Pilots say flying in high terrain can be dangerous, especially if you are not familiar with mountainous areas. NBC Montana took a flight with pilots from Summit Aviation in Belgrade on Thursday to learn more about mountain flying.
Ben Walton is the owner of Summit Aviation and an expert pilot, who says Montana is higher in elevation and the air is less dense in some areas of the state. He told us flatland pilots often crash into terrain because they are not used to flying through canyons and will try to out-climb mountains.
"We're in higher elevation at 4,500 feet, so the air is thinner and less dense than sea level," said Walton.
NBC Montana flew up and over several areas in Bozeman Thursday morning with Walton and his co-pilot. Walton explained airplanes have to fly at a faster speed when the air is less dense, especially upon takeoff and landing. He says pilots can get stuck, surrounded by mountains and need to know a special maneuver called the Canyon Turn to make a safe exit. He told us the Canyon Turn is when the plane must turn on an angle.
"It's critical you know how to make that turn properly and safely and it could save your life," said Walton.
Walton says while flying he is able to see terrain ahead of him because computer monitors can show him exactly what elevations are ahead.
"We know where terrain is, we see it depicted on the screen," he said.
Pilots at Summit Aviation say they are constantly following weather alerts and they have technology inside the aircraft which tells them where it's safe to fly.
Mike Schwahn works at Summit Aviation as an Assistant Chief Flight Instructor. Schwahn says weather plays a significant role in configuring how the plane will fly. He told us wildfires from Idaho sent over smoky skies Thursday, which created limited visibility.
"Smoke can travel hundreds of miles. It comes from Idaho and from surrounding areas which can nestle itself down into the valley that we have here today," said Schwahn.
While flying, Schwahn pointed out where some wildfire warnings were on the computer monitors. The computer system sends pilots alerts, showing them restricted flight areas they are not allowed to fly over.
"The information inside the cockpit gives things like wind, temperature or weather at our destination airport," said Schwahn.
Walton says planes crash upon landing because of limited space on the runway and air. He told us it's the most critical time for a pilot to have the most accurate precision.
"There's more airplanes around. We're low to the ground and we're slower -- there's less room for error," said Walton.
Pilots at Summit Aviation say most airplanes have advanced technology to help forecast their departures and landings.