The goose migration to Freezout Lake has always captured my attention, so when the weather cleared I figured it was a good time to head on over to Choteau, Montana and check it off my bucket list. The flight from Missoula to Choteau is quite spectacular crossing the Continental Divide over Bob Marshall wilderness area. Here is a photo of the back-country paved strip Benchmark, tough to spot but it is just off the tip of the wing.
Once you cross the Continental Divide land flattens out for miles and miles. This is where thousands of snow geese take a break on their long journey north every year. The proceeds from gun and ammunition sales provide funding to help manage this waterfowl area.
Can you spot the geese? What looks like a sheet of ice from the air is actually thousands of snow geese.
Freezout Lake pictured from the air. The farmland around Freezout provides geese with grain and nutrients for the rest of their journey north.
Grain silos outside Choteau
Trumpeters swans on Freezout Lake with the Rocky Mountain Front in the backdrop
Choteau airport is a pilot’s dream. They have two paved and maintained runways, fuel, and a courtesy car you can borrow to get you to town for some home-made pie. They even let us take the car all the way down to Freezout Lake to make friends with some geese. The nice flat farm land surrounding the airport is also a welcoming change of scenery as an optional landing spot in the rare case of an engine out.
We enjoyed a beautiful day spotting Snow Geese and hanging out with the laid back small-town folks of Choteau and were ready to head back home to Missoula. The early spring sun provided a beautiful spot light on the landscape as we departed Choteau airport. We said goodbye to all the geese flying north, and continued our route west for the evening.
I hope you enjoyed this glimpse of Montana from the air as much as I did.
Flying around Montana provides some amazing views and access to backcountry terrain seen by few. Check back for more Montana adventures from the air.
One of the most interesting aspects of being a private pilot is meeting new people through aviation. And you just never know who will end up on your doorstep. A couple of weeks ago my husband and I had the lovely experience of meeting Western Montana Mycological Association guru Larry Evans. If you are anything like me, the word mycologic isn’t in your vocabulary. For the layman, it means Larry loves mushrooms. He is one of Montana’s most active and knowledgable mushroom guys around.
We met Larry through a mutual friend and he was interested in taking a plane ride over the burn areas in Southern Montana to scout out potential morel mushroom growth this spring. Morel mushrooms are like fungal gold in Montana. Larry is one of the best people to know if you want help figuring out where to find morels. He was excited to get an aerial view of the landscape so when he asked us to take him up, we were more than happy to oblige.
Above is an aerial photo over the Bitterroot mountains taken on the flight.
The image above is a rough outline of the flight path with Larry.
The following is Larry Evans full Morel report which can be found at WMMA website here.
Montana Morel Report
This year I was able to fly over the burns, as well as my usual drive-by ground truthing of the aftermath of the fires of the long hot post summer of 2012. With over 300,000 acres burned in our local region, western Montana and Idaho were not unique last year. California, Oregon, and Washington all sustained equally hot and dry fire seasons, and the results will be weighed in this spring.
Generally, the forest burned too hot. I saw slopes that were totally decimated of trees, and broad swaths of moonscape over the Bitterroots. Still, with such a large area burned, there is bound to be some good habitat out there.
We should have a pretty good early season if the weather stays cool, many places the snow is still blocking access, and this will probably continue for another couple of weeks or a month at least, check your snotel readings. I expect the end of May is looking pretty good still. We have certainly had cool snaps then, and I remember more than one Memorial Day Hunt dampened by snow.
Feedback about our morel hunt offerings has told us one thing about our membership, which we suspected: nobody cares about staying in a motel, or eating a gourmet dinner. You just want to get out in the field! So, we have CHANGED our approach, to try to best reflect the interests of our members! We won’t be sponsoring any dinners or package tours.
Starting on Memorial Day, we will be taking people out to hunt for morels twice a week, on Saturday and Tuesdays, starting in the mornings at 9am. We will announce the location of carpooling locations in Missoula on the website here ahead of time. Suggested donation is $20 for nonmembers; Check out the many ways to become a WMMA member and get free gifts on our Membership Page.
Our annual Memorial Day Morel Hunt will be held in the Missoula area. Hope to see you there!
My flight training finally reached the point where I had to complete a solo flight to another airport at least 50 nautical miles away. And like every other milestone in my training, my instructor knew I was more than ready. But that didn’t stop me from procrastinating! First the airplane I preferred was taken, then the weather wasn’t good, then my horoscope said to lay low that day, then I just plain chickened out. THEN…well, then I ran out of excuses.
The plane was booked, weather good, logbook endorsed, the only thing missing was me. It was time to step up and put my training to the test. I set out from Missoula on a beautiful Sunday morning for a round-robin flight to Kalispell (KGPI). This route is a fantastic first cross country that takes you through Flathead Valley next to the majest Mission Mountain range, and along the edge of Flathead Lake, the largest freshwater lake this side of the Mississippi.
The beautiful scenery helped settle my solo-flight jitters, and these dramatic landmarks also made for some fabulous hard-to-miss checkpoints. I was also able to take some great video of the flight. Please enjoy!
Okay let’s be honest here, talking on the radio as a student pilot is scary. Once you press that mic there’s no turning back, the panic sets in and you must do your best to communicate the four W’s. Or was is five? And worse yet, its out there for all other traffic to hear (and likely smirk at).
For the non-pilots in our lives, I would say talking to tower over the radio is like asking someone out for a first date…over a megaphone.
And I’m sure all of us in training have encountered a cranky Air Traffic Controller or two. They are strict, testy, and sometimes just downright mean! It is easy to see them as the terrifying gate-keeper when starting out, but as any experienced pilot can tell you, ATC can really save your butt when you need them.
I am also here to tell you that behind those seemingly threatening voices that come through your headset, are some genuinely nice people who sincerely have your best interest in mind, and are there to help.
I found this out when my CFI arranged a tour of the tower at my local airport Missoula International.
The best part of the tour was getting to put a face to the voices I have become very familiar with in my training the past six months. I got to ask them a few questions and get a great view of what they see every day. This was hands down one of the highlights of my training. I would recommend every student pilot take a tour of your local tower if possible. One of the biggest messages they had to relay: WE ARE HERE TO HELP.
Yes, learning the correct way to communicate over the radio is important. But when it comes right down to it, you are just one person talking to another. If you have a question, just ask. They would rather you ask and allow them to help you out, than risk violating any regulations or putting yourself or others at danger. So have you thanked your local Air Traffic Controller today?
And only in Montana do even the bears want a tour of tower. Apparently one was seen wandering around the Missoula Airport recently. You can read about it in the Missoulian.
Do your radio calls need some work? Click HERE to link to AOPA’s “Say It Right” online tutorial that can go towards FAA wings program.
Have a question for ATC and can’t make it up to your local tower? AOPA has set up an online forum where you can ask ATC a question. Click HERE to see some Q&A already provided, or ask one of your own.
There are times during flight training when you start to feel alone. I’m not talking about the “man this plane takes off so much faster without my CFI in the right seat” first solo kind of alone. I’m talking about that ominous feeling that comes over you when you realize that it is all you. Nobody is out there pushing you to finish this crazy adventure called flight training. Heck, nobody pushed you into starting in the first place.
And why did we start flying? Was it that first intro-flight that hooked us? You know the one, where the airport is like some amazing foreign country you just got a visa to. Or better yet, like your first day of high school where you are the nerdy freshman and your CFI is the star quarterback showing you the ropes as if to throw his arm around you and say, “See here kid, I’ll teach you everything you need to know to be in the cool club, you just stick with me.”
Unfortunately your CFI isn’t going to be there for you every baby-step of training, and you are more than likely going to be stuffed into a metaphorical locker or two. Sure, we all start our training with the best of intentions, but as the shiny newness of flying wears off, in come all the excuses and reasons to quit.
This is especially true when you hit the solo stages of training. I miss my CFI in the right seat. The plane is not such a warm fuzzy place without him. I’ve even thought about replacing him with one of those inflatable car buddies I read about that is supposed to be a “Silent Partner to Put Female Drivers at Ease” (yes, this is a real thing.) But unfortunately the “silent partner” can’t provide the one thing I miss the most: that great post-flight feedback from another human…namely that really cool CFI you met the first day of flight training. And if you don’t have any other students to chat with about your struggles, and more importantly your triumphs, training can give you a sense of abandonment.
There is a great blog post “Stop-Loss” by Robert Goyer on this subject. He points to AOPA’s findings in a recent study that there is great pride in being admitted to an aviation “community” that shares a sense of accomplishment. Students attach importance to having their accomplishments recognized by others. Schools and instructors should facilitate this recognition.
The findings of the study showed that students expressed a strong desire to feel part of a community of pilots and not be some lone student pilot braving the inevitable struggles on their own. They even expressed a desire to be able to schedule flying to suit their needs, to be able to hit milestones that demonstrate progress.
Goyer also points out the study made clear that there was much flight schools could do to enhance the experience for its student pilots. For one, make them feel they’re a part of the gang. Barbeques, seminars, fly outs … there are a lot of community building activities that can be done free, cheap, or even at a profit. And a couple of the incentives noted prominently, like friendly, courteous help and clean airplanes, cost little or nothing.
Unfortunately there are not a lot of CFI’s with that kind of time commitment. Most just struggle to keep the flights they have booked and juggle students with the second job they have had to pick up. But where your flight school and local student pilot community may drop the ball in some areas, the great big world wide web is there to help us out with some other great resources, namely AOPA flight training facebook page.
I have received some of the best advice and that “atta girl” feedback and recognition all us student pilots crave from the student pilot community. Most recently when I was stuck in a training rut, I posted a cry for help and got the great suggestion from Greg Brown to attend a fly-in. What better place to find that sense of community and comradery in the pilot world? I ended up at Mineral County Airport’s first fly-in and renaming of thier airport. I had the great experience of meeting the friendly people of Superior, Montana who worked hard over the past decade to make the airport public, despite resistence from the FAA. There are a ton of recreational opportunities close to this airport, and they now have a courtesy car available. I will post more about this fun small-town airport on my Superior airport page. Until then, please enjoy the video from my first fly-in.
Fun fact on fly-ins, AOPA announced China will host the first-ever general aviation fly-in September this year. Read more here
You know that scene in the 1992 film “League of Their Own” where Tom Hanks flies off the handle on one of his female baseball players bringing her to tears, where he then shouts “What is this? There is no crying in baseball!”
Well that has been me the past couple weeks. The sensitive, weepy, over-emotional student pilot. Put me in an airplane alone with my max cross-wind component and expect me to come back down without sweat stains under my arms and bra, a shaken ego, and watery eyes…well you would be askin’ too much of this lady. Four attempts to land two of which I bounced off the runway forcing a go-around, all performed in front of a grounded United flight that was parked on the taxi-way at the end of the runway waiting to take off for the last hour. (I’m sure I gave those bored pilots a good show). I did hold it together long enough to debrief the flight with my instructor like it was “no big deal,” but you know as soon as he was outta sight I freaked the “F” out and called my girlfriend to cry about it. A shot and a beer and a few tears later I was feeling much better, but not anywhere close to getting back into an airplane.
That’s where I think being a female, or at least speaking for myself, does us girls no justice in the predominately male driven world of aviation. When it comes to airplanes, men are more apt to talk horsepower, obsess over gps & map navigation, and generally talk shop to the tune of “Tim the Tool-man Taylor” oh, oh, oh. And I can only speak for myself here but women tend to be more emotion and relationsip driven. But there might be other reasons there are not more women in aviation according to survey results of ”Top 10 Barriers That Stop Women From Learning to Fly” conducted by Dr Penny Rafferty Hamilton.
The ones I identified with the most however, were #2 Instructor-student communication incompatibility (Mars vs. Venus)#3 Instructor Interuptus- Instructors leave flight instructing to take airline or charter service jobs often requiring the student to start over with another instructor. This is time consuming, expensive and discouraging to many female students. #4 Lack of female mentors and support systems to encourage the female student & #5 Personal lack of confidence in their ability and a “fear of flying,” especially stalling the airplane too early in the training process.
I have struggled with all of these at some point in my training and certainly thought about quitting a time or two. But this week I have really, really, really struggled with personal lack of confidence.
I get scared, anxious, and generally a bit worked up. And when this happens I really don’t like the tough love approach. I want a mentor talking to me like a friend and letting me know they can relate to what I’m going through and are going to stick it out with me until I get through it. I could care less if they are female or male, or if they are from Mars and I’m from Venus and apparently we speak a different language. Those are small issues if you happen to just find a good CFI who cares in general about their student.
And yes, because I am a woman, I depend more on building a relationship with this person. But that’s the only way I know how to trust someone; and you have to have a lot of trust in your CFI. And this trust has paid off.
I got back in the airplane with my CFI and squeeled and whimpered my way through another flight until I felt good enough to solo again. It took some prodding and encouraging words, but I got my confidence back. All thanks to some great mentors.
So, sorry Adam & Trever, I will probably call you crying a time or two. Or I will try to plan your engagement if you tell me you are proposing to your girlfriend. And I might try to be your friend on facebook. But who ever said there’s no crying in flying?
Curious about the world of women student pilots”? Check out this great blog post on teaching women to fly.