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Airport Guide Reviews

There are an amazing number of airport guides and magazines out there. Each one of them fills a unique niche, either in geographic area or type of coverage. Some are great for carrying in the plane as a constant reference, while others are best left at home for planning those special trips. If you're serious about flying to interesting places, I recommend purchasing all of the guides that cover the area you want to go to. Each will have its own contribution to offer.

Pilots Guide Series

The Pilots Guide series is published by Optima Publications. There are three volumes covering California, Southwest (AZ, CO, NV, NM, UT), and Northwest (ID, MT, OR, WA, WY). Each volume contains:
  • A general introduction containing lots of useful reminders about how to fly smart and safe.
  • Comprehensive 5-page sections on each towered airport, including a fold-out map of the area with visual reporting points, information on approach and departure details, and a map of the field marking transient parking and FBOs along with contact information.
  • 1/2 page descriptions of non-towered attended airports, including an airport map, approach and departure notes, and FBO contact information.
  • Short descriptions of unattended airports including a small airport map, frequencies, and brief notes.

It's hard for me to say too many nice things about these guides. They have a permanent place in my flight bag and I use them on every trip. These are the only guides that give surface diagrams of every airport. The visual reporting points and approach procedures for towered airports make you sound like a local.

A special feature of these guides is a regular update service. You'll receive updates twice a year for California and Northwest, and three times a year for Southwest. The first year is included with the purchase of the book. Much like updating Jeppesen charts, you simply replaced the changed pages in the 3-ring binder.

I highly recommend these guides to every pilot.

Western US Pilot's Guide

This guide is new and currently on its second edition. It is published by Pilot Publishing, Inc., the same company that produces the Bahamas & Caribbean Pilot's Guide. It covers several hundred airports in AZ, CA, CO, ID, MT, NV, NM, OR, UT, WA, WY, and one airport in Canada. For each state there is a fairly random collection of airports, mostly shying away from the larger commercial airports in favor of smaller, friendlier places to go. All airports include full-page overhead color pictures with basic airport information. Some airports include several pages of description, including places to see in the area, restaurants, and hotels.

This book is a great addition to a library of guides and magazines that suggest places to go, but due to its spotty coverage I wouldn't necessarily carry it with me on a regular basis.

The Hungry Flyer

The Hungry Flyer is a guide to eateries near California airports. It is produced by PROMPT Publications. This reasonably thick volume contains complete menus for hundreds of airports, and sometimes includes maps or other information about finding the restaurants near the airports. It is invaluable if you're looking for a place to go for lunch or dinner. Unfortunately I'm not sure it is still in publication. My issues is dated 1997 and the local Airport Shoppe has stopped stocking it.

Fly! Guides

These two guides, Fly the Big Sky! and Fly Idaho!, are written by Galen Hanselman and published by Q.E.I. Publishing. They specialize in extremely detailed information about the more rural areas of MT and ID. Each book starts with a brief description of the state so that you can find which area you want to go to, followed by convenient two-page descriptions of each airport with full color pictures, followed by detailed information about what to do once you're on the ground. While occasionally a towered airport creeps into the book, generally the airports are described as "no service, no phone, no fuel, no snow removal". Warnings abound about leaving your plane unattended during livestock grazing season. On the ground, descriptions include things like hiking up "No Name Creek".

But don't let this scare you off. Many of the airports are accessible even to the largest private planes, and the ground information will give you plenty of things to do when you want to get away from it all.

These books are highly recommended to anyone wanting to explore the MT or ID backcountry. In fact I'd say they are absolutely required.

The Flyer's Recreation Guide

These two volumnes, covering the Northwest (ID, MT, OR, WA, WY) and Southwest (AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, UT), are published by Alta Research.

Unfortunately I don't currently have up-to-date copies. A review will come soon once I get them.

Aerodine's Pilot Travel Guide

This amazingly large book (over 1000 pages) is published by Aerodine Magazine. It covers the entire United States, with incomplete coverage of each state (for example, about 1/3 of the public airports in California are mentioned). For each airport mentioned, detailed information is given about restaurants and hotels in the area. In some cases longer articles are included about special sights to see in the area.

This book is a little large to carry with you all the time, but great for planning special trips. It is also one of the only guides that covers the entire U.S.

AOPA's Airport Directory

This book, published annually by AOPA (if you're not a member, you should be), contains brief, densely written information about every public airport in the United States. In many ways it is like the A/FD except that it also includes abbreviated information about fuel, FBOs, weather terminals, and occasionally sights near the airport. Most airports also include a low-detail airport diagram.

I keep a copy of the AOPA Directory in my plane to use on cross countries. It's great for finding a phone number for an FBO at a destination airport to reserve a car, or for seeing if a weather terminal is available at your fuel stop.

Flight Guide Airport and Frequency Manual

This three volume set (western, central, and eastern states) is published by Airguide Publications. Most public use airports are included. Each entry includes A/FD-style information (runway, frequencies, obstacles), a detailed airport diagram, information on FBOs, and area restaurants, hotels, and sights. Complicated areas, such as class B airports, include a larger fold-out map. These volumes are very dense, measuring only 5x6 inches, making them ideal to carry with you at all times. However, they are printed in a tiny font, so people with imperfect eyesight might have a problem, especially in turbulence.

I've just purchased these guides for the first time, so I don't yet know how they will compare to the Optima Pilots Guides in real use. But they do have the advantage of covering the entire United States.