Our Neighbor to the South

Our home airport is Stevensville Airport (32S) located just slightly north east of the small town of Stevensville Montana. Stevi rests in the heart of what is called the Bitterroot valley in Western Montana. It is a beautiful part of the world and a great place to just go out and fly for the fun of it. Stevi is about 35 miles south of Missoula International Airport (MSO) which is one of the few class D airports in Montana. But MSO is not actually the closest airport to Stevi, rather, the next closest airport (with a paved runway) is the Ravalli County Airport and it lies just south of Stevensville.

Ravalli County Airport (6S5) is just east of the town of Hamilton and it is actually a little larger airport than Stevensville. The runway measures 4200′ long which makes it just long enough for many business jets to use, which is not uncommon since there are some more affluent visitors to the Hamilton area. The runway has a more north-south orientation than does the east-west runway up at Stevi, which means that if you need some crosswind practice, you can usually get it at one of the two airports.


Hamilton is only about 20 miles south of Stevi so it is an easy hop down the valley and it makes it a good place to fly if I only have a few minutes but want to land somewhere else than just our home airport. Of course, the flight down provides excellent opportunities for beautiful scenery as you can see in the picture above. The Bitterroot mountain range has some remarkable canyons that are great for hiking and fishing.

The airport is level, unlike Stevi, but you never really know which way the wind is blowing. It is also not a busy airport, except for maybe Saturday mornings, so you usually have to do an overflight to get any sort of idea what runway is best on that day. If you are using Runway 16, be aware there is a hill just off the approach end of the runway, which actually makes it fun and another good practice location for landing over obstacles but yet with a long enough runway to give you plenty of margin of safety while you practice. The picture below is of us turning onto final for runway 34, which does not have any of the issues with the hill and is a pretty wide open approach.


The airport has some nice hangers and Choice Aviation is located there as well and they are a full service FBO with a pilots lounge with some water and vending machines and they have some cool planes for rent as well, such as a Piper super cub. There sometimes is a restaurant located on the field, but it has been changing owners so I am not sure if it is still open right now.  There are not a lot of planes on the ramp either, so if you are a plane gawker and love walking the flight-line looking at airplanes like I do, you might be disappointed… but then again, due to the weather, there are not a lot of planes that park permanently on the ramps anywhere in Montana.


The runway has recently been repaved so it is in very good condition and the field as a whole is a nice one to visit. There is beautiful scenery all around it, especially south and west… oh and east. Well, then again, north is nice as well.


If it wasn’t for the fact that the airport is so close to our home airport and that I’ve been there a lot, it would probably rate higher as a cool place to fly into. It certainly is a great place to get some practice and its plenty long for most all types of moderately sized aircraft. Hamilton itself is a thriving large town at the south end of the valley so if you want to stop overnight, this is a great location with great fishing, good golf, and many nice amenities for a longer than average stay.


Philipsburg Adventure

So we have had our airplane for about a half a year now, went through an annual and have been trying to get used to the airplane ownership thing. All of th flights have been local to the Stevensville Montana (32S) airport. We had flown down to Hamilton, but that is like a 20 mile flight down the valley and it feels like a local flight, so I have not (yet) posted about it.

I thought it is about time to start using the airplane for the fun flights I first envisioned for the airplane and start flying to the little airports in Western Montana. I thought a good first one to fly to would be Philipsburg airport (U05). PBurg for short. I flew here once when I was a student pilot in a C-150 with my instructor… it was a good exercise in density altitude performance with that little airplane as we climbed out at about 50-100 fps. This time around, I figured it would be a much better experience in our 1963 Beech Musketeer. My co-pilot this time would be my youngest daughter Aillie. She was primed, it was a late spring day in March and we headed down to the airport. We had about 40 gallons of fuel on board and just the two of us, so performance was good for our plane Belle. We climbed out of Stevi at about 1000fps and turned and kept climbing to get over the mountains between Stevi and PBurg.


As you can see there is snow on the mountains. I like to leave plenty of room for emergencies so we climbed to about 9000′ to cross the 7000′ mountains. The air was choppy, but Belle handles the bumps much better than a C150. We had a nice tail wind as well and were cruising at about 115kts ground speed according to the GPS.


This picture shows one of the valleys we fly over and Rock Creek that flows through it. Rock creek is a wonderful trout fishery for any fly fishermen out there. This picture shows a lot of what western Montana consists of. Rivers, streams, mountains, snow….


Here is a picture of U05 and it is representative of a typical small town Montana airport. A single piece of semi-maintained asphalt. They usually are not very level and sometimes there are weeds growing up through the cracks, but U05 had a minor resurface a few years back (I think). The winds were variable and the field elevation is over 5200′, so we carried a bit of extra speed, but had no issues getting down on the 3600′ paved strip.


Short final with no drama. I’m still figuring out Belle, but she always flies nice for me and with little drama. I really enjoy the way she handles.


As you can see, not a whole bunch here at the airport. But we were mainly just hoping there would be a courtesy car that we could borrow to get into town for some ice-cream.


The windsock was nearly invisible from the air, and now you can see why. But the scenery up here is beautiful


Belle setting on the ramp with the hills we just came over in the background. Now we just needed to find that courtesy car and drive it into town….


… or not! No courtesy car here! It was only about a mile and a half into town, so Aillie and I just decided to walk


We really liked this sign as we were walking into town. Population 820. Altitude 5280. Total 6123. I’m not sure how they got to the total number, but who cares. Is small town Montana.


Small town Montana… with good ice-cream at the ice-cream parlor! The walk was worth it.


Another walk back to the airport and a pre-flight to get us ready for the return flight to our home airport in Stevi.


We back taxied to the end of the runway and saw our only observer… a friendly cow (another Montana staple). Just for safety’s sake, we did a short field takeoff and had plenty of runway and still climbed out nicely over the town with a departure back to the west.


Here is PBurg from the air as we climbed out from our takeoff. We continued to climb and again leveled off at about 9000′ as indicated in the picture below.


Once we cleared the mountains and descended into the Bitterroot valley, we exchanged a few texts with my son-in-law and his dad fishing on the Bitterroot river and we tracked them down and circled above a few times and then headed back to Stevi airport.

What a delightful adventure and one we couldn’t have asked to go better. Even without the courtesy car, it just made it more enjoyable! Beautiful day, Beautiful daughter, Beautiful airplane and beautiful scenery. That is why I fly… purely for fun!


Getting the foundation laid

Well, I have been working to get the foundation of this blog page all setup and going. There are a couple of pages, which you can navigate to using the menu on the left, that have various spots that should be interesting. Here are some of the pages:

  • All about Belle (our airplane)
  • Places we have been (to include a map, photos, and video)
  • Affordable flying

The affordable flying page is where we hope many aspiring pilots will find themselves to see if there is a way they too might be able to become a pilot.

Working on images right now to spruce up the page a little.