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No Training December 1 -15 -- I will be in
Valle de Bravo, Mexico flying
with John Cummings (Portland, OR).
December 7-8 Valle de Bravo --
December 7 was a stellar day -- at least for me. Below, I found
a very strong thermal that was taking me right through cloudbase about
4.5 miles northeast of launch.
The central plaza of Valle de Bravo. Towards the evening this
area is jammed with people of all ages. Family is very important
for most Mexicans.
This is a view of Valle from over the lake. I flew high enough at La
Torre to glide out over the water to take this photo.
The LZ (landing area) is the small patch of lawn in the middle of the
photo right next to the water. You must have good landing skills
so you don't go into the water or hit other obstacles. For newer
pilots, an instructor will land first and then coach the novice in
safely. It is not as bad as it looks.
Late in the day clouds were forming over the area. I am flying
above and between them -- an ethereal experience that is difficult to
describe. Note that with a glider, there is no sound but the air
going past at low speed. Another glider is just visible above in
the thin mist between much denser clouds. The pilot is our host in
VB, Jeff Hunt. The object in the upper right corner is my wing
tip. I hesitated to venture any higher into thicker mist as I
generally do not fly in clouds (it is illegal in the U.S.) and a pilot
has to get used to mapping out the space as gliders disappear and then
suddenly reappear. Most pilots do not get this high so there is
rarely a crowd but disappearing and reappearing aircraft in one's
vicinity can be unnerving....
December 2-3 Valle de Bravo -- Why fly here? Every
day is flyable -- all day. Thermals average 400-600'/minute and
are much better organized and easier to stay in than anything we have in
the southwest. It's early in the season here so we rarely see hang
gliders. This is because, as the region dries out, the thermals
become stronger and more suitable for hang gliding. Pilots of any skill can safely fly in Valle de Bravo.
Americans are a small fraction of the pilots who are, at this time,
mostly Norwegians and Germans. The town of Valle de Bravo is a
safe and friendly place.
Jovan's "La Cocina Economica" -- Spanish for Jovan's Discount
Kitchen". The proprietress is the lady on the left. This
little restaurant has the best food around and the pilots love the
cafeteria style layout. Their corn tortillas are made right in the
kitchen from scratch. I have often landed nearby rather than fly
further so I could have lunch here.
November 26 Tuesday -- E Potrillo Mountains -- Flying
over desert mountains is a special privilege we have in the southwest.
Even though it was in the 40's yesterday, it was a great time to fly
over the desert. The air was a bit choppy. Why was this?
There was no Jet overhead nor some trough or other disturbance present.
I would not find out until later that night when I looked at the balloon
soundings from Santa Teresa. We had (3) layers of air near the
earth and each was moving in a different direction. At the surface
it was NNE, above that a few hundred feet it was SSE, and a few thousand
feet up it was NW. The turbulence was caused by the layers mixing,
especially the last two.
November 21 Thursday -- Training at the Sod Farm -- We want to
welcome visitor now PG pilot in training, Marc Sawaya! Marc has
spent time helping us at Mag Rim and he decided it was time to get in
the air himself. Jan Zschenderlein also came along and helped Marc
as well as made a few flights.
November 20 Wednesday -- West Rim of the Rio Grande Valley --
The luxury of PPG is that you can launch anywhere, anytime, even with
calm air. I took off from the sod farm late in the day in light
winds from the west. I had hoped to visit the Franklins and see if
they were soarable. As I climbed out for the journey east, my
ground speed began to take off. I did have warning that wind
speeds aloft could be high (see the photo below). Turning back to
the southwest, I thought I might check the air more carefully.
Well, it was OK -- about 4 mph over the ground. Being high, I did
look down after a ten minutes or so and noticed I had not moved. I
checked my GPS again and to my surprise saw that I was indeed moving 4
mph over the ground but backwards! As I was high over the ground
near Hwy 179, I cut the engine to see if I could glide the 2 miles back
to 4th sod farm, even in a head wind aloft. I was flying my cross
country free-flight glider, the UP Summit XC2 which has amazing glide
(but at the expense of stability). I cut my engine to see if I
could do it. As I had a head wind, I applied nearly full speed
bar. With the XC2, it hardly makes any difference in sink rate,
with 25% more speed I easily made it back to launch. Turning off
your engine in PPG is always good training as these engines can fail at
any time and we must always be prepared to land.
November 19 Tuesday -- Mag Rim -- On the other hand, we have
sites in the southwest which, often enough, are unpredictable as Mag was
this day. Pilots Matt Hayes (HG), Bill Cummings (HG), Robin
Hastings (HG), and Had Robinson (PG) set out for possible flights.
The forecast was for nearly dead air -- maybe in the PM there would be
enough air to launch a paraglider and just maybe a hang glider.
Well, none of us knew that a small disturbance (trough) was passing
overhead and instead of a possible sled ride, the site was blown out.
Matt was the only one to get out and he left before noon. It was
still ratty air, as he later noted, after he landed. The rest of
us had a morning and early afternoon enjoying the view and
practicing glider assembling. It was the right thing to do to stay
on the ground. When Mag is good, it is wonderful -- next time!
November 15 Friday -- Copperas Cove, TX -- Compared to our
region, the weather in central Texas is boring. That is, the
atmosphere tends to be much more uniform with fewer "exciting" layers.
They still have the effects of the Jet Stream and have much more
inclement weather than here. For mountain pilots from the high
desert, the air is thick, smooth, and predictable (no mountains around).
Launching and staying up is so easy compared to here. Thermals are
well organized and easy to stay in. For my last flight there
(PPG), I stayed up until 1/2 hour past sunset -- the legal limit.
The air was so smooth that I forgot I was flying in it. When I had
to land, I cut the engine and floated around for quite a while.
The peace and quiet of free flight is always enjoyable but if it were
not for the little Top80, I would not fly at all. How can I tow
myself up? Some guys in England have done it but it is expensive
and prone to mishaps.... The little white thing is the moon.
November 13 Wednesday -- Copperas Cove, TX -- A vast cold
front swept down over the U.S. yesterday and today with cold weather
everywhere, including this area near Ft. Hood, TX. Below is
Ogletree Gap City Park in Copperas Cove. The red building on park
property is the Carson & Barnes Circus of Hugo, OK. City Parks
have signs with long lists of what you can't do at them and it didn't
say you couldn't launch from it.... However, it did not allow golf
-- go figure. The density altitude of the Park (1,000' MSL) today
was probably negative (below sea level) judging from how easy it was to
launch and how hard it was to get down. A mere 4,000' difference
in altitude has an amazing effect on handling and glide. Though it
was barely 50 degrees at the surface at 4PM, I ran into a single but
strong thermal that was coming off an auto junkyard a mile to the right
(south) of the photo. It was going up at about 700'/minute and a
fun ride until it got too cold. Every flight is a new adventure.
October 29 Tuesday -- Completing a Task w PPG -- Launching and
landing at the sod farm is always safe, even forgiving of mistakes.
However, it does not build up our pilot skills for the unpredictable if
we are always using the same place. With that in mind, I took an
opportunity to land in a somewhat random place and attempt a re-launch.
Earlier in the week I had accidently dropped a nice windsock while
flying far out in the desert near the E. Potrillo Mountains. I
immediately created a waypoint on my GPS marking its location and, being
near dusk, I headed home to the sod farm. Returning to this spot
at a later date, finding the sock, and re-launching would be a good
exercise and skill builder. It would also be something I could
share with other pilots.
October 26 Saturday -- Somewhere in Southern New Mexico
-- We are waiting for some cool photos of hang gliding east of Las
Cruces but since they are not here yet, I took some photos of south of
the U.S. - Mexican border near the end of the day from my
stealth-glider, the powered paraglider. It is such a vast place.
This view of mesquite in the desert at dusk reminded me of the ocean
floor in the tropics when viewed through a glass in the bottom of a
boat. Not sure if this in Mexico or in the U.S. ....
October 20 Sunday -- Hwy 9 High Tow -- PG pilot Jan
Zschenderlein and I set out, initially, to fly Kilbourne Hole maar this
afternoon. After driving to the east launch and studying
conditions it became evident that it would be nothing more than a sled
ride to the bottom. Conditions were just too weak to sustain
soaring the maar. We then returned to HQ, picked up the winch, and
set out for Hwy 9, the ultimate tow location in the world -- little
traffic, runs ESE to WSW, and has no cross roads or power lines.
Jan had a great tow, reaching just about 7,000' MSL.
Well, almost.... Jan nailed a tall mesquite tree.
Thankfully, the glider did not come down in it -- but he did. It
took us a few to pick the lines out of the world's greatest enemy to
anything with fine lines on it -> paragliders. Each of us have
landed in these things. Patience is required. Congrats to
Jan for another safe flight. Having a high flight on Hwy 9 is the
way to learn to thermal under controlled conditions without the dangers
of what mountains do to thermals. That is, mountainous terrain can
aggregate thermals into monsters under the right conditions by greatly
accelerating them. When thermals merge in the mountains, the less
experienced pilot can experience surprise!
Here is Hwy 9 looking east near dusk. The road is straight
because it was once a railroad that went along the southern border of
the U.S. This is the way to "drive" down a highway -- going along
about 22 m.p.h. 100' off the surface. Fences, ditches, canyons,
borders, etc. don't matter at all.
Somewhere in the desert west of El Paso. When you have to land,
you have to land. On my way to Anapra, I blew the gasket between
the cylinder and the crankcase. Engine power dropped 75% and I
started to go down. What to do? Try to make it to a road or,
at least, fly over safe country. It is imperative that pilots
always have a place in mind to land. Not doing so can be
dangerous. Not being mentally prepared can also cause unnecessary
risk. Below is a photo of where I landed out in the bushes, about
the center of a huge triangle between Santa Teresa Border Crossing,
Sunland Park, and the Dona County Airport. It was a long walk to
what we might call "a road". Pilot Bill Cobb (the nearest pilot I
knew) picked me up near the high tension electric lines that help feed
October 12, 13, 15 Training -- We continued training at the
sod farm this last week with Natalie Adam, Hunter Davis, Jan Richter,
and Jan Zschenderlein. It was great to see Jan Z. back in the air
after his accident last spring at La Luz -- welcome back Jan!
We have had stronger air for many days and pilots can very high, as
Natalie did here. She was able to fly way behind launch with
altitude to spare.
Aren't soaring sports like paragliding and hang gliding so much fun?
Nothing can beat the views!
October 8 Tuesday -- Franklin Mountains -- We have finally
left the monsoon season with its quirky air and have entered the
fall/winter air. This means dry and mostly southwest -- a welcome
change as most of our sites do best with southwest winds. Today
was more south which meant sites like Mag Rim would work well.
Anyway, unless one was to drive an hour, powered flight was all there
was. It was not so bad as these photos can testify. They
were taken late in the day -- a time of contrasts.
Climbing above the Franklins with a south wind is just not possible.
With a PPG and some ridge lift it was possible. Below is the view
north from much higher than the Franklins. In the distance are the
Organ Mountains east of Las Cruces, NM.
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