Tuesday, February 07, 2017

El Paso Paragliding

We arrived in El Paso on Jan. 31. We had emailed Had Robinson of Southwest Airsports asking about possible flying and he said he was flying that day.  So we headed up to Franklin mountain. We weren't sure where we were going so we left our wings in the car and hiked up the trail. We found a spot that looked like a potential launch, but no one was around. Had soon showed up, followed by a couple of other pilots. So we hiked back down the trail, got our flying gear, and hiked back up (about a 20 minute hike).

By the time the others got launched it was late and the wind was dying. We hadn't flown for three months (since Europe) so we were a little rusty. We'd hoped to at least do some kiting as a warm up but that hadn't worked out. Since we were running out of time Shelley decided not to launch. The launch is new and is still a bit rough and one of the other pilots had a lot of trouble with lines snagging on plants and rocks. Thankfully, I launched cleanly on my first try.

The landing zone next to the cars can be a bit of a stretch but I had a buoyant flight and reached it easily. You can land almost anywhere in the desert, but there are lots of prickly things that I wasn't keen on meeting! The others hadn't found much lift so I didn't bother scratching. The biggest challenge was connecting with Shelley who was driving around trying to find us!

The next day Had was instructing. He uses a stationary tow rig for training. We'd never towed on dry land (only behind a boat for SIV) so it was a good chance for us to try it out.

Shelley ready to tow

The sod farm is a perfect site - flat and smooth. Later in the day when there was some wind we practiced reverse launches which we hadn't done with towing before.  As usual my accuracy on landings left something to be desired, but it did improve over the day and my last flight I could have kicked the cone over as I landed.

Shelley aiming for the cone

Tow heights varied - my best tow was 335 m or 1100 ft - pretty good for a stationary tow. There were small thermals kicking off which helped lengthen the flights. On one of my flights I managed to string together a series of small thermals and stay up for 28 min. (apparently the second longest flight from the stationary tow here)

For our next adventure Had took us to Magdalena Rim, about an hour and a half drive north of El Paso. This is primarily a soaring site and we weren't sure there would be enough wind. There was very little wind on the drive there. But ironically, the wind at the site was too strong (over 20 mph). We hung around all afternoon hoping it would drop. Finally, just after the sun dropped below the horizon, it eased off. Had launched and had a nice flight. Shelley and I decided not to fly since it would be a short flight and we weren't sure about landing in the dwindling light.

Had getting ready to launch

The next day we had a message from Had that Mag Rim might be flyable that afternoon. I wasn't keen on spending another day parawaiting, but we wanted to fly. We found there was rock climbing close to the flying site so we figured we'd climb in the morning and hope to fly in the afternoon. But when we arrived we decided to check the conditions at the rim. Amazingly they seemed good (about 15mph) so we got ready and launched.

Shelley flew for about 40 minutes. Although the site is good for top landing, we don't have much experience with that and she decided to land at the bottom and hike up.

I kept flying. Although there was light cloud cover there were still some thermals coming up off the desert. I caught one stronger one (about 3 m/s) and went into thermalling mode (maybe not the wisest move), topping out about 3000ft over launch (at 2500 m or 8200 ft). But in the process I'd drifted back behind launch, and the wind had picked up so I had trouble getting back. I wasn't too worried though, because I had the flats to the side that I could escape to if necessary.

I swung wide around the end of the ridge to avoid any potential rotor turbulence and headed back to the front where I could soar again. I missed it by only a few hundred feet and had to turn out to the flats beside the road and land. Luckily a couple of local hang glider pilots (Robin and Bill) were just arriving and they picked me up. It was frustrating not to stay up, but I still had an hour and 40 minute flight which is nothing to complain about.

By this point the wind was too strong for paragliders to launch, but Robin gave it a try on his hang glider.

Robin launching

Unfortunately, he didn't manage to stay up and had a short flight. Again, around sunset the winds mellowed and Had and another pilot (Tom) had nice sunset flights.

Tom launching

We enjoyed the beautiful sunset on the drive out (while dodging the many rabbits that kept running across the road!)


See all 21 photos as a slideshow or overview

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