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SOUTHWEST AIRSPORTS

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Kilbourne Hole maar

Doña Ana County, New Mexico; east launch 31.968833° -106.953967°, 4,360 MSL 440' AGL (main LZ) directions

USHPA required notification: The RGSA and Southwest Airsports recommend that you do not fly at this site as it is not a chapter managed site.  If you do choose to fly at this site, you must take full responsibility for your actions, and recognize that you are fully and solely liable for any damage incurred by yourself, others, or others’ property. This site is unimproved with significant safety issues, including potentially challenging wind and thermal conditions. Flying at this site can be risky to the pilot, property owners, and our sport as a whole. This site is unpermitted, uninsured, unmanaged, and unimproved.

Soaring a maar is unusual because it can be flown with winds from most any direction.  A pilot can soar around the rim and find the "sweet spot" for that particular wind direction.  This is a very thermic site because of the abundance of black basalt around the rim.  Consequently, winds at launch can be exceedingly turbulent when the sun is out.  If a pilot wants to only ridge soar, the best times are late in the day or when it is overcast.  If the winds are too high at launch, wait until 15 minutes before sunset and launch.  After sunset, the winds almost always die off near the surface but if a pilot launches at sunset and gets a few hundred feed high, he will be in the winds aloft and not be affected by the inversion and soar until it is too dark to see. 

WARNING:  While soaring, the moment the pilot gets less than 25' below launch, MOVE out in front of the basalt cliff towards the LZ.  The bottom of the rim near the top of this cliff is strewn with boulders and rocks and is NOT a good landing area. Less experienced pilots should do a sled ride from launch to the LZ if ridge soaring conditions are weak or "iffy".  Remember to always head for the LZ if you find yourself below launch.

Thermalling above Kilbourne Hole maar.  The black basalt cliffs (middle right) just off launch are the source for the thermal the pilot is climbing in. The pilot here first got up with ridge lift and then found a thermal out front to get even higher.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Marginally flyable with winds from the southeast and south.  Somewhat better with winds from the southwest.  When winds are west or northwest it is the best.  The black basalt gets intensely hot and generates powerful thermals which, during the heat of the day, block the winds making soaring difficult to say nothing of excessive turbulence.  The bottom of the maar has lighter winds so the LZ is always a safe bailout in case high winds are encountered at the rim. Getting blown over the back of the rim is not an issue except that a pilot may get his glider in the bushes.  The LZ is a huge (1/4 mile on each side) grassy/weed area that is free of obstacles.  Please keep an eye out for the occasional drain holes (6" in diameter or so) that go from the surface to the lava dome deep in the earth.  This is why the bottom of the maar is not a lake.

Flying along the north section of the eastern rim.  Winds were WSW at around 12 mph.   East launch is behind the pilot.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Kilbourne Hole maar is one of just a few places in the world where the mineral Green Peridot (an olivine crystal) can be found.  However, the mineral found here is not of particularly good quality.

Below, soaring high above the east rim of the maar.  The LZ is just visible to the left.

Kilbourne Hole maar

View of the east launch site from near the LZ (good for south, southwest, west, and northwest winds).  The black basalt cliff to the lower right is an excellent thermal generator.  Pilots can easily find thermals just off launch on bright sunny days.

Kilbourne Hole maar

The east launch (in photo above) is the best because 1.) It is the highest part of the rim with the most lift and 2.) The prevailing winds are from the SW most of the year.  This launch is good with winds from the southwest to the northwest.  It can even be flown with winds from the south but the soaring range is only about 75 yd. – a good challenge as the pilot must be constantly turning back and fourth.  It is better to use the north launch if winds are south or southeast.  Top landing is easy anywhere around the rim as it is clear of obstacles and rotor.  The east launch can be easily flown by H/P2's as it is the closest to the LZ and an easy sled ride.  The safest turn is to the right as it puts the LZ closer in case conditions are very weak.  Other launch sites around the rim (depending on wind direction) require more skill and are rated H/P3 with an instructor present.

A pilot prepares to launch from the east rim.  Winds were strong that day and everyone got up!

Kilbourne Hole maar

Pilots should stay back near the top of the rim which is the area of maximum lift if altitude is less than 100' AGL.  If winds are less than 9 mph, plan on doing a sled ride as there is not enough lift to keep a pilot up.  Pilots do not want to land at the base of the rim (just above the basalt cliff) as there are boulders everywhere.  With moderate winds, it should be no problem to stay 100' over launch.  Winds of 14+ will take the pilot to at least 200' over launch.  Once a pilot gets 200'+ AGL, the lift zone gets much wider, laminar, and more consistent  It is a breathtaking to soar a maar as a pilot can safely explore the limits of the lift in either direction.  If you do this, be prepared to top land at any time.

Instructor Had Robinson soaring Kilbourne Hole maar – looking south.  Launch is about a mile in the distance.  Note that it is a somewhat overcast day.  When the sun is out, abundant thermal blocking of the winds at launch occur and it is harder to soar but easy to catch thermals.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Soaring 600' over – a record for this maar.  Launch is directly below.  The winds this day were SW at 15 -18 mph at launch.  View is south.  No one is yet sure how this altitude was reached but was probably a combination of a huge thermal generated in front of launch and ridge lift.  No one has yet gone XC from Kilbourne Hole maar.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Northwest launch looking southwest.  Robin Hastings is just getting ready to launch his hang glider – he is the first to fly a hang glider at the maar.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Caution

Southwest of the east rim launch at the base is a small canyon just east and behind the basalt cliff.  If a pilot is ridge soaring the SW face of the east rim launch in weak conditions and he drops below launch, he should stay clear of this area as there is significant shadow/rotor behind the canyon at the base of the launch and he will quickly sink out.  In high wind conditions, there may be strong rotor.  Side hill landing, however, behind the canyon and at the base of launch is possible but there are boulders close by.  Landing in this area is an advanced skill.  A better and safer place to side hill land is more south of launch in weakening conditions.  A side hill landing in this area is fairly easy and much safer.  It is important for the pilot to always be aware of weakening conditions and be prepared to immediately side hill land or go to the LZ.

View of east launch from the south – note the clear, open area!

Kilbourne Hole maar

LZ  31.971866° -106.963756° The LZ is huge but it is surrounded by mesquite.  It's a 30 minute drive to the bottom of Kilbourne on a rough and steep road (4 wheel drive only with low pressure in tires).  Pilots can always hike back to launch with their gear – about 45 minutes.

Turbulence is minimal at Kilbourne.  First time pilots should have a guide if they are not experienced P3's with mountain launch skills. This site has some cell service at the top of the rim but is unreliable.  Ham radio (147.160 mHz) or satellite phone is the only reliable means of communications.  Do not fly this site alone without checking in with someone.  Kilbourne is remote and is a "dark sky" site (no electric lights) = a beautiful place to camp.  The night sky is a brilliant display.

View of the LZ (light area) from the east launch.  It is a 1/4 mile in diameter, flat, and easy to land it.

Kilbourne Hole maar

Brad Gray enjoying dusk at the maar out in front of the east launch – it's a magic time.

Kilbourne Hole maar

vulture