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Guest Lucas Kaelin

2014 CO VFR Challenge

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

It's almost time for everyone's favorite VFR Challenge of the year, and this year a tough one. After considering the results of our VFR Challenge Survey, we've tailored the event a little more to the requests. While this difficulty is the highest yet, it will absolutely cure anyone of their flatland blues. As a slight change, we're going to try this event on a Saturday.


Even though it was used in the 2012 Colorado Challenge, due to popular request we are going back to Telluride, and that will be the biggest, and highest altitude airport in the event. Don't worry you're still not going to get below 7500 MSL, and some will consider taking their aircraft over the highest of the saddles in the area and still not be able to cross them at 13,000 MSL! Don't forget to check your density altitude, bring your O2 bottle, and be prepared for some mechanical turbulence and mountain waves. As one of the top 3 most dangerous passes in Colorado, the sides of Monarch Pass (near Alexander/Salida) are littered with the remains of aircraft caught unaware or unprepared for the unpredictable rotors, downdrafts, eddies, and sheering forces of the disturbed airflow. There's plenty of runway for use at every airport except Buckhorn Ranch, but mind yourself on the gravel at Saguache, if you can find it.



Saturday 18 January 2014, 5-8pm Eastern

2014 Colorado VFR Challenge

Difficulty: Extreme 4/4 - Terrain, Navigation, Altitude

Airport list in order: KTEX-KPSO-C24-04V-KANK-0CO2



Standard VFR Challenge Rules still apply:

  • General aviation aircraft are preferred, and aircraft may not exceed 150 KIAS.
  • Navigation is to be by pilotage and dead reckoning only. NO radio or GPS navigation is permitted.
  • All published airspace boundaries and special use airspace must be avoided unless special permission has been received from ATC.
  • Proper use of UNICOM is required for non-controlled airports. Communication with ATC is required at staffed airports.


As a reminder UNICOM/CTAF frequencies will be as published on the sectional, please leave 122.95 available for use for non-participating aircraft. Due to the vast difference in aircraft performance, we're not going suggest a route by which to navigate. Don't forget to check the service ceiling for your aircraft, and figure that into your route planning as well. If you need help with a flight plan, please consider some of the information that was posted back with the ZBW Overwater Challenge or ask one of your fellow pilots. Don't be afraid to try some formation flying, just ensure you have a way to coordinate with those other pilots (just in case TofuTwitch11 needs another SAR!). With firsthand and very special knowledge most of the rest of us lack, TofuTwitch11 can attest what NOT to do in the terrain near Telluride. Although by general consensus Twitchy, if you can complete this difficult challenge without a similar incident, we shall absolve you of your SAR status. Best of luck to everyone, I hope to see you all there!


An aerial view of Monarch Pass


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Guest Lucas Kaelin

Some details are now available on the Challenge Event Page, but nothing newer than what has already been posted. That means this will be the next Challenge event for BVA, I hope to see plenty of you there!

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

While there are usually plenty of posts of useful information before the VFR challenges, this time will be a little different. Since I'm traveling and recovering from LASIK surgery, my online time has to be kept to a minimum. So instead I'm going to leave everyone to their own efforts on high terrain navigation and avoidance, and answer a few questions about the VFR Challenge event that I received in an email.


1} In order to claim you've finished the challenge, you have to touch pavement at each airport. Is this done on the honor system, or is big brother watching?


There is much freedom left up to the pilots here, and it is completely on the honor system. The VFR Challenge events are for the learning benefit of pilots. The events are again to keep basic pilot skills sharp, such as pilotage and dead reckoning for navigation. Terrain awareness, and density altitude provide difficulty for descent planning, groundspeed, and approach planning as well. In designing these challenges the airports and routes are selected to bring about these challenges and reminders for your basic pilot skills, by skipping an airport or taking a shortcut you are indeed missing out on part of the challenge. That especially goes true for these Colorado airports where low level wind shear is prominent.


2} Will there be custom weather for the region? If not, and the airports and routes are MVFR will it be rescheduled?


We have in the past restarted the server both before and after the Colorado VFR challenge events in an effort to ensure VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions). This made the event difficult both on server management, as well as any pilots who were conducting operations not associated with the challenge. The server will almost certainly not be restarted to ensure VMC for the event, which means no custom weather for the airports or region. Part of the VFR pilot certificate means making the go/no-go decision with regards to weather. This is simulated in the VFR Challenge by not using custom weather. In the instance widespread IMC prevails across the event area, an alternate challenge will be announced here in the forum, and in server UNICOM.

In the last Alaskan VFR challenge the last airport in the event (Sitka) was IMC upon nearing the control zone. My wingman and I elected to hold in VMC about 15 miles away until the new METAR came out prior to making the decision to divert to an alternate field. But only after checking the trending weather did we elect to hold with high likeliness of the weather continuing to improve. Had we been closer to fuel minimums, or the weather was steady or trending down, a diversion to an alternate airport would have been required. In the end, the new METAR was released with MVFR conditions, and we continued to Sitka.


3} This event is insanely hard, did user feedback indicate members think they are up for this level of challenge?


This is indeed the most difficult challenge that BVA has ever hosted, and the most difficult VFR challenge. While most poll responses aided in my design of this event, the suggested difficulty rating for VFR challenges was only at a 2-3 out of 4. Obviously this event is more difficult than most BVA members will feel comfortable with, but hopefully that encourages pilots to work together in groups, flights, or just find a wingman. Being part of BVA means being part of a community, and we hope all our members have friends and wingmen in the community they feel comfortable enough to fly with when events challenge them beyond their comfort level. In the future, VFR challenges will be simpler; this event was designed to appease those who requested lots of difficult terrain navigation and avoidance. It also happens to include some of the more interesting and overlooked fields during the Colorado Getaway.


4} What kind of participation do the VFR challenge events usually draw?


While the initial VFR challenges drew only about a dozen pilots they have obviously grown and grown. What started here in the forums as a thrown gauntlet has become a sanctioned BVA event. With most VFR Challenges now drawing around 20-30 pilots over the course of the event, there have been as many as 40 in the last Alaskan VFR Challenge. While we acknowledge the difficulty of this event will likely be somewhat a deterrent to some pilots, we encourage pilots of all skill levels to participate. Also we hope members will realize that often the difficulty rating is applied by looking at the overall event, and not all legs will hold that difficulty. So please don't feel that you must complete the entire event to participate. Even pilots who conduct pattern traffic at a single event airport add to the complexity and increase realism. So please feel free to join the event, in any manner you feel comfortable with.


5} If I complete the event, can I get a special signature picture to post in the forums, as a certificated mountain pilot?


While this seems like a good idea, and a fun one, I believe it outside the bounds of the event. Due to the nature of the honor system, we would be more likely to suggest a participation badge over a certificate or endorsement. Additionally a certification would require the oversight of an instructor pilot. While we have a few experienced pilots who would be able to fulfill this role, keep in mind that they are usually those who are also involved with United Regional, Cape Air, ATC Mentors/Instructors, and members of the Administration Team. They do enjoy a break from having to watch everyone around them and just getting to enjoy the scenery flying low and slow. We do encourage pilots to take their own screenshots during the event, and post them here in the forums, even if you end up flying the event route early or later than the actual event. Feel free to make them into your own signatures and avatars for the forums. If you're unsure how, there are plenty of us around who can teach basic usage and resizing in MS Paint or Photoshop. My signature is a combination of screenshots from multiple BVA events made in Photoshop. Don't forget to post the screenshots up on the BVA Facebook page as well, or save them for the photo of the month contest in the General Discussion forum.


Somehow I've managed to write another book with little actual pointers about how to avoid the terrain and challenges of this events. I hope this provides more background on the event, how they come about, and why we suggest you fly them. Please don't't be afraid to ask questions, not just of me, but of fellow pilots as well. You may find yourself a quick wingman who knows the aircraft you fly in a little different way. As always never forget to follow roads, rivers, and railroads as they are some of the easiest ways to navigate VFR, especially in mountainous terrain! Good luck, and see you all for the event!

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

Now that I've returned from my travels, here's a bump and reminder that this event will be THIS Saturday from 5-8p Eastern.

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

The weather forecast for this event will be clear skies and calm winds according the the weather service at each location. This should make the event a little easier, since you shouldn't be dodging clouds the whole way.


A word of caution if you start the event late, or take a dinner break at any of the airports along the way. The end of nautical twilight at Buckhorn Ranch is currently 1738MST (1938 EST). This airport does not appear to be lit, and you'll surely want plenty of daylight for the approach. With a density altitude of nearly 10,000ft, and only 4000ft of runway you'll want to be as slow as possible on approach!


Here's some mountain flying tips from the wonderful resource over at PilotFriend.com


I look forward to seeing you all on Saturday!


If you don't have a route planned already, you may want to take a look at what I plan on flying. The highest saddle to cross on this is 11,500ft. Remember you still have to cross 2000ft above it, which could be close to the service ceiling for your aircraft. Don't be afraid to plan a circle or two over the airport to gain altitude before continuing on your route.

If you're looking for something a little simpler to navigate try this route, though the highest crossing here is still 11,300ft.

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Guest Josh Handelsman

Hey folks! I know we're to stay off of 122.95 during today's VFR CO Challenge, but is there/are there frequencies to use with other pilots flying the same challenge? 123.45 or something? Or is this a "team speak" function?




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Guest Lucas Kaelin

You can use any of the standard FCC published Air-Air frequencies such as found here.

Air-to-Air: Legal air/air frequencies between private aircraft are 122.75 (fixed wing) and 123.025 (helicopters). Bootlegging is common, with 123.400, 123.425, 123.450 and 123.475 being the most famous examples. 122.9, 122.85 and 122.775 are also heavily bootlegged. Listen to them in resort towns where planes drag signs up and down the beach. Air Force fighters have been heard using 125.125 and 127.275. (note the cute repetitive number patterns)

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

Thank you all for participating in the VFR Challenge. We had around 25 pilots logged in at the start of the challenge, although not all of them were part of the event. While many enjoyed the event, it seemed that very few chose to keep it low and slow and enjoy some canyon flying. They certainly missed out on some fun. Twitchy landed at the wrong airport near Salida (KANK). While this would be excusable due to an add on scenery glitch that existed, it wasn't the duplicate airport! After some conferring it was decided he had to depart again from a 2000ft strip in a baron at 9000ft elevation in order to continue to get credit for the event. Thankfully this was in the high plains section of the challenge and there were no nearby obstacles. Since he didn't impact terrain we must absolve Twitchy of his previous SAR status, although we shall lovingly remember why you should not be examining a sectional during canyon flight. I decided to personally test how tight you can make a canyon turn, after turning up the wrong valley between Stevens and Mineral Co (KPSO-C24). What worked well enough once was worth doing twice, putting me well behind my wingman who actually tried to save me from myself. SoloWingDemon and I also did a TnG on a small glider strip set back in the mountain near Salida, presenting an amazing challenge for an approach to this tiny launching strip that is certainly a one way operation with very little chance of go-around. The event also took a little longer than planned leaving many to find the small Buckhorn Ranch strip at the end of the valley in twilight or slightly later. Thankfully this airport does have non standard edge lights and was I believe everyone managed to locate it.


Overall the event was a success, and I've received many comments about how enjoyable it was and that we should do it again next year. While I can't make any guarantees, the scenery design team would like another shot at correctly displaying some of the gorgeous airports that were in this event. I'll get my screenshots up sometime this week I hope, so that all those who didn't participate can still enjoy the scenery. Salida (KANK) was by far my favorite airport of the event, coming through a pass to get there, having that massive cliff on approach (with associated shear), and then the high Monarch Pass to climb afterwards on departure. Of course doing that little glider strip that's out on extended final was a blast too. I hope others take the time to fly the route low and slow trying to keep it to ground buzzing level and still be able to navigate in the remainder of the week we are in the Colorado area. Please feel free to post some comments or screenshots here, I love to hear them and see the different perspectives everyone gets during the event!

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Guest Lucas Kaelin

And it took several episodes of Dr Who playing in the background, but I finally got these all resized and uploaded for posting. You can see SoloWingDemon in most of these as my wingman.




Engine start, and conga line at KTEX.




Tacking East and West of South, through the mountains North of Durango, following rivers, and rails to join the Million Dollar Highway.






Finally meeting up with SoloWingDemon, and turning eastbound for Pagosa Springs (KPSO).





Departing Pagosa Springs Northwest bound for the Weminuche Pass. I got a little disoriented and turned up the wrong canyon before the pass... twice!






Following the Rio Grande around Bristol Head towards Mineral County (C24)




After passing through Wagon Wheel Gap some high plains flying to Saguache (04V) and then on to Salida/Alexander (KANK).







Approach to Salida/Alexander (KANK), then another pass by after the TnG on the glider strip that I saw when turning long base leg.





Climbing out of Salida/Alexander (KANK) through Monarch Pass, along US 50 towards Gunnison.






Finally northbound to Buckhorn Ranch (0CO2) in fading twilight.



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