Saturday, August 23, 2008

Banner Tow Pilots

This summer we were at Myrtle Beach, SC, and I was amazed again by the banner towing pilots. Along the beach, their job looks pretty simple (although probably a hot one). Back at the North Myrtle Beach (Grand Strand KCRE) airport, their job looks a little more interesting. I believe the business we were watching was Barnstormer's Aerial Advertising.

Coming in with a banner or picking up a new one, the job does not look to bad. Similar to landing.

Then they drop the banner.

The next part is what looks interesting. They go full power and a steep climb near stall. The FAA recommends a climb at 1.2x the stall speed until about 250' AGL. There are a number of reasons for this maneuver. They also remark that most of the accidents are involving stalls during banner pickups which does not seem to surprising after watching it.

The plane they used was a simple cub. It was interesting they pulled the cowling off. I guess for extra cooling while going slow.

The FAA has a informational manual for banner tow operations. It is interesting reading especially if you have seen the procedure up close.

I looked on youtube and found a couple of videos which show towing operations pretty well:


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

West Yellowstone Airport Camping

As part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at West Yellowstone, MT(KWYS). I have been talking about it in my past blogs about a future Yellowstone flying trip and general airplane camping thoughts. This was the first time I had been there, but I have heard many people describe it as a great place to visit with a nice campground.

The Campground

We flew in at sunset and the FBO had closed, so we had to wander around to find the campground area. Luckily, it was fairly well marked and my Flight Guide had its location correct. It is located at the northeast end of the main ramp area a little away from the commuter and FBO traffic. When you find the area and sign in the picture below, you know you have found it.

The campground area is very nice, and it is free after you have paid for the overnight parking. It is only available to pilots, so it has a lot more availability than other Yellowstone campgrounds. I hear it can be busy over the weekends, but we had the place to ourselves. The nearest sites are just inside the trees, and there are more sites going back. There are fire pits, lots of firewood, a funky (but working) hot shower, an acceptable pit toilet, picnic tables, lots of flat space for tents, and drinking water. For a nice toilet, you can always go over to the terminal a little walk away. There are even a number of bicycles including a smaller girls bicycle available for use by pilots. Another nice item is the trailer to cart your stuff between your plane and your campsite.


The Yellowstone Aviation FBO is currently at the south end of the main ramp area in the terminal, although it is relocating to a cabin in the middle of the ramp area soon. Be careful walking to the terminal on the ramp since it has commuter airlines and NTSB controlled access. Better to go through the fence and go through the normal passenger entry. I have seen this at other airports, so I knew to be a little careful in the ramp area.

Getting a rental car... Both Avis and Budget there. With an AOPA discount, the Budget rental ended up being just over $50/day after taxes.

The FBO people were super friendly. They watched over my son while I got the rental car and offered him free food and toys they happen to have around. Maybe they were being nice to a father/son outing, but I think they were just genuinely nice too. Their fuel price was high, but they tried to make up for it in service.

There is a decent restaurant on the field as well. This is certainly convenient if you get lazy about cooking for yourself at your campsite. There are plenty in town as well which is not far away.


There is so much to see of Yellowstone National Park. The main roads in Yellowstone form a figure 8 of sorts. We had seen Old Faithful in the past which is part of the lower loop, so we decided to try the upper loop of the park. It had the Paint Pots, Mammoth Hot Springs, Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and more wildlife potential. In the end, we did not see much wildlife, but we were mostly driving around during the main daylight hours of the day. The upper loop did take most of the day, and we did not stop at everything.

There is a new visitor center in the Canyon area of Yellowstone. It is a pretty nice visitor center, so I would recommend giving it look if you are near there.

My son still really wanted to see Old Faithful again, so we will definitely have to go back. Of course he told me this after we were half way around the loop. We saw the Old Faithful area from the air, so that made him happy for this trip.

The Town of West Yellowstone

We did not get a chance to look around West Yellowstone too much, but it seemed like a nice town. There are two links I found for the future: a general link on West Yellowstone and a good link from the West Yellowstone Chamber of Commerce.

One thing we did visit that was recommended was the The Grizzly & Wolf Center. It is kind of a mini zoo for Grizzlies and Wolves and also a place to make people more informed about camping around grizzlies and wolves. It is brand new, expanding still, and quite nice.

There is a kid feeding time for the grizzlies which is kind of neat. No... not feeding kids to grizzlies. It happens once in the morning and once in the afternoon. They close the grizzlies out of the main closure and in a very organized way bring kids in to hide berries under rocks all over. Then the kids leave and the bears are allowed back in. It was pretty cool.

Flying Back

The trip along the Tetons on the way there or back is quite impressive. We also did fly over Old Faithful which was fun. I have seen some impressive aerial pictures of other places in the park that hopefully next time we will see from the air.

Teton National ParkSummary

West Yellowstone airport is a great place for visiting Yellowstone and good camping. It has a nice long, paved runway so any pilot can make it into this one. We were here by ourselves this time, but I hope to get other families to join us next time.


Monday, August 18, 2008

Big Creek Airstrip and Camping

Big Creek Airstrip looking northAs part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at Big Creek, ID (U60). I have been talking about it in my past blog about general airplane camping thoughts, and I wrote about it in my past blog entry when I took the McCall Mountain/Canyon Flying Seminar. This was the first time I had both landed and stayed there. It was a very nice location.

There is a lodge as well as camping so we would have a choice for dinner and sleeping. Our plan this time was to camp. We also met up with another family during our stay here and had a great time.

The Approach

Big Creek is a more challenging strip to get into, but not as hard as some. I would recommend looking at the Fly Idaho Book for details. From the south, I flew past Stanley, Sulfur Creek, Landmark, and Johnson Creek airstrips. After passing the ridge before Big Creek, I started desending and quickly saw the airstrip. I circled the airstrip in a typical pattern and at the typical altitude, announcing on 122.9 what I was doing. I did a standard left hand pattern entry and landing to the south which is upstream. The altitude is 5743' and the landing is made uphill; takeoff is downhill. I recommend taking instruction before landing here. I would not have wanted to do this without it.

It is not recommended to land or takeoff the opposite directions. We saw somebody land the wrong way, and he took the entire runway; the airport manager said he had seen it done 3 times and this was the first without an accident. Also, if the wind is blowing the wrong way for takeoff, wait until later. We saw somebody takeoff uphill and into the wind; he made it, but the airport manager strongly warned against it. You may get off the ground and up to treeline and then end up losing the wind and sinking into the trees.

When we were there, the wind was calm in the morning and then picked up around 10:30am from the South. 12:00pm is typical. It did not die down until around 7pm. On our departure day, we ended up waiting until 7pm to get the proper winds. Sunset was around 8:45pm, so we still had time to make it to our next destination.

With proper instruction, this airstrip is not bad and is a lot of fun.

Big Creek Airstrip looking south


Parking is at the South end of the strip on the east side. There are a couple things to be careful of. The tie downs stick up out of the ground, so you might not want to taxi over them, but in front of them. The parking is also slightly downhill. So after engine shutdown, somebody either has to hold the brakes while somebody gets a rock or use the parking brake. Then slowly back the plane down to the tie downs and put a rock under a wheel.

The Campsite

The campsite is right behind the airplane parking. There are fire pits, picnic tables, lots of flat space for tents, drinking water, and a decent pit toilet. Lots of nicely spaced trees for hammocks. There is a fun small creek to play in for the kids. Very pretty location. Since the road access is a long dirt road through Yellow Pine, this location is pretty quiet except for the occasional plane. I think the nearest big town is McCall which Google estimates as 4.5 hour drive. McCall is less than 30 minutes by plane.

Big Creek Campsite
The Lodge

There is a nice lodge here at Big Creek. There they have lodging, a restaurant, horseshoes, and a campfire in the evening.

They have a nice restaurant. The restaurant does not have a standard menu, but cooks a good standard breakfast, lunch, dinner for the people there. We made it to breakfast twice and it was very good and very filling. For dinners, they check with who will be eating and try to make something everybody will enjoy.

The lodge was very nice to us even though we were just camping, but we did eat a couple meals there to be somewhat a part of the lodge. The hospitality is impressive and I would recommend checking it out for at least meals if not staying there.

There was an evening campfire that was a highlight of our trip. The lodge started it up around 7:30pm and we all enjoyed. We brought some marshmellows and somebody had a guitar. It was very nice.

Things Nearby

We only saw a few things while we were there, but I think the area has a lot to offer. Although just hanging out around the airstrip was very nice.

We wondered about going down to see Big Creek itself. It is a bit of a walk, so we asked the lodge if they could help us out with a ride at least in one direction. They found a convenient time and gave us a ride in a truck down to the trail going to the Big Creek and the half moon outhouse. From the trail it was a pretty easy walk down to the river. Maybe 1/2 mile? Then we probably had 1.5 miles back to the campground. It was a nice time.

Big Creek

The family I met up with had mountain bikes and the lodge has mountain bikes for rent for $10/day. This is a fun thing to do since the dirt roads do not have much car activity and there are old mines to look at and it is just a general pretty area.

There is a horse barn for the USFS there as well. Nobody was at it the first day, so we stayed away. But the second day, some people were there and we asked if we could come visit. It was a convenient time for them, so they gave us a nice tour. A great time for a 6 year old.

Horses near Big Creek


It is definitely a place I want to go back to. If my wife comes along, we will likely stay in the lodge. If it is just another father/son trip, we will probably do the camping again. Both are very nice.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Smiley Creek Airstrip and Camping

Smiley Creek looking south
As part of our Idaho and Yellowstone airplane camping trip, we stayed at Smiley Creek. This was our first time staying at Smiley Creek, ID (U87). It was a nice location. It is one of the first grass airstrips in Idaho on our way from Colorado, so that made it a nice first destination. There is also a lodge as well as camping so we would have a choice for dinner and sleeping if we were tired after a day of flying. We opted for eating dinner there and staying in the teepees at the lodge. We explored for the day, stayed the night, and headed out to Big Creek the next day.

The Approach

Smiley Creek is one of the easier strips to get into. I would recommend looking at the Fly Idaho Book for details. From the south, you fly up from Sun Valley along the Sawtooth mountains and then fly over a pass just before reaching the area. As long as you land upstream going south and take off downstream going north things are not too bad. As always, it is good to circle the airstrip to make sure everything is clear on the runway and the windsock is pointing the right direction for landing. Make a standard left hand pattern, set up for a short field, soft field landing and things should go pretty well. The runway is at 7160' elevation, so make sure to take that into account during landing and especially during takeoffs. Density altitude makes a big difference on hot days here.

Smiley Creek looking eastThe Airstrip

Above are two pictures of the airstrip, and there is also a web cam for the Smiley Creek Airstrip. There is a view north that the webcam defaults to, and you can also click to see a view #2 which is looking south. It is a nice strip with sprinklers and nice looking grass.

I got a chance to talk with the airstrip caretaker for a while. A very nice man and I would recommend talking with him if you get a chance. He is a pilot, so he can talk with you about the strip and many of the others in the area.

The Campground

The campground is right next to airstrip and is quite nice.

Smiley Creek CampgroundIn the above picture, you see the brand new bathroom and shower building. It is very nice and extremely clean. I was surprised at how nice this was. The camping is just past the sign in the trees. There are not too many trees next to the airstrip except in the camping area.

There are also a number of shelters for campers as well. In the same area are picnic tables, fire pits, drinking water, and plenty of spaces for tents.

Smiley Creek Campground shelter

My son loved the creek that was right in the campground to play in. You can see the planes in the background, so you can see it is all close together.

Smiley Creek campground creek
The Lodge

Smiley Creek has a nice lodge a very short walk from the airport; maybe 100 yards at most.

Smiley Creek lodge

There they have a general store and nice restaurant with a standard menu. For lodging, there is a choice of lodge rooms, cabins, or teepees. I figured my son would like the teepees so we tried one of those. It was a hit.

Smiley Creek teepeeSmiley Creek teepee inside Inside the teepees is a little rustic, but quite nice for a teepee. The beds are on wooden platforms to raise it off the ground. There are lamps, tables, and heated blankets for the bed. It rained pretty hard in the morning, and the insides of the teepee got a tiny bit wet, but not bad.

No shower or bathroom inside the teepee, but there is one nearby.

Around the Lodge

Around the lodge there was a few fun things to look at.

There was an incredible number of hummingbirds around a feeder. I heard at one point, the humbirds were fighting to get a feeding spot and there were probably 6 feed spots. They had the feeder in a great spot for viewing either inside or outside. This kept my sons attention for a long time.

Next door, there were quite a few sheep which was something else to watch. In the evening, there was a beautiful sunset.

If you have time, I have heard there is a lot within a short car drive as well from there. There is a courtesy car at the airport, but I did not get a chance to use it.

There is a decent amount of traffic coming by on the 2 lane paved road in front of the lodge. I guess they are on their way to the town of Stanley and fishing, camping, and rafting. So the lodge has a bit of traffic. It was a nice amount while we there and lended itself to a little people watching.


Smiley Creek is a great stop over for some rest or a great meal. It has a very nice lodge and campground.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

Idaho and Yellowstone Airplane Camping

Big Creek Idaho airstrip
This past long weekend, we made it out on our airplane camping trip to Idaho and Yellowstone. I have been talking about it in my past blogs about a future Yellowstone flying trip and general airplane camping thoughts. It was a great success and incredible what we experienced in a five days.

  • Beautiful scenary
  • Beautiful airstrips
  • Great camping (similar to car/tent camping without the trailers around.)
  • Some out of the way restaurants for some fun dining.
  • Easy access to Yellowstone which is hard by car
  • A bit of money on gas, but the rest of the trip was very cheap.

Our overall route: klmo-lar-kafo-ksun-u87-k2u7-k0u0-k3u2-ku60-kwys-dnw-lar-klmo

Getting there

The weather was IFR in Denver area, but was VFR in Idaho, so we filed and took off. Look at my weather planning blog entry for how I go about my planning. The departure was fairly routine and there was some slight turns made in Wyoming to avoid some thunderstorms. Our fuel stop was in Afton, Wyoming (KAFO). There was a thunderstorm on the normal approach path, so I decided to cancel IFR and proceed VFR around the storm and to the airport. This worked out pretty well. This was the first trip in IFR with XM Weather using my new Anywhere Travel Companion, and I really appreciated it. I also have a stormscope and the combination is nice.

Desired VFR route: klmo-lar-kafo
IFR Route: klmo-yammi-lar-v4-grips-kafo

Afton was a nice place to stop with cheap self-serve fuel prices and a brand new Afton FBO building. The people there were very nice and offered their courtesy car for the short distance to the burger barn near the field or any of the other restaurants. We had our own lunch, so we passed this time, but it is nice to know it is there and easy for next time.

From Afton to our first destination (Smiley Creek, U87) was VFR and pretty easy. Around Sun Valley, ID it gets very pretty.

Idaho Sawtooth Range

VFR route: kafo-ksun-u87

Our Destinations

The places we visited this trip were Smiley Creek, ID (U87), Big Creek, ID (U60), and West Yellowstone (KWYS). There is a bit to say about each one, so I think I will leave it for separate blog entries. All three were great places to visit!

To Big Creek: u87-k2u7-k0u0-k3u2-ku60
To West Yellowstone: ku60-kwys

Big Creek Campground

Camping at each place was great. This picture is of the Big Creek campsite.

Getting back

The weather was nice coming back and flying back along Teton National Park and the Wind River Range is beautiful. There were clear skies, a tail wind, but a few bumps. 3.5 hours back from Yellowstone and my son slept most of the way.

Teton National Park

Route: kwys-dnw-lar-klmo


This will be a trip to remember for a long time. Hopefully it will be the start of more trips like this. As I recount our trip, there were a number of things that were highlights for me and my 6 year old son.

  • Flying out IFR to an area with mostly clear skies and then landing on grass
  • Teepees in Smiley Creek
  • Hummingbirds in Smiley Creek
  • My son hanging out with a new friend
  • Enjoying campfires in Big Creek and Yellowstone
  • Horses in Big Creek the paint pots in Yellowstone
  • Seeing old faithful from the air
  • The grizzly center in West Yellowstone


If you get a chance and you have interest in camping, mix up the airplane and camping. It is a great experience!

I will do separate blog entries on Smiley Creek, Big Creek, and West Yellowstone next.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Biplane Ride at Myrtle Beach

For something different, we decided to pay for a short biplane ride at the beach. At Myrtle Beach, SC, you always see flying overhead banner towing planes and a biplane giving people rides. This year we decided to give it a try. It is a bit expensive, but it was fun.

Classic Air Ventures at the Ramp66 FBO at Grand Strand Airport in North Myrtle Beach is where you pick up the ride. It was easy to set up over the phone and we made the reservation for the next day.

It was only a 20 minute ride, but it was a fun one flying over the beach high rise condos, then a little north where there are deserted waterways, marshes, and beaches. Very pretty area from the air that you never see from the ground. I wish I had taken some pictures; next time... When there is a nice stretch on a deserted beach he takes you down low below tree top level. Also in the air, he did some mild hammerheads which was fun.

The plane we were in was a Waco Biplane. It was great fun with the open cockpit, wind, and the rustic plane feeling. The RPMs of the plane were quite low which I guess is due to the radial engine. I think he said somewhere around 1800 RPMs. It had a neat sound to it. They modified the front compartment and fit two of us in there. In order to do this, they remove the front stick so no flying it myself; bummer. We had headsets, but no microphones; this worked out fine, but was a little different since I was so used to having a microphone.

Next time, I will have to get a ride where I can take the controls. But it probably won't be in quite as picturesque a place.