Canadians Flying Colorado

View from Aequarius Open SpaceBoulder County, USA, is situated in the transition zone between two great geographic regions: the front range of the southern Rocky Mountains, and the vast sprawl of the Great Plains. There’s a plethora of GA airports peppered throughout the area, offering pilots a fantastic opportunity to fly over spectacular open country bordered by the stunning Flatirons Mountains.

Aerial of Red Rock Amphitheater, along the Flatirons Mountains

To fly an American registered airplane, Canadians first need to obtain an American license issued by the Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration. This is a surprisingly straight-forward process that takes place while you’re in Canada.  img_4765The first step is to fill out a Verification of Authenticity of Foreign License and Medical Certification form and send it to the address provided, along with a copy of your pilot license and medical certificate. You need to specify the location of the FAA Flight Standards District Office closest to you, which is the one you’ll be working with to complete the application process.

The form provides a link with a full list of FSDO offices.  After a bureaucratic wait of anywhere between 45 to 90 days, the FAA will send you a verification letter, asking you to schedule an appointment to sign the necessary papers at your chosen FSDO office. Typically, there’s a two-week wait for the appointment. After signing, it’s simply a matter of waiting to receive your credit-card style US license in the mail.

Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (KBJC)

We became members of a flight school at the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (KBJC), with the aim of renting a 172 Skyhawk. Before we could jump in our rented Cessna and take to the skies, the Rocky Mountain Flight School naturally wanted us to do a proficiency check and flight review with one of their instructors. This (humbling) process proved necessary to familiarize ourselves with some of the more unusual standards at KBJC.

Overflying one of the more memorable lakes in the Boulder environs

Prior to take-off, we learned that the prevailing practice is to lean for max RPM during the run-up at 1700 RPM, and use that setting for the duration of the flight. VFR read-backs of all clearances and instructions are imperative at KBJC, and once in the circuit, tower will, all in one go, provide clearances to multiple aircraft to land or touch and go in sequence, so that everyone in the pattern is cleared at once. We also learned that although ADSB isn’t mandatory until 2020, everyone seems to have it.

Inside Greeley-Weld County Airport (KGXY)

Despite the brisk, dry temperature of -4°C, the take-off roll felt alarmingly sluggish, due to the 5673′ elevation. We used much of the 9000 foot runway to get off the ground, and climb-out was shallow and tortoise-slow. Traffic entering the zone was heavy, in part due to the clear, calm weather, and also because Pilatus has one of their headquarters at KBJC and their jets make frequent use of the runways. We could certainly understand why so many pilots were itching to get into the air; days of snow, poor visibility, and gusty winds aloft had forced us to reschedule our flight review many times. The third cancellation took place on a sunny, blue-sky day replete with choruses of spring birds greeting the dawn. However, a Pirep from a Lear Jet at 8000′ reported severe turbulence, regardless of the tranquil conditions on the ground.

Snow dusted mesas around Boulder, Colorado

Because of the sweeping prairies and towering Rockies, it’s not uncommon for the high winds across the foothills and plains to range from 70 to 90 mph, with gusts exceeding 100 mph. On the free aeronautical chart we were provided with, there’s a notation that during the summer, pilots inexperienced with mountain flying are encouraged to terminate all flying activities no later than 1:00pm MDT to avoid increased turbulent conditions.

Boyd Lake frozen in February, adjacent to Northern Colorado Regional Airport (KFNL)

(This is a modified version of my article that appeared in COPA Magazine)

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