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Weather Info For
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December 17-21 -- Training
-- We will have some high winds during the week but can train
around them. Wednesday is a blow out. Thursday looks good
but for PPG only as it will calm. The weekend is coming soon so let us
know about training. - Had
to schedule training. Space is limited.
All training is 100% dependent on weather conditions. Before coming out,
check your email and the web site to be sure training is not canceled. If
something comes up, I will attempt to text scheduled pilots. We
sod farm #4
unless otherwise specified. AM training begins at 9AM and 3PM.
Pilots can always arrive earlier than the scheduled times to setup and
practice kiting and inflations.
January 24 - February 8
-- Colombia Cross Country Paragliding Adventure -- Sad to say, this
tour is now completely booked. If people drop out, spaces may
become available. Let us know if you want to go. You cannot beat the
cost, the friendly locals, and the amazing air. It is better XC
than Valle de Bravo and is lower key. The cost is $1,300 for (15) days and includes
everything except airfare, lunches, and dinners. It is only for
pilots who are P3 rated and have some cross country experience.
Thermalling skill is required. If you do not make it this year,
you can reserve your spot early for 2016. It is important to plan
December 16 - Tuesday -- Anapra Mesa -- Tom Bird and I (Had
Robinson) went out there this afternoon. The winds were pretty
fast at launch (16-19 mph). So we waited a bit and I decided to
launch. Rather than risk getting blown back into the barb wire
fence (we are paranoid about that stuff) I went way down the hill to
launch. Not sure why I went so far.... As Tom later pointed
out, a bad idea because the lower you go at Anapra the more south the
air is because it has to go around the north end of the Mesa.
Anyway, short flight, very turbulent, and no lift. The good news
was that the launch and flight went well in a 60 degree cross wind.
Well, at least, somebody flew in Texas today.
December 15 - Monday -- Transmountain -- Christoph Clemens and
I (Had Robinson) did some more testing on the Transmountain site in
Franklin Mountains State Park. Christoph lives in Florida and
travels widely around the Western Hemisphere because of his job,
including visits to our out-of-the-way region. Note: I learned the
other day that our hang gliding pilot, John Theoret of Saskatchewan
Canada, was the first and only hang glider to foot launch in the entire
state of Texas for the year when he test flew this site back on Nov.
10th. Franklin Mountains State Park is a special place, indeed.
Winds most of the day were NNW and light. Flying the site with
winds this cross would be a good indicator of its overall safety and
usefulness. Winds from the north always means that we can expect
modest turbulence as air rolls down the front of the Franklin range,
hitting the fingers that swoop out from the base of the mountains.
Mix this with normal thermal activity and sites in the Park can be
challenging. Thankfully, the fall and winter months have much
weaker thermal activity than other times. The site works best, as
would be expected, with winds from the SW and W.
We both launched off the NW face of the Transmountain finger at about
2:30PM and got right up. I encountered the expected but modest
turbulence from another finger north of Transmountain. Being that
the winds were light, any lift would have to be thermic -- and so it
was. We knew from the start that it would be a sled-ride and a
hike but that was what we both were happy to have on a day when every
other site in the region would not work.
The site is so appealing because sled-rides are easy per the hike back
up -- a nice trail up from everywhere below. Pilots who want a
challenge can turn towards Dragons Mouth and should get the lift they
need to get up and out in order to soar the Franklins. This is our
next test! Less experienced pilots can choose to soar the ridge in
front of the Pass and have as much challenge as they like and then land
easily anywhere out front or top land. Having so many choices is a
plus. It is also higher than Agave Hill and closer to the Pass
which means that it is soarable much more often.
Christoph ready to go. This is the only patch of ground that is
not covered with cacti where a pilot can lay out his glider in order to
launch. When we find the best area to launch from NW and SW, we
will ask the Park for permission to clear/move the vegetation.
December 13 - Saturday -- Training -- It is not too often that
we get a group photo when training at the sod farm. Pilots Tom
Bird and Max Bennett came out to fly PPG. Jason Tilley continued
his P2 training, doing some tough maneuvers (spiral dives and simulated
collapses) and perfecting his landing technique.
L-R: Had Robinson, Jason Tilley, Marilyn Robinson, Tom Bird, Sarah and
Max Bennett. Marilyn runs the ATV for the winch
Prior to launching, it is imperative that a pilot have perfect control
of the glider. Too many pilots bring the wing up and turn
immediately before the glider is stable, hoping that it will stabilize
as they move forward. This is backwards. Below, Jason is
checking his glider carefully before turning -- it ensures that launch
is under control. Also look at his hands. Rather than let go
of the A's and the D's, he has them firmly in hand. That way, if
things change and the launch must be aborted, he can do it safely and
immediately. If he lets go of the risers and has only the brake
toggles in his hands, there is no way to safely stop the launch routine.
If most accidents did not happen at launch, we would not pay as much
attention to this....
December 12 - Friday PM -- Kilbourne Hole -- Pilots Tom Bird
and Max Bennett with instructor Had Robinson set out in the afternoon to
try some soaring at
Kilbourne Hole. We all hurried out because conditions were
marginable and the day was getting on = conditions will always weaken.
Arriving at the maar, I (Had) was able to have two short flights in the
weakening air that was turning more and more south. We could have
re-located to the north end of the maar but, by then, the air would be
too weak to stay up. Max and Tom were able to see how easy it is
to fly the maar. Next time, we will get out there when conditions
are a bit stronger.
Had at the east launch at Kilbourne. It was getting dark.
Photo by Max Bennett.
Tom & Max standing right behind East Launch. It is almost too dark
to fly but what a beautiful place.
December 12 - Friday AM --Training -- Phil Ehly was joined by pilots
Lee Boone & Tom Bird as Phil made his maiden flight with a paramotor at
sod farm #4. He had spent many months learning to fly his
paraglider before adding the substantial complexity of a motor.
Thanks to dogged practice, he had a flawless first flight.
Lee & Tom discussing aviation (most likely) near launch -- which is
always where our hydraulic winch is.
Phil with a big smile, just after he landed from a 40+ minute flight.
December 8 Monday -- Anapra Mesa -- The winds were just strong
enough to soar the Mesa so Matt Hayes, Lee Boone, and I (Had Robinson)
headed out to our favorite east facing site in the late afternoon.
We all had about 2 hours of air to fly. So much fun!
Lee kiting his glider at launch just before take off. It is great
practice to just stand at launch not moving in any direction so the
pilot can get a good sense of the air.
Lee launched above, then top landed, and got ready to launch again.
Matt is helping lay out Lee's glider. There is enough rotor at
launch so a pilot has to lay out his glider back and up. There is
a convenient patch of benign cactus near the rear of launch where you
can park your glider high enough to get out of the rotor.
Matt flying out in front of the Mesa
Lee coasting along out in the front of the Mesa.
Matt took this photo of me kiting at launch. Lee Boone and I kited
together at launch for probably 10 minutes. As it was really
getting dark, we decided to stow it, and go home. Anyway, it is
hard to land in the dark because you can't tell where the bad bushes
December 7 Sunday -- There was no training Saturday because of
high winds but Sunday was perfect. Pilots who trained: Max
Bennett, Tom Bird, Dave Jensen, and Daniel Rivera. At one point,
we had (4) pilots in the air at the same time.
Max built himself an ingenious paramotor carrier. The platform can
swing out to allow access to the rear of the camper shell. We all
decided that we want one, too
Daniel enjoying an easy evening flight in a powered paraglider. He
noticed that it was a lot different than free flight. The
paramotor allows us to fly when the winds are not good for any of our
sites. Way down near the earth is Tom in his light colored glider.
Tom flying high...
December 5 Friday -- Pilots who trained today included:
Phil Ehly, Daniel Rivera, Tom Bird, Max Bennett, and Dave Jansen.
Today was Daniel's first time to fly his paramotor. He was towed
up with the engine off, released from tow, started his engine, and flew
around the farms for 40 minutes. This is always the safest way to
get used to the paramotor. Otherwise, pilots are usually
overwhelmed and make mistakes that can damage their equipment.
Below, a telephoto of Daniel at about 1,000' AGL. He remarked how
very different PPG is from PG, the latter being the only flying he ever
did until now. He had a safe launch, tow, flight, and landing.
Congrats, Daniel, for your first powered flight!
The happy four of the late afternoon training session L-R: Max,
Tom, Daniel, and Dave. Phil was not able to train in the PM.
The bright white dot behind the pilots is the moon. It was a fun
time for everyone.
November 30 -- Kiting Practice -- Do you want to become a
better, safer pilot? Kiting on the ground is the safest way to
become skilled in the air. When I (Had Robinson) travel, I take
along my usual glider and my harness so, when I have some spare time, I
can kite. One cannot fly safely unless he learns to kite safely.
Below, PPG student Dave Jensen improving his skills with his glider over
the Thanksgiving holiday. Kiting must be from muscle memory,
something which requires many hours of practice. Remember piano
lessons when you were a kid? Everybody knows when you spent the
time at the keyboard practicing. I know when pilots spend time
working with their glider! When our students spend time kiting,
they will have dramatically improved launches and landings.
November 24 -- Tyler Francis -- Today we learned that Tyler,
owner of Francis Aviation at the Santa Teresa airport, died in a crash
near the Las Cruces airport. This is a tragic loss for our
community and follow pilots, in particular. We will miss him
terribly. The only good in this is that he died doing what he
loved. -- Had Robinson
November 20 Transmountain Pass -- I (Had Robinson) went out
around 3:30PM to test a new site that should be very promising for PG
soaring and thermalling in the Franklin Mountains. Most of our
sites in the State Park are not very accessible. If our gliders
were not so heavy and bulky the distance from some parking lot to launch
would not matter much. Pilots who are older, have physical
handicaps, or who are not strong enough to carry their gliders to launch
are effectively barred from flying in the Park.
Why haven't we been interested in this site until recently? All of
us more advanced pilots have gotten close to the Dragon's Mouth (the
Pass itself) and seen how it can suck an aircraft towards it -- and past
the point of no return. Sites near the Dragon's Mouth (DM) have
always concerned us with this danger. This site, thankfully, is
about 1/4 mile north of the Pass which provides an ample distance away
from DM. Because access is easy, pilots can first drive right to
the Pass and measure the wind velocity and make a decision to fly or
This new site (5,100' MSL) will eliminate this problem because it is
just a few minutes from the parking area at the top of Transmountain
Pass. The launch area is about 40 vertical feet below the level of
the highway and slopes gently from SSW to NNW. Unlike Lee's
Lookout south of the Pass, the launch is without any precipitous cliffs
in the vicinity which makes it a safer site for newer pilots to launch
from. The launch area will have the most lift with the
prevailing southwest winds (240 degrees). Today the winds were
coming in at 270 degrees which made for less lift. SSW winds
should also work.
I explored the air all around launch successfully, looking for areas of
best lift with today's winds. The winds at the DM were about 9 mph
and the winds at launch were about 10 mph. Because the site is so
high, we will have fewer problems with the inversion which sets up so
early in the Valley. The lower the site, the sooner the daily
inversion kills the winds coming in. This has been the problem so
often at Agave Hill.
The area out of front is clear, unlike Agave, so turbulence is minimal.
Pilots can choose to launch close to the highway (stronger air and more
chance of getting out) or walk down the finger to find weaker air and be
farther away from the highway.
I have top landed at this site a few times over the years. Today
was unique -- the first time to launch a paraglider from Transmountain
Pass so I would not be top landing. Instead I made "S" turns from
launch gradually out until the site began to shut down when the sun got
low. At that point, I went out as far as I could -- about 1/2
mile. There was nothing at any time which caused alarm, I am happy
to report. There are some large fingers coming out from North Mt.
Franklin north of the site which pilots should be wary about if the air
is coming in great than 270 degrees. They can expect some rotor
and turbulence if conditions get strong.
The site, as a whole, offers the greatest safety and convenience of any
site we have in the Park, even for hang gliders. Less experienced
pilots will be able to enjoy a minimally imposing launch environment
with an open and accessible LZ out front. I hope the Park will
grant us permission to open the site up for public use. Pilots who
fly the site must register
with the Park and pay the daily use fee at the Tom Mays Unit or present
a Park Pass (which I have).
Soaring near launch. View is southeast.
I landed way down the finger in a flat area. One can encounter
obstacles on the ground when gliding in from altitude like the Sotol
bush here. The dry stalks can stick up 15' above the ground.
The stalk on this one was going to nail me as I came in so I stuck my
foot out and whacked it, breaking it off before it hit me front and
center. Those who regularly fly in these parts can face odd
challenges. But like good pilots everywhere in the world, you
assess the situation as quickly as you can and then deal with it
appropriately. This was not the first time for the "cactus dance."
I took this photo as I was hiking back to launch. It was already
Down at the end of the finger. Our goal is to put the glider in
the clearest area possible when you land. Picking the lines out of
a mesquite bush can take (40) minutes....
November 16 Monday -- Anapra Mesa -- Looking at the forecasts,
it appeared that the Mesa would be good for soaring. When I (Had
Robinson) got out there, things were right at the minimum for a good
glider to stay up ~7 mph. The flight was under (5) minutes.
There were visitors -- Sunland Park City Police on ATV's.
Thankfully, the launch and side hill landing were perfect and I was able
to give a good impression to law enforcement. So what? It is
their business to maintain public safety and we ultralight pilots have
enough clowns running around us who endanger themselves and others, as
it is. It is always good, therefore, to demonstrate responsible
conduct so that our sport has a future. Our flying record in the
region is 100% and, as a result, we get privileges from the authorities,
including our local State Park. I hope everyone will continue to
conduct themselves properly and do the utmost to fly safely.
Southwest Airsports just received permission from the regional
FAA inspector to conduct night training at our main training site with
certain requirements. This was a result of our perfect record
adhering to FAA regulations. It is also why
we are invited to fly in air shows. I am working on procedures and
a curriculum at this time. During the time I worked for the Army
(JTFN), I was able to develop techniques on how to safely (!) land in
the pitch black. I can only describe night flying in a paraglider
as a one of a kind experience. It is eerie looking up at the stars
or moon as one glides along.
If a windsock is almost straight out, the Mesa is soarable. Today
it was within 10° of straight out -- barely
I spent 45 minutes cleaning up the launch area. Tom Bird had
worked on a week ago and it now is more friendly to gliders and
November 15 Saturday -- Training -- Pilots Daniel Rivera and
Dave Jensen came out in the afternoon to see if the winds would die down
enough to safely launch. Pilot Tom Bird of the NWS forecasted that
they would die down at 4:30PM at the surface and, not surprisingly, that
is just what they did. Up until then the air was coming in around
18 mph. At 4:30PM the winds went to about 5 mph. However,
the winds just 100' above the ground were cranking: over 20 mph. I
(Had Robinson, instructor) convinced Daniel that it would be safe to
launch and he did. The next two flights he had were extraordinary.
Note how the wind speed dramatically increased as he went up 500' and
then changed again as he entered different layers of air.
In all this Daniel set a record today for maximum towed height at the
sod farm: over 1,800'. The most recent record was set by Jason Tilley at
1,200'. Once launched, he went almost straight up, then backwards,
and then forwards again. Usually, the winch reels in line to get
the pilot up. Today, it reeled in until he was 50' off the ground
and then paid out the rest of the time. It was an unusual
experience for a pilot which made him a little uncomfortable the first
flight. But he was eager to go the second time. Here
is are the paths of the two flights. They were close together.
Dave Jensen was a big help in getting Daniel off the ground each flight.
Near the top of the flight. Daniel is just a speck and getting
smaller. Congratulations, Daniel, for being at the right place at
the right time and willing to stretch your skills. The sod farm is
just the place to do this. Well done everyone!
November 14 Friday -- Training -- The winds were good today!
Pilots included: Daniel Rivera, Max Bennett, and Tom Bird. Daniel
was the only one who towed today (and had the most number of flights).
The others brought their paramotors and launched with them. Daniel
had a first for the school today -- instructor Had Robinson (yours
truly) put a small cravat in Daniel's wing before launch. A cravat
is when the tip of the glider becomes tangled in the lines. This
causes the glider to dive to the side of the cravat. The pilot
must keep his glider under control and be able to fly a straight line
regardless. Cravats happen when a pilot encounters air that is
quickly sinking (negative G's). These knots in the fabric of the
wing can be so severe that the pilot must throw his reserve parachute.
Small cravats and collapses will happen so it is good to be prepared.
Daniel went up two times with a cravat and was successful at getting
them removed each time. CONGRATULATIONS, Daniel!
Daniel ready to launch -- he is well equipped and ready to go!
Tom coming in for a landing. The white line in the foreground is
the tow line going across the field.
Max kiting his glider just after landing. It was a successful day
for all of the pilots.
Thursday -- Anapra Mesa Hang Gliding & Paragliding
-- There were a gaggle of pilots of both kinds at Anapra this afternoon:
Bill Cummings (HG), John Theoret (HG), Nathan Wreyford (HG), Robin
Hastings (HG), Dave Jensen (PPG), Tom Bird (PG), and yours truly (Had
Robinson PG). Winds were cold and strong all afternoon, sometimes
gusting to the middle 20's. Around 3PM conditions were good for
hang gliding. John launched and then Nathan. They got very
high over the Mesa. It was not until 5PM that conditions began to
moderate just a little. If winds at Middle Launch are less than 20
mph, it is possible for PG pilots to move down the hill and launch in
lighter winds. It would not be safe to launch even in light winds
down the hill if winds are over 20 at launch. This is because of
the risk of getting blown over the back of the Mesa if the pilot should
suddenly get high. Going over the back would not be a disaster but
it would not be fun. Just before sunset, I (Had) launched from
half way down the hill. But as the winds started to calm down,
they turned SSE and we had a severe crosswind coming in. This made
for turbulent air as the winds rolled along the undulating slope of the
Mesa. I only flew a few minutes and then decided to land -- but at
least I flew.
John flying high out in front of the Mesa. One of the delights of
Anapra Mesa is the wave-lift generated by the mountains in front.
It is independent of the Mesa but can only be accessed by launching from
the Mesa. Out in front and to the east is Mt. Cristo Rey. In
the far background are the Franklin Mountains and the State Park.
We hope to be flying more there soon as the weather calms down.
Both hang gliders were in the air. View is southeast with Anapra
Colonia, Mexico, in the background.
Had says: "FLY MORE, WORK LESS! You will be glad you did."
November 11 Tuesday -- Training -- Jason Tilley came out early
to train and try out his new Ozone Buzz paraglider. Everything
performed well. It went so well this morning that Jason broke the
record for the longest tow-launched non-thermal sod farm flight to date:
over 15 minutes. Daniel Rivera held the existing record of 10
minutes made earlier this year. Staying up so long after being
towed into the air is, nonetheless, more luck than skill. This was
the moment for a long and high altitude flight.
What exactly happened, no one is completely sure. Tom Bird, PG
pilot and a senior NWS meteorologist, believes that a hole in the daily
inversion that forms over the region suddenly opened up over a small
area west of the Rio Grande Valley. The warm air near the ground
rushed up through this hole and provided the lift in which Jason --
luckily -- found himself. The air over the sod farms was moving up
at around 200'/minute -- enough to keep a pilot from descending.
Jason about to launch. Winds were high -- steady at about 13 mph
out of the west. High winds (<18 mph) are not dangerous to PG
pilots once they get the wing over their heads. What is dangerous
are winds that change speed or direction quickly. Once a pilot is
in steady air, he will not notice wind speed except how he moves over
A telephoto shot of Jason boating around in the rising air.
Jason did not have any instruments but we are guessing he was over
1,200' AGL in this photo. Visible (just barely) are "cloud wispies".
When warm air rises suddenly, as here, it expands and cools forming the
"pre-clouds" which are visible here. When we paraglider pilots fly
often enough, we can be in the air when unique events like this happen.
The event today was something I have never seen before nor flown in.
It was not particularly long-lived. Jason launched again within minutes
of landing and the whole thing was over and the air was back to its
usual sinky self. This is why paragliding or hang gliding can be
so much fun -- when you are at the right place at the right time.
Congratulations Jason for being such a lucky guy (and a reasonably good
November 10 Transmountain Pass Launch -- Visiting hang glider
pilot John Theoret of Saskatchewan Canada became the first pilot in at
least 20 years to launch from the top of the Pass. He was joined
by locals Bill Cummings (HG) and Had Robinson (PG) who assisted at
launch. For a short video of John's landing on the access road in
Tom Mays, go here. Why has no one (including paraglider pilots) launched from
the Pass? Everyone had concern about interfering with the traffic
on the state highway and, more importantly, being sucked into the
Per the former, the south end of the visitor area is well away from the
highway. Per the latter, compared to just a few years ago, our
knowledge of the peculiar flying conditions we find near the Franklin
Mountains and in the Rio Grande Valley have greatly increased.
This all translates into an acceptable safety margin for flying this
site and staying away from the Dragon's Mouth when it is unsafe.
Its great advantage is accessibility, something of great importance to
hang glider pilots. Another is that the Pass is above the ever
present inversion above the valley floor in front of the range.
This means that we pilots have much more reliable air to fly in that is
free from the constantly changing surface winds below. I (Had)
also did a new survey of possible PG launch areas near the Pass.
While I have landed near the Pass, I have yet to launch from this area.
A promising PG launch area on a finger near the Pass that is just below
the highway (and out of the way).
John setting up near a cabana at the south end of the visitor area.
Bill putting away some gear. John had just launched from the
little ledge just in front of the concrete barrier. The launch
drew quite a crowd of onlookers.
John just 15 seconds after launch. He was climbing up at about
1,400'/min -- like a rocket. Why are there no photos of John
taking off? I was helping....
Below, John just after finishing his 40 minute flight. The LZ is
the access road for the Tom May's Unit within Franklin Mountains State
Park. The Park is unique among those in Texas because of its broad
range of activities offered to the public, including hang gliding and
paragliding. Our congratulations to John for his historic flight
within the Park! Well done!
November 1-2 Amigo Airsho -- It was a stormy and windy
weekend, so much so that the EP
Paramotor Demo Team could not safely perform. By Sunday
afternoon Dan Buchanan's hang glider airshow and the Army Golden Knights
also had to cancel. But what can we do about the weather other
than accept it? It was sad that we could not safely perform but it
was the best thing. An accident at the airshow would greatly harm
the long term reputation of all involved. Safety is always the 1st
priority for all airshow performers. Approximately 10,000 visitors
made the easy trek out to Dona Ana County Airport for two days of fun.
Lee Boone (red and black flight suit) & Had Robinson (all black flight
suit) at the daily pilots briefing given by airboss George Cline.
Team member Glenn Tupper had to undergo some special training for his
new commercial pilot position and was unable to make it this year.
It was an honor to be in the same room with the other performers
including the Army's Golden Knights skydiving team and the Air Force Thunderbird
pilots. John Shaw (not pictured) was our official photographer and
ground crew chief. Marilyn (FlightBabe1) also helped and was our
communication backup operator. FAA regulations for air show
performers are very strict in order to protect the public.
There were only (8) performing groups at the show. Francis
Aviation provided a hangar for our equipment that was next to the show
line. Our paramotor gear was tucked in behind the other aircraft.
Lee Boone posing with Kyle Franklin and his Dracula biplane. Kyle
is the son of Jimmy Franklin, world famous airshow performer and the
originator of Franklin's Flying
Circus & Airshow.
October 30 Thursday -- Training -- Pilots Marcey Gillespie,
Jason Tilley, and Shawn Goggin were able to come out. Conditions
were particularly good for new students. All did well.
Practice, practice, practice!
Marcey got very high (she is a lightweight) and was able to get well
behind launch before coming in for a safe landing. Shawn (L)
watches while Jason (R) prepares to get towed up.
October 26 Sunday -- Training -- Sunday AM was one of our
busiest days in recent memory for training at the sod farms.
Student pilots were Daniel Rivera, Natalie Adam, Phil Ehly, Jan Richter,
and visitor Arturo Bujanda.
Arturo (L) and Daniel (R) at launch. Arturo was a great help to
the pilots. Thank you for coming out!
Natalie after a long and successful flight.
October 26 Sunday -- Cristo Rey -- Early Sunday morning, the
Catholic Dioceses of El Paso and Las Cruces celebrated the 75th
anniversary of the Cristo Rey memorial. Thousands of the faithful
made the pilgrimage to the top. I was asked to photograph and
video the event by Jackson Polk of
October 23 Thursday -- Training -- Max Bennett, Dave Jensen,
and Phil Ehly made it out to sod farm #4 for more training. It is
impossible to become a good and safe pilot without practice. At
the sod farms we can make mistakes and learn -- all safely.
FlightBabe1 (Marilyn) fitting Dave with his communication gear. We
use duplicate radios with newer students to ensure that they can always
hear the instructor.
Max helping Phil lay out his glider before launch.
Phil preparing to reverse launch. Pilots prefer to face the glider
and launch because it is safer: they can see the wing come up and
note any problems immediately.
Dave ready to go.
Phil coming in at sunset -- peaceful and slow, raw aviation at its best.
October 22 Wednesday -- Airsho Practice -- The EP Paramotor
Demo Team (members Lee Boone, Glenn Tupper, and Had Robinson) once again
was asked to perform with (7) others at the annual Amigo Airsho.
Our aircraft is so unusual which is why we are invited to this air show,
among others. Our most unusual stunt is flying very close together
while towing huge streamers. We have to practice carefully!
Lee Boone just above Had's glider -- formation flying.
Towing the 700'+ streamers
October 17 Friday -- Agave Hill -- Because of the great number
of storms in the west throughout the last few years, Agave Hill has been
lightly used. We have had some recent test flights and today was
one of them. Please note the windsock below planted in the parking
area near launch and the trails going over Mundy's Gap. The air
appears to be out of the east but it is only the daily katabatic flow.
When the sun gets low and goes down, the surfaces of the rock begin to
cool rapidly, especially high up. As the air cools it sinks and
begins to flow downs the slopes and can reach speeds of 5-8 mph.
The flow is 15'-30' thick. I landed near the windsock downwind,
going downhill. Was it dangerous or uncomfortable? Note that
paragliders come in at around 21 mph. If the wind is 5 mph, that
could mean a ground speed of 26 mph -- a bit fast for a man to run.
Well, this is why pilots who learn to fly in the desert mountains can
fly anywhere, including the Himalayas. Thankfully, I did not have
to come in and do a face plant while landing. Why not? This
is because my glider is about 20' over my head, almost 30' in the air.
The inversion had not deepened to that height (winds were still out of
the west just above) when I landed so I did not come screaming in.
It was odd that, after my flare, the glider sank into the downhill flow
and caught up with me. If pilots wait too long to land after a
mountain flight, they have to go far out in front and land in a high
area in order to avoid doing a downwind landing due to the thickening of
the inversion. Sometimes, we will have to land uphill because of
the inversion. Windsocks in the mountains are very important.
In Mexico one time, I was worn-out flying across some mountains on a
cross country trip and needed to land. These were steep mountains
with deep valleys. To land at the bottom of some valley entailed a
high amount of risk because of lack of any flat ground, rocks, trees,
inversions, valley flow, and who knows what else. Instead, I did
something no other aircraft can do -- a side-hill landing just below the
summit of the knife-edged peaks. At that altitude, the winds are
steady and predictable. I stayed just below the summit because of
thermals coming off and I did not want to go up again! It was an
easy, safe landing. Mountain flying requires a lot of mental
stability because of the dramatic scenery -- a skill anyone can have
through practice. Our minds play games and it is extremely
important to know how to fly regardless of how one feels at some moment.
October 15 Wednesday -- San Antonio, TX -- San Antonio is on
the coastal plains just below the edge of the Edwards Plateau, a huge
elevated land mass that encompasses most of the central Texas.
Flying in the relatively humid coastal plains is a treat for us high
desert pilots. The air is dense and stable with slow moving, big
thermals. What turbulence? Pilots will not learn to fly well
in such a place but it is treat to not be so preoccupied with the
condition of the air!
High above the coastal plain west of the city at dusk. Imagine
being in the middle of huge lake with dead calm air in a little boat.
It is completely flat here. Our high desert is much more
interesting but it is still fun to fly. Just like in the Rio
Grande Valley, an inversion will build as the earth's surface cools but
it will be just a 100' thick, if that, rather than 1,500' thick as here.
October 8 Wednesday -- AGAVE HILL PG & PPG -- It is always
good for pilots to get familiar with a new site. It increases the
safety factor. Tom Bird and I (Had Robinson) hiked up to launch
once again to fly the Franklins. We had thought conditions would
be stronger today and the opposite turned out to be the case. We
both were able to successfully launch and land. Being that our PG
flights were rather short, we re-launched by paramotor and were able to
enjoy the evening air in the Franklins.
Tom taking off from a perfectly good mountain. He is flying over
Deep Sink Canyon -- a place of (you guessed it) deep sink. He made
it to the LZ over a mile away. These short flights (sled-rides)
are important ways to gain confidence.
Tom landing after a nice flight in the Franklins. We carry the
required strobe lights when flying at the end of the day. Winds
were westerly. Then why is he landing to the east (downwind)
towards the mountains? Near sunset the
begins in the mountains. If the winds aloft are weak (as they
were), the katabatic winds will dominate. In this case, they are
180 degrees opposite the winds aloft. We have to be careful and
post windsocks in the LZ because we must be sure to land into the wind.
The LZ in the photo below is the main road coming into the Tom Mays Unit
of the Park. It has a stretch that can be used to land in either
October 7 Tuesday -- AGAVE HILL -- We have had but few days
when we could soar the Franklins. Unlike Dry Canyon, we have to
wait for west winds that go up thousands of feet. If they change
directions near the earth's surface, we can expect a lot of turbulence
which can be annoying and uncomfortable while flying in the mountains.
When conditions are right, we can enjoy both ridge lift and thermals at
the same time. Because of cooling late in the day, a pilot cannot
wait too long to "bench up" from launch. If the winds are strong
enough to soar Agave Hill, they will be way too strong higher up.
Instead, pilots must ride thermals up from Agave and THEN get into the
ridge lift higher up which also is mixed with thermals. Today was
the day to fly in the Franklins.
Tom Bird, Max Bennett, and I (Had Robinson) made the trek to the Tom
Mays division of Franklin Mountains State Park and up to
Agave Hill. The walk with
gear from the parking lot to launch takes about 15 minutes. I
launched first. This was Tom's first launch from a mountain site.
It was a time to get away from the familiarity and comfort of the sod
farm. Launching 1.5 hours or less until sunset runs the risk of
not being able to get up and over the top of the Franklins. I
launched at about 5:30PM which was 1.25 hours before sunset. I did
find one little thermal but it was just a tiny bit too weak to take me
up. Tom launched shortly afterward. By that the atmosphere was
calming down = becoming dead near the surface. If you can get away
and up from Agave, the winds are enough to stay up and are not affected
by the daily inversion. While we were at the LZ, the wind changed
at the surface and began its nightly flow down the mountain slopes.
While Max did not fly, he was a great help in picking Tom and I up at
the various LZ's scattered around the base of the mountains.
Tom packing up after his first successful free-flight from a mountain
Sneed's Quarry --- a popular rock climbing spot in Tom Mays. It
also was generating the small thermal that I almost got out in.
Had congratulating for his milestone in the air. In the background
is the top of the "Triangle". A pilot has to make it up the
Triangle in order to get high and over the top of the range. In
the far distance, the summit of N. Mt. Franklin can just be seen.
Well done Tom! (Photo by Max Bennett)
October 5-6 Sunday - Monday -- Flying in Fast Air -- We have
been blessed with a great mass of cold dry air that has ended our season
of quirky monsoon air. At altitude it was moving along at about
15+ knots which is fast for paragliders but it was smooth. It is
the same direction up for thousands of feet. This means less shear
turbulence = less getting bounced and thrown around so much. While
the surface of the earth is getting dark at the end of the day, the
atmosphere above was still brightly lit.
Gliding peacefully along without power and with the moon....
The U.S. - Mexico Santa Teresa border crossing just after sunset.
The border runs right up and down the middle of the photo. It is
not as dark as it looks.
October 3 Friday -- Training -- Shawn Goggin soloed today for
round 2 of his PPG1 training. He had amazing flights under tow.
What was unusual (and I do not remember ever seeing before) was a new
pilot having dead-on control of the glider while under tow. All
new pilots zigzag across the sky when they first tow as they must learn
how to finesse glider input. Not Shawn.... Now to be fair to other
new pilots, Shawn told me that had some 500 jumps as a skydiver.
This explains some of it -- he knows about canopies. However, A
paraglider is probably 10X more sensitive than a parachute so he still
had an amazing first set of flights -- nailed every one. Congrats,
Beside our winch that allows pilots much more time in the air to train
safely compared to launching from a small hill.