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Destination (61)

Everything Under a Big, Big Sky

Everything Under a Big, Big Sky

September 2015

Big Sky, Mont. can’t exactly be called a tourist town, because it’s not actually a town at all. This unincorporated census-designated place (CDP), halfway between West Yellowstone and Bozeman, is popular with visitors in all seasons.

Comprised of three areas, the “Meadow,” the “Mountain” and the “Canyon,” the area in and around Big Sky is a recreation-lovers paradise. Whether you’re an adventure seeker, or a solitary hiker or biker, you’ll be able to find what you need—and do what you love—in Big Sky.

Airport information
KBZN is seven miles northwest of Bozeman. Runway 12/30 is 8,994 by 150 feet and Runway 03/21 is 2,650 by 75 feet; both are asphalt and in good condition, according to Airnav.com. Runway 11/29, a 3,197 by 80-foot runway, is open only when dry. Field elevation is 4,473 feet.

With over 300 aircraft on-site (235 singles; 18 multi-engine; 23 jets; 22 helos and 10 gliders), the airport averages 221 operations daily. Commercial and air taxi operations comprise about one-quarter of the activity, while local and transient GA are split 41/36, respectively.

Two FBOs serve GA aircraft and pilots at Bozeman-Yellowstone International, and both get five stars on Airnav.com. Arlin’s Aircraft is a full-service FBO with full concierge service and offers complete A&P maintenance. Full service and self-service fuel are available. Yellowstone Jetcenter (YJC) has line and concierge services, too. It also offers an aircraft charter service. Fuel at YJC is full service only.

There are no landing fees at KBZN for aircraft under 12,500 pounds, and both crew/courtesy cars and rental cars are available through both FBOs.

If you’ve tied down at BZN and rented a car—whether you plan to stay in Big Sky or to continue on to Yellowstone—consider taking the Lone Mountain Trail Scenic Drive. It’s a winding mountain road to the base of Lone Mountain with lots of overlooks.

Or check out Ennis-Big Sky Airport (KEKS) in nearby Ennis, Mont. Its asphalt runway 16/34 is 6,601 by 75 feet at an elevation of 5,422 feet. And while KEKS offers 100LL and Jet-A fuel (with after-hours service available), only minor A&P service can be found on this field.

Choice Aviation, the lone FBO at Ennis, has only one review on Airnav.com currently—but it, too, gets five stars. It seems you can’t go wrong as far as FBOs in this region! KEKS has proportionally less operations, with just 20 aircraft based on the field (19 of them singles). Aircraft ops average 33 per day, with a 53/41 split between local and transient GA. Five percent of the daily ops are air taxis.

A seasonal kind of place
The winter season is when Big Sky really shines. With what’s termed “The Biggest Skiing in America,” the now-merged Big Sky Resort and Moonlight Basin alpine ski and golf resorts attract a loyal following and impress newcomers, too: tons of downhill runs for all experience levels, wide-open spaces, and no lines.

Additional resorts include The Spanish Peaks Mountain Club (13 runs) and the exclusive Yellowstone Club. Nordic skiing with many miles of groomed trails can be found at Lone Mountain Ranch.

But you don’t have to ski. If you’re visiting at another time of year, there is still plenty of outdoor fun to be had. Some of the most popular activities include fly-fishing on the small rivers in the Meadow and the Gallatin River, a Blue Ribbon trout stream.

Rafting and kayaking on the Gallatin River and hiking the trails at the nearby national forest land are other popular choices for adventure seekers. A family hike to Ousel Falls, a backcountry waterfall of the West Fork of the Gallatin River, is just a mile and a half round-trip. The trailhead is just behind Big Sky Town Center. (For even more recreational opportunities, see the sidebar on page XX. —Ed.)

If you’d rather rough it than stay in a resort, campsites are available at Spanish Peaks and Gallatin National Forest. Expect to share the space with elk, deer, wolves, black bears—and grizzlies. Oh yeah, you can also make Big Sky your home base when you visit that other park: Yellowstone. Big Sky is just 15 miles away from the national park’s northwestern border and its unforgettable scenery.

Between hotels and lodges, vacation rentals, cabins and dude ranches, you can find something that will suit you if you choose to stay in Big Sky. Rooms start at $129 (and go well on up for a slopeside view at peak skiing season), but most facilities seem to average $199 to $299 per night.

Big Sky is known for its low-key, friendly hospitality. The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center even has a small museum inside, so you can learn about the area’s “pre-ski” history of homesteading and ranching. Its website offers a wealth of information about Big Sky, Yellowstone and other local attractions or activities.

Check out Lone Peak Cinema to relax and watch a movie, or the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center for a live performance. Free weekly concerts are also held in Town Center Park during the summer. Two notable summer events include Big Sky PBR—a professional bull riders series—and a classical music festival for four days in August.

The Big Sky Community Corp. (BSCC) is in charge of public trails, the 44-acre Big Sky Community Park, Big Sky’s smaller public parks and the Historic Crail Ranch Homestead. The BSCC even hosts summer camps open to kids who reside in Big Sky as well as those who are visiting.

On Wednesdays during the summer, the Big Sky Farmers Market hosts over 90 vendors selling fresh produce, arts and crafts, and even a bounce house for kids; in the winter, it’s home to a community hockey and ice skating rink.

Crail Ranch Museum is a 1902 homestead of the Crail family that allows visitors a glimpse of what life was like for the area’s first settlers. Artifacts, photos and documents illustrate the area’s history even before homesteaders arrived, when the land was home only to Native Americans and fur trappers.

Restaurants and more
Big Sky has over 40 restaurants. Trip Advisor ranks Olive B’s Big Sky Bistro, Gallatin Riverhouse Grill and Buck’s T-4 Restaurant as its top three, respectively. Yeti Dogs, also in the top 10 on Trip Advisor, has a small and unique menu of all-beef hot dog creations.

When you plan your visit, keep in mind that Yeti Dogs and several other establishments have seasonal schedules, typically closing for the summer at the end of September and reopening in late November for the ski season.

Shopping venues include Big Sky Town Center, the Meadow Village Center, the Canyon area, and the Mountain Mall. In addition to outfitting you with gear, you can find gifts, clothes and other goodies.

Interactive vacationing
Think Big Sky is remote? It may be, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t wired. You can use your mobile device to enhance your visit in various ways. Called “The Biggest Vacation in America,” this partnership between Visit Big Sky and Kerbspace, Inc. includes a free app that will alert you to special offers and current events. Similar information can be found at various sidewalk concierges around town.

The touch screen-based Big Sky & Greater Yellowstone Welcome Center display system offers users multiple screens including a large-scale Google map, Visit Big Sky’s event page, Visit Big Sky’s YouTube channel, and a social media aggregator that displays images from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Use #visitbigsky to share your images of Big Sky with others. And if you go, don’t forget to share your photos and travel tips on the forums at PiperFlyer.org!

Heather Skumatz is managing editor for Piper Flyer. Send questions or comments to .


Preparing for Your First International Flight Part 2

Last month Pam Busboom explained everything that is needed to make an international flight originating in the United States. In part two, she goes step-by-step on how to fill out all of the online paperwork.

Welcome back! Now that we’ve discussed what we need to make international flights with our private aircraft, let’s get started with how to get the rest of what’s required.
In this continuation of last month’s article, I’ll be walking you through exactly how to register on the three websites we need, and then how to use those websites to apply for your radio license documents, get enrolled with eAPIS and order your CPB decal.
Brace yourself: we are about to embark on a journey through government forms, applications, passwords and terminology.

Step one: Get your FRN from the FCC
First on the hit parade, we need to take care of getting our radio licenses. As you recall from last month, we need two separate documents—a Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit for you, and a Radio Station License for your aircraft. This can be managed through the FCC website, where our first step is to (ready?) register as a user.

The result of this registration will be that you get a unique 10-digit identification number called an FCC Registration Number (FRN). As far as the FCC is concerned, that number equals you.

To do this, go to the FCC Universal Licensing System (ULS) website at wireless.fcc.gov/uls/. There, you will see a number of selections, one of which says “new users.” Click here.

You are now on a second screen with several options. You can either look for public domain records, update an earlier registration (but you’ll need an FRN to do that) or—and this is what you want—you can click the Register button.
On the next screen you need to select registration as either a business or an individual (most of us will choose the latter) and verify that your contact address is in the United States. From here you are taken to a series of data entry screens that identify who you are and where you live.

You are also asked to type in a password that you will use and select a security question and answer. These will be used along with your FRN number to securely access the ULS site.

After completing the forms, you can click on the Submit button at the bottom of the page. If all is going well, the next screen will say, “Thank you for registering with the FCC.”

It will go on to say that as of the date and time you have been assigned FRN (xxxx). Your registration information will be displayed, and you will be urged to print the page for your records. Ta-da! You have successfully registered with the FCC.

Step two: Apply for a radio station license
To actually get your restricted radiotelephone operators’ permit (RR) and your aircraft radio station license (AC), you need to log on to the secure portion of the ULS website.

Go back to the website you were just using—wireless.fcc.gov/uls/—but this time, click on the second section, Online Filing. This will take you to the login screen where you type in your newly-acquired FCC registration number (FRN) and the password you selected. Click Submit, and you will be on the My Licenses section of the site.

If you are like me and can’t find that old paper copy of your Restricted Radio Operator’s License (see last month’s article), you will need to click Apply for a New License at the top of the left-hand side of the page. (This is also where you will start when we do this a second time to get your aircraft radio station license.)

The next screen asks what kind of service you need. To get both licenses, you must go through the process twice, one time selecting “RR” for the individual license, the second time selecting “AC” for the aircraft license.
After you’ve made your selection, you will be taken to a series of data entry screens that essentially capture all of the information requested on FCC Form 605. For your individual license, you fill out the main portion of the form only.
When you go back through and do the application for your aircraft station license, you fill out the main form again—this time with aircraft-specific information—and also fill out Schedule C, “Schedule for Additional Data for the Aircraft Radio Service (Part 87).”

Once you have filled out the form fields, you will be taken to the—wait for it—payment field. Yup, these documents are not free. For a new RR license, you will need to shell out $65, while the Aircraft Station License (AC) will set you back a whopping $165. If there is any silver lining, it is that the individual license is good for life and the aircraft station license is good for 10 years.

If you do have your old paper certificate (as Rich did) you can actually get that registered on the system and save yourself the $65. The process is more labor-intensive, however. In this instance, what you do is:
1. Call the FCC Licensing Support Center (1-877-480-3201) and explain that you have your old paper certificate.
2. Whoever you talk to will see if in fact you are registered in the electronic system. In all likelihood, you will not be.
3. If you are not, you will be requested to send your original paper certificate to the support center.
4. Once they get the paper certificate, they will manually enter it into the electronic database with the original issue date, and assign you (and it) an RR number on the database.
5. They will send back the original paper document along with your new RR. No fee is required.

This process saves you the $65, but it does take considerably longer: up to six weeks.

And, once you get the acknowledgement that your license has been added to the database, you still have to log onto the FCC site using the above-described process to associate the license to you as an individual (with a unique FRN) using the Administrative Update function.

So it is your call as to whether or not the extended process is worth it, but it is an option. Rich wanted to do it to retain his original registration date (Feb. 16, 1968!), and besides, he had me to worry about all the computer stuff. All in all, a win-win… for one of us.

The good news is that once you have the FCC registration set up and your licenses requested, you are good to go. With any luck at all, you won’t have to deal with this website again for at least 10 years.

Let’s check progress on our list. In part one (January 2016), we covered all the Pilot-in-Command requirements and all the passenger requirements; in part two, by taking care of the aircraft radio station license, we have now completed all the aircraft requirements.

Hooray! There may be just a small light glimmering at the end of this regulatory tunnel.

Do you need to refill that bracing beverage—perhaps with something a bit stronger? Do you need to take a brisk walk to clear your head? Do you want to step away from the computer to assure yourself that the real world and real sky are still out there waiting? By all means, do so, because next comes the U.S. Customs and Border Protection fun and games.

Step three: Become a registered user with eAPIS
The first stop on the U.S. Customs and Border Control (CBP) websites is registering to use the electronic Advance Passenger Information System (eAPIS).

This tool was developed in response to a rule passed by the Dept. of Homeland Security in 2008 requiring pilots of private aircraft to electronically submit a passenger/crew manifest of flight information at least 60 minutes prior to departure for flights either leaving or entering the United States. Usage of eAPIS became mandatory as of May 18, 2009.

In order to use eAPIS, you first need to register. Go to the eAPIS home page (eapis.cbp.dhs.gov/) and you will see two options: for enrolled users, a Login section; and for new eAPIS users, an Enroll section.

Click on Enroll to begin the registration process. After you click Agree to the government boilerplate, you will then have to choose to be either a commercial user or a private user. (Most of us will select Private.)

Hit Next, and you will be on a data entry screen that contains individual information, including the person who will be the point of contact regarding manifest submissions. You will also need to create a password. When you are done, hit Next.
The next screen is where you can review all your entries for accuracy. If everything looks good, hit Submit.

Once you have successfully submitted the enrollment application, you will receive an email with your sender ID and activation key. This confirmation email may come immediately, or it may take up to 24 hours to arrive.

After the email arrives, you need to go back to the eAPIS website and this time, use the information in your email to log in. You will enter your Sender ID and the password you selected into the designated boxes on the welcome page, and hit the Login button.

The first time you access the site, you will be required to enter the Activation Key provided in your email message; after that, just your ID and password will do.

At this point, congratulations are in order: you are now a registered user of eAPIS!

In the secure area of the website you will be on the Main Manifest Options page, which has three tabs for the basic eAPIS functions:
a) Traveler Options is the tab you will use most often and is where you will add and/or update pilot and crew information and submit your departure and arrival notices.
b) Manage Account is where you can modify your existing eAPIS account, password, etc.
c) Upload Manifest will only be used if you wish to upload manifest documents from elsewhere on your computer (trust me—for small planes it is easier to just use the traveler options section)

It makes sense to go ahead and fill in the pilot/crew information under Traveler Options. Click on Update or Create, which will take you to a screen where you can add information about the pilot and any other flight crew. (Rich and I entered data for both of us.)

Information you’ll input here includes name, address, date of birth, etc. You may also enter passport information and pilot certificate information.
Unlike passenger information, the pilot/crew information added will remain in the system for future use. You are now ready to use the system for your next international flight.

Step four: Order your CBP decal
Before we leave the Customs and Border Protection website, there is one other thing we need to do, and that is to get a customs decal. While you can do this by mail, it is easier and faster to use the website.

Interestingly enough, these decals are used on your aircraft to get back into the United States—they are not needed at your international destination. The decals are placed on all private aircraft (and private vessels) as proof that the user fee for entry into the United States has been paid. There is a fee of $27.50 for the decal and the decal is good for a single calendar year.

To order decals online, you first must register on the Decal/Transponder Online Procurement System (DTOPS). And yes, this is a different part of the website from where we were before to register for eAPIS.
Go to the web page at dtops.cbp.dhs.gov/. On this page, click New DTOPS User to begin the registration process.

The screens that follow will once again collect information and require you to select a password. Once you complete the data screens and hit Submit, you will get a screen with your new DTOPS User ID. Now you are ready to log onto the secure section of the site with your login credentials to order your customs decal.

Go back to the main page—dtops.cbp.dhs.gov—and this time enter your new DTOPS User ID and password under the Existing DTOPS User block. Once you are logged on, click on the Create/Manage Orders option on the top left portion of the screen. Next, select New User Fee for a new decal. On the next screen, select Private Aircraft. The next screen collects details about your airplane.

Once you submit this, you’ll see a screen telling you a new request has been generated. You then click back to the order page, and you will see the new request in the order list.

To complete the order, you click on Proceed to Checkout at the bottom of the page, which takes you to screens to complete the payment process. Be sure to print your order receipt.
Your decal should arrive in your mailbox within seven to 10 days. You are good to go until you need the next year’s decal. (In subsequent years, you can select Renewal on the order type page, which will save a few screens of data entry.)

The end of the list
I bet you despaired of ever getting to this point, but we have finally checked off all of the items on our “required for international flight” list. (Go ahead, pull out that dog-eared copy of last month’s article and check. Well and truly done!) It was just as labor-intensive as I warned, wasn’t it? But it is all behind you now.

File away those websites and passwords. The FCC one won’t be needed for a while (10 years!) but you will need the customs decal password every year, and the one for eAPIS every trip.

Now it is time to pack your bags! You are finally ready to take that first trip outside the borders of the United States. Where will you go? The Bahamas? Mexico? Canada?

Pick your destination, plan your flight with the ICAO flight plan, register your outbound and return flights with eAPIS, pack your required paperwork, and off you go. With proper planning—and the right pre-registration—the sky is not the limit!

Pam “The Queen of Everything” Busboom and her husband Rich “The Prince of Whatever is Left” are both pilots with private certificates. Pam has over 400 hours, while Rich (who also holds commercial, CFI and CFII ratings) has more than 7,000 hours. They and their beautiful 1979 Archer II, Chuck, are based in northern Colorado. Send questions or comments to .

FRN number
FCC Universal Licensing System (ULS)

RR operator permit
FCC Form 605, Quick-Form Application for Authorization in the Ship, Aircraft, Amateur, Restricted
and Commercial Operator, and General Mobile Radio Services

eAPIS registration

CBP decal
Transponder Online
Procurement System (DTOPS)

Further reading
FAA ICAO Flight Planning Interface Reference Guide, version 2.1

FAA Flight Planning Information

FCC Restricted Radiotelephone Operator Permit (RR)

Destination: Downstream

Destination: Downstream

LightHawk volunteer pilots provide the powerful perspective of flight to help conservation experts make better decisions.

June 2015-

This month we’re diverting from our regular destination feature. Instead of focusing on one small area of our marvelous planet, we’d like to draw attention to the wild locations found in between the airports, bed-and-breakfast inns and hundred-dollar-hamburger spots. Dan Pimentel has put the spotlight on some pilots who volunteer to do a different kind of daytripping in this month’s story, which we’ve titled, “Destination: Downstream.” We hope you enjoy the tour. —Ed.

While there is disagreement about the existence of a changing climate, there is one particular part of that debate to which all parties, regardless of politics, can agree: we all live on this one planet called Earth. And that’s not about to change in our lifetimes.

Every day, people discuss what we should be doing to protect our planet, and whether it needs protecting at all. But if you’re a volunteer pilot for LightHawk—a nonprofit organization that began in 1979 with one man and a borrowed plane—your mission isn’t to support a particular side of the argument. Your mission is to provide support for those working to solve the complex environmental issues that ultimately affect every person, plant and living thing.

Conservation support
LightHawk’s 212 volunteer pilots fly to protect land, water and wildlife in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Central America. According to Bev Gabe, LightHawk’s communications manager, the organization’s role is to “help accelerate successful conservation outcomes for our partners through the powerful perspective of flight.”
“By making flights available to those working to protect our natural world,” Gabe continued, “we enable our partners in conservation to quickly and efficiently understand environmental issues and determine the factors needed to promote effective solutions.”

Louisiana’s Other Side: Shreveport

Louisiana’s Other Side: Shreveport

It’s more than just a mile from Texarkana, and it’s more than just a relic from the steamboat days.

April 2015-

The surveyors were off—by a whole 30 miles—but the song is still popular. That song would be “Cotton Fields” recorded in 1940 by blues legend Lead Belly and covered by everyone from The Beach Boys, Elvis, Johnny Cash, and, of course, Creedence Clearwater Revival. Shreveport, La., a city with a metro area of over 350,000 residents, is now the economic center for a tri-state area known as “ArkLaTex.”
Shreveport today is revitalized in large part because of the introduction of riverboat gambling in the 1990s. With five casinos in the Shreveport-Bossier area, locals—and visitors (mainly from “Ark” and “Tex”)—can find their favorite slot machines, games tables and even a horseracing track.

If a quiet day fishing by kayak is more your style, Shreveport can provide that, too. Several outdoor recreational areas, including Cypress Black Bayou in nearby Benton, provide visitors an opportunity to fish, swim, camp and explore. Bassmaster fishing tournaments are held frequently on the Red River, and this twisty-turny waterway is what geographically separates old-town Shreveport and Bossier City (pronounced “Bozhur”).

The climate here is zone eight, and that allows tropical plants as well as roses and azaleas to bloom aplenty. The American Rose Center in Shreveport has 400 rose varieties in its 65 gardens while over 15,000 azaleas bloom in the 40-acre park at the R.W. Norton Art Gallery.

“Best of the Best” Airport Restaurants Part One

“Best of the Best” Airport Restaurants Part One

John Purner’s $100 Hamburger guide and website details all of the airport restaurants you absolutely must visit.

February 2015-

John Purner literally wrote the book on the hundred-dollar hamburger, and his guidebook and website provide all the information any aviator needs to find wonderful locations on or near runways for a perfect airport meal—including, but not limited to, those three-digit burgers.
Each year, Purner’s website visitors rate the many listings, and the very best receive five stars. When those eateries are located right on an airport, they become Purner’s “Best of the Best.” In 2014, 26 airport restaurants made the list.
Purner writes that the “Best of” list includes “very impressive high-dollar white tablecloth uptown cafes, [while] others are down-home spots. Each is special, and every region of the country is represented.”
Purner continues, “With this list, you can look forward to having a meal at an award-winning restaurant this year... they are just a flying adventure away.’’
What follows is a summary of the first half of Purner’s “Best of the Best” places to consume exquisite airport meals, presented in no particular order. The remaining 13 restaurants will be published next month in this magazine.


Bush Flying Sky Africa

February 2005

I met Karl Finatzer in the arrivals hall at Johannesburg International and he promptly took me to an American-styled restaurant where I was expected to consume a T-bone steak the size of a toilet seat—some sort of tradition, I think. I can’t remember the time of day but my stomach was somewhere between wake-up call and breakfast time.

This was going to be no ordinary week.


$100 Hamburgers

March 2005

That’s a Lot of Hamburgers . . . When Flyer publisher Jennifer Dellenbusch asked me to write about ten $100 hamburger destinations near where my wife Sara and I live in suburban Wichita, I answered, “Gee I’m not sure I have $1,000 for hamburgers.”


High & Wild

April 2005-

Few can deny that being a pilot has privileges. One such privilege is access to remote wilderness areas for all types of recreation, including hunting. Even if you aren’t a hunter and are simply looking to experience the outdoors in as pristine and unaltered a setting as possible, flying into a remote resort or wilderness outfit can provide you with the get-away you long for.

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