There’s experiences and then there’s experiences, and this one falls strictly into the latter category. On a whim I booked a “Bush Plane Flying Tour” hosted by an Air Force vet and flying enthusiast named Neil.
We met in the parking lot of the South Valley Regional Airport, just outside of Salt Lake City. It’s a tiny airport with just one runway, and has a flight training school as well — this aspect was particularly unnerving when a helicopter landed only around 100 feet away from me, piloted by someone who was obviously a student.
Neil met me and another guest (confusingly also named Eric) and showed us around his Cessna 170. It’s an unpainted four-seater propeller plane from 1953, with some upgrades including a new engine. We all put on headsets to talk to one another and hear the radio. The radio’s important because South Valley Regional Airport is too small to have an air traffic control tower so pilots have to maintain contact to share the runway.
Taking off in a little taildragger airplane is nothing like flying on a passenger jet. The propeller engine sounds like a motorcycle, and as it gets up to speed the tail lifts off the ground before the front.
As we began ascending I felt a fear of heights kick in, though that quickly became a fear of turbulence as we got knocked around a little by the wind.
We took a slightly roundabout route to Antelope Island in order to avoid violating the airspace of Salt Lake City International. Neil took us pretty low over the island to spot the bison that live there. On the east side of the island there wasn’t much to see. After making a quick turn over the island, we spotted a large herd of bison on the west side. The noise of the airplane scared a few of them away.
Coming back around to the airport we took a detour through a nearby snowy mountain range. It’s supposed to be a good place to spot deer though we weren’t lucky enough to see any.
To land, Neil pointed out a flag outside a grocery store he uses to determine the wind pattern on the runway. Fortunately it was in our favor, so he took us over a soccer field, turned the plane around, and then said “so this is what you do if you want to lose altitude really fast, it’s called a ‘sideslip.’” He turned the plane so it was pointed at an angle to the runway, and sure enough we dropped very quickly, landing fast but smooth.
This excursion went by so fast I had to double check my phone to see that yes, we actually were up in the sky for an hour. It felt more like 10, maybe 15 minutes. Time flies, as they say.
My recommendation: If you want to try something unique and exciting while you’re in Salt Lake City, this is a good bet. It can be booked through Airbnb Experiences.