Idaho Flying Trip Lessons Learned
The trip was a great adventure and a great opportunity to learn more about my Maule's capabilities but I'm
not sure that I'd do it again. I love flying in the Idaho back country but next time I'd be more inclined to
do what I did in 2012 - fly commercially to Boise, rent a car and drive two hours north to McCall, and then
rent Lori's Super Cub for a day of refresher training. Unless you're willing to camp with the airplane along
the way, the cost of hotels, food and fuel plus the likelihood of weather delays pretty much guarantees that
it will cost significantly more to fly your own airplane there. This trip took me 16 days, which included 2
days of back country flying in McCall. In 2012 I left my house early in the morning and arrived in McCall in
the afternoon of the same day. With 2 days of flying in McCall, this could have been a 4 day trip flying
- Add at least 2 extra days for the trip out and 2 more days for the trip back to account for weather delays. It took me 5 days from Hickory NC to McCall Idaho in each direction. With good weather it would have taken me 3 days each way.
- Carefully study the weather patterns and forecasts near your route. Have several alternate plans for stops in case of bad weather. Weather was the biggest factor in this trip.
- Don't worry about packing too much survival gear in the airplane as long as you're below maximum gross weight. I was concerned about the airplane's performance taking off on back country airstrips with all of the survival gear but it did fine. My instructor said that having the right survival gear in the wilderness vastly outweighs the few pounds of extra weight and associated performance penalty. Even at 2,200 lbs weight, I took off from Wilson Bar's 1,500 foot airstrip at a density altitude of 3,900 feet in about 900 feet. I posted the video so you can see for yourself. All of our climbs were leisurely at 200 - 300 feet per minute. You can slowly spiral up if you need more altitude.
- Fill all your fuel tanks at every stop along the way except when flying in the back country. That's 68 gallons for me. The airplane was heavy but had no trouble with any runway longer than 1,500 feet. I put 48 gallons of fuel in the Maule for the back country flying and that turned out to be more than enough for 4 hours of morning flying. We flew the canyons at 70 - 80 mph at a low power setting and cut way back on fuel burn.
- You need big tires for the back country airstrips. They've been used so much that ruts, gouges and rocks make them quite bumpy. Many of them require that you land off the center of the runway to avoid further wear. That often means that you're landing or taking off in brush where there may be some rocks or tough bushes. In order to take some of the beating off the main landing gear, tundra tires are a really good idea. 29-inch tundra tires would be fine and maybe 26-inch but I don't think I would have wanted to use my Goodyear 8.50s. The 31-inch tundra tires that I have on the Maule at 10 psi were perfect. Have your landing gear hardware checked and serviced before you fly in the back country. Make sure that no bolts are deformed and that everything is lubricated and tight. My tail wheel took such a beating that I had to tighten one of the bolts on the tail spring bracket. I asked Gary if a Baby Bushwheel would be a good idea instead of the ABI 3224A (Scott 3200) tail wheel, but he said no because it adds weight to the tail, which is already heavy.
- You need in-cockpit weather for a long trip like this. There are many ways to accomplish this but I use ForeFlight on my iPad mini and a Stratus 2 for ADDS-B-In weather (FIS-B). You need to be able to plug into the aircraft's electrical system to recharge any battery-operated equipment or else you need an external battery pack of enough capacity to recharge your iPad along the way. The Stratus 2 has an excellent rechargeable battery that really does last 8 hours on a charge. I have mine mounted in a stable place too far in the back of the airplane to reach during flight. I only ran out of battery charge once because I forgot to charge it overnight.
- If you have an older panel-mounted GPS like my Apollo GX60, purchase an extra data card and the data that covers the area where you will be flying. My eastern USA data was only good east of the Rockies, although I partially made up for it by entering user waypoints with latitudes and longitudes provided by ForeFlight, but I didn't have GPS approach capability on the GX60.
- Take some food and bottled water with you in the airplane in case you get hungry or thirsty on a long flight leg. Anyone who has flown a long distance already knows about having a portable urinal. There aren't many places to land in the mountains out west if you need a potty break.
- Have your aircraft thoroughly checked before starting the trip and address any maintenance issues in advance. Remove the upper and lower cowling and test the exhaust system for leaks and cracks. In my case I had several maintenance items addressed beforehand: landing gear hardware inspection and lubrication; propeller lubrication and balancing. However, I did not have a mechanic test the exhaust system. I was fortunate that there was an excellent maintenance shop (DEW) right next to McCall Mountain Canyon Flying Seminars that was able to weld and fix several exhaust system leaks in one day.
- If you're going to fly at high altitude or in cold weather and use the aircraft heat, bring a sensitive Carbon Monoxide detector. I think all Maules use the same low-tech method of providing cabin heat. Clean and lubricate the slides of the heater hose plates before the trip so they slide all the up when you pull the control. I don't recommend pulling a heat control part-way because it leaves a gap between the bottom of the hose and the bottom of the inlet that could allow exhaust gas into the cockpit. Instead, pull the heat completely on and use the cabin vent and/or window vents to add cool air to regulate the temperature.
- Best airports/FBOs: KMVN SRT Aviation Mount Vernon IL; KSNY Sidney NE; KPIR Pierre SD; KMYL McCall ID; KSHR Sheridan WY.
- Best maintenance shops: KMVN SRT Aviation Mount Vernon IL; KMYL DEW McCall ID
- Best hotels: Drury Inn & Suites Mount Vernon IL; Best Western Plus Sidney NE (expensive); Best Western Plus McCall ID (once they fix the wifi problem that I had).
- Honorable mention for the best hospitality goes to Dwayne Axford, a complete stranger, at Phifer airport (KEAN) Wheatland WY who at an unattended airport loaned me his hangar and a pickup truck so I could get a hotel room to stay overnight.