that you can't descend below 8000 to 10,000 feet MSL within the SFRA -- although it's not as bad as it sounds since the surface (i.e., canyon rim) elevation is typically 6000+ feet MSL. In addition, there are GPS-defined "Corridors" that cross the canyon where you're supposed to fly no lower than 10,500 feet southbound or 11,500 feet northbound.

All of these restrictions exist so that visiting aircraft like us flying VFR don't conflict with the large number of helicopters and approved fixed-wing tour operators who get to fly at more scenic lower altitudes. And even they are restricted to specific routes to reduce noise levels within the canyon.

Today's FAA exists because of a historic 1956 mid-air collision between two airliners over the Grand Canyon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1956_Grand ... _collision). So it's not surprising that the FAA imposed so many flying restrictions in this area.
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Rick »

Thanks Dave. Yeah, I finally figured out that the sectors were really also "no-fly" zones within the sector altitudes, but I only got that by reading SFAR 50-2 on the FAA site. I still really don't see that spelled out on the chart, unless I'm just missing something. So, really no chance to overfly the canyon itself except via the 4 corridors, but then, as you mentioned, the minimum altitudes are higher.

It still looks like a good place to overfly the canyon is the East end of the Diamond Creek Sector at 9000' - you're still 5000' AGL, but at least you can fly parallel to the canyon for a while, as long as you remain above the top of the sector.

I'll let you know how it goes when we get back - this is one of those things I've wanted to do for many years now!
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Joey »

I did it a couple years ago flying east coast to west coast. First study the VFR chart. We plugged in user defined waypoints at the start stop points in the VFR fly ways and made it part of a flight plan on the G1000. Second, go early in the morning when there is less turbulence. We didn't and found out quickly why we were the only guys flying in the afternoon. The view is breath taking and well worth the trip and the planning. Turbulence in the pm was at least moderate so we cancelled a second trip through another flyway.
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Robert C. »

Rick,

You're going to have a grand time (sorry couldn't help myself :-D ).

Almost exactly a year ago I flew out of St. George for 2 weeks while getting my PPL and my 5hr solo x-country was a circumnavigation of the Grand Canyon with the Zuni corridor crossing.

1) it'll be very bumpy
2) it'll be very windy...hope you're current on your cross-wind landing practice
3) at the wrong times of the day KGCN will be a zoo; my CFI specifically forbade me to make a stop there and had me land at Page which is marginally less busy.
4) 20/20 hind sight I'd fly clockwise around the canyon for better light when photographing. I went counterclockwise and think some pictures would have come out better if I'd been on the other side of the Canyon in the late afternoon. However, I started at the NW end and you'll start from the SE so you may be better off with a CCW route.
5) being a student pilot at the time and in a non-gps Archer navigating the Zuni corridor from one VOR/DME fix to another scared me witless with the strong cross-wind so i called center (was on flight following) and asked them to warn me if i was drifting too much. I could almost hear them chuckle when they promised to keep an eye on me and then gave me a very accurate compass course to fly.
6) did I say yet it'd be bumpy?

If you have time you will also want to fly from St George to Cedar City. That route skirts Zion National Park and the canyon (the Colombs? not sure anymore) between the 2 cities is stunning. Tighten the seat belts (did I mention it'd be bumpy?) and stay low so you can enjoy the views.

Needless to say the DA is going to be high, especially if the temperatures hit the 80s and above.

Anyway, i cannot imagine you not enjoying it, it truly is a spectacular place.

Fly safe,

Robert
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by rwtucker »

Rick,

First, take plenty of photos. You will enjoy the flight (even though you may be listening to your engine a bit more than usual).

I fly the Grand Canyon with some regularity on my way to/from Phoenix originating in the northwest. When I fly my Dakota, I typically pop over the ceiling so I can choose my own route. In my DA40, I pick up Flight Following in Saint George and ask them to vector me through the corridor (LA Center). The only downside is that the route is less scenic and they may forget you if they are busy (happened to me twice). Even if you do take the corridor, I recommend 13,500, just in case you need it for something :)

I have never encountered turbulence over the Canyon even close to the clear air stuff I often encounter north of Saint George. Most of the time it is smooth sailing at 13,500.

As with others, I don't especially recommend KGCN either unless you have a specific reason. If you are an experienced mountain driver, the DA is not likely to be too bad in May.
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Rick »

Thanks, guys! I take your turbulence warnings seriously, as I have seen that same comment other places, too! We will plan to fly in the mornings, and also the highs are only predicted to be around 60 deg, so I am hoping that will help some. Hopefully our experience will be more like the second Robert's than the first...

I'm ready with the camera, and hope to have some nice pictures to post when I get back.

And I am NOT an experienced mountain driver - I have done some reading on the topic, but that's all. As always, any advice from you high-flyers is welcome!

The reason for KGCN is because we are staying there in Grand Canyon Park for a few days - we also want to see the canyon from the ground, and maybe catch a sunrise or sunset or two...
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Paul »

LA center (124.2 I'm pretty sure) is your friend. I have never been denied flight following with them. They will help make sure you are not going someplace you shouldn't although the ultimate responsibility rests with you.

90% of what you need to know about summer mountain flying and high DAs can be summarized as follows: Fly early in the morning. Aside from negating most DA problems, flying early in the morning has the added advantage of being extremely pleasant as apposed to an afternoon flight which is almost guaranteed to be miserable. We are rapidly approaching the time of year where flying in the GCN area will either be VFR or grounded due to convection. If you have o2, you will use it.
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by rwtucker »

Rick,

You have probably already read lots of material on high DA flying.

More practically, I find that it helps to imagine that you are taking off, climbing, descending, and landing with an overloaded aircraft that has lost a significant amount of its sea level horsepower. When taking off, plan on lots of runway and a long slow climb (perhaps 100-200 fpm) with the potential need to level off occasionally for cylinder head cooling. Relatively cooler air will help your lift -- a bit -- but your engine is still high and you won't want to take off or land full rich. (I take off monitoring EGT, leaning for 1,350 degrees throughout the T/O roll and climb). When landing, remember that your ground speed at 50 kts. TAS will be higher. Add the DA40's squirrely front end to a 16 kt. crosswind with gusts (crosswinds are common there) and you can easily be setting your first tire down at 70 MPH. Imperfections will be amplified. Also, recall that flaps work differently at high DA than at sea level. You may find that you don't want to use your second notch.

I think I'm making it sound harder than it is. Just fly in the middle of the envelope and you'll be fine.
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Re: Flying near the Grand Canyon

Post by Rick »

So how does one land at L41, Marble Canyon airport, which lies below the 8000' SFRA? That looks like it might be fun, if I were sure it was legal...
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