5 min read

Upon hearing of the recent passing of Galen Hanselman, my thoughts immediately turned to the awe-inspiring flying trip I took in the Utah backcountry exactly one year ago. The current prohibitive travel restrictions make it an even more valuable experience today. The memories stirred by looking at the video and the pictures puts a smile on my face every time.

Pilots are generally a fiercely independent, individualistic, driven, type “A” group that are justifiably proud of accomplishing something many others would not attempt. However, if honest, we have to admit that much of what gives us pride is a result of the innovation and endeavour of others.


Vistas like this are still out there—you just have to find them.

Let’s consider my trip, for example. I am a prairie boy, and the landscape where I have farmed all my life is as flat as a billiard table. Straight roads form a one mile grid as far as the eye can see. Obviously, my flying experience is not suited for the Utah back country. When we returned, many of my Manitoba friends and neighbours thought I had accomplished something amazing. Nevertheless, if the truth was known, it was Galen’s 2007 Fly Utah guidebook that allowed this flatlander to make that trip not only possible, but also safe and enjoyable as well. Truly, I was “standing on the shoulders of a giant,” able to see and experience Utah’s amazing vistas.

I expressed my appreciation to him earlier this spring, and received this gracious reply in return:

Aren’t you glad there are still places like this to explore? I loved producing this book. The world is slow to discover this magnificent part of the country but it’s coming around.

All my best,


The Utah Back Country Pilots Association not only takes care of the amazing back country airstrips, but actively lobbies to maintain access on behalf of the aviation community. Again, we are following in the footsteps of others who have gone before us. Do we express our thanks frequently enough and support them adequately financially?

Bearhawk on takeoff

Advances in experimental aircraft make trips like this more accessible.

Bob Barrows gave me the ability to travel 1000 miles each way quickly and efficiently while also having the capability to handle short, rough, high elevation strips by designing the Bearhawk line of aircraft. This is another example of how pilots have reaped the benefits of the skills and efforts others contributed. The technological advances and improved affordability of the experimental aircraft community cannot be overstated. My Patrol (released in 2010) is a prime example of how this trip was made possible by taking advantage of the work of others.

Speaking of technological advances, the significance of Steve Jobs’s 2010 release of the iPad to general aviation was so huge that it’s hard to believe that it’s only been around for 10 years! Jason Miller and Tyson Weihs developed something that we take for granted now, but just over a decade ago was only a dream. ForeFlight was a huge part of how I was able to flight plan and navigate this unfamiliar area. There are a number of excellent competitive product options now, but they were the first. A trip like mine would have been much more challenging with paper charts. We all (yes, me too) complain about the cost, but really, the iPad and the apps developed for it changed the way we fly.

We all know that much of the joy that travel adventures bring is in sharing them with others, whether it is the actual experience or the stories that are inevitably told later. Did you know that surfing and memories of Utah back country flying are connected? Nick Woodman invented an action camera in 2004 that would show off surfing moves, allowing him to “Go Pro.” The evolution of action cameras has allowed us to share our flying experiences with others like no generation before us could. Are the cameras free? Obviously not, but the memories are priceless.


Thanks to ForeFlight and GoPro cameras, planning and reliving an adventure is easier than ever.

The innovations listed above have transformed the general aviation experience. Safety, accessibility, speed, situational awareness, and the sharing of experiences have all changed by orders of magnitude hard to comprehend in a very short time. We can see and experience things never before possible because we are truly standing on the shoulders of giants. There has never been a better time in history to go flying!

Often our appreciation is expressed solely through the financial worth of a purchase transaction. While it is true that this shows we value what the innovator has done, perhaps during this time when we are confined it would be appropriate to call or email someone who has contributed to your aviation experience and let them know. Do it now, as none of us knows how long the opportunity to personally say thank you will be available! I know that I am glad I did!

My immediate plan is to climb back up onto the shoulders of these aviators and innovators to see the vistas and experience the adventures of a bucket list trip recommended by Galen himself as the premier backcountry flying destination. The Fly Idaho guide is being bookmarked while planning the route using ForeFlight on my iPad… and I’m upgrading my GoPro cameras so I can share the experience with others. :)

If you are interested in seeing the memories of our Utah back country trip that make me smile, you can check them out in this video.

Curtis Penner
Latest posts by Curtis Penner (see all)
6 replies
    • Bob Finley
      Bob Finley says:

      Keep the dream alive! It will totally change your life if you can do it! I got my license almost 30 years ago but couldn’t afford to get a plane until about 6 years ago and just last month was able to get my Instrument rating. Your license and experience can never be taken from you and you will never regret a single moment working toward attaining your goals. I always try to encourage young people to reach out for their goals. You will be rewarded many time over!
      Best of luck!

  1. Dennis
    Dennis says:

    Thank you for your excellent article! I had the good fortune of speaking with Galen. I had taken Lori McNichol’s backcountry flying seminar course (another innovator, she is). This lead to making several trips to the Idaho backcountry, a trip with Galen’s Fying Idaho book in hand a must. It was when a group of us Husky drivers decided to explore Utah’s backcountry. After reading Galen’s Flying Utah, I realized how different flying Utah is from Idaho. It was then that I decided to call Galen. He took a hour of his time to share some of his experiences along with expressing that he thought Utah’s backcountry is true “Backcountry”. It is and was an incredible trip. So memorable.
    Thank you Galen and thank you Curtis!

  2. Gary Lanthrum
    Gary Lanthrum says:

    Curtis: Thanks for such a well written reminder of the debt owed to the giants of aviation innovation. I am definitely a follower, not a leader in this fray, but I’m a grateful follower. You article reminds me that formal recognition of what others have made possible is important. I recently moved from Virginia to Washington State with my Maule and I bought Galen’s guide to Idaho. I’m hoping I’ll be able to visit some of that state’s iconic backcountry strips once the world opens up a bit more. Thanks for your story and your video. I thoroughly enjoyed both.

  3. Joel Godston
    Joel Godston says:

    GREAT ‘True-To-Life’ story Curtis. As a pilot for 50+ years I have had a number of those experiences in the US Air Force flying Piper Cub, T-28, T-33, and B-47 aircraft; then flying T-33, F-84, and F-86H aircraft in the Mass. Air National Guard; and finally owning an flying a Cessna 182 in the civilian sector. I’ll tell you, et al, about one. While flying the F-86H practicing a near vertical dive and firing a rocket at the target, the G-suit connection to the aircraft disconnected. During the recovery, the procedure is to pull 3-4 G’s. Well, during the recovery, after I released the released the back pressure, looked at the G-meter in the cockpit I noticed the ‘tell-tail’ indication was that I had pulled over 10 Gs…. Redline for the F-86H is 8.3 Gs. After landing the crewchief came up to me saying, “….. you see all those rivets on the ramp in front your aircraft…. you bent the airplane about 20 dergees….and it will never fly again…” Well, I am still here… So, thank you, THANK YOU North American that designed and built the F=86H, for doing such a GREAT job! Amen, AMEN, AMEN!

  4. Natalie
    Natalie says:

    There was freedom in the unlimited horizon, on the open fields where one landed. A pilot was surrounded by the beauty of earth and sky. He brushed treetops with the birds, leapt valleys and rivers, explored the cloud canyons he had gazed at as a child. Adventure lay in each puff of wind.
    – The Spirit of St. Louis.
    Charles Lindbergh

    Great video, excellent music, beautiful country. Thanks for sharing.


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