Santa Teresa, New Mexico -- El Paso, Texas
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Week of October 16 -- Everything is a "go" to train this week.
All training is dependent on weather conditions. Before coming out, check your email, this web site, or text us to be sure training is not canceled or moved somewhere. Training times can vary because of weather or equipment issues. Pilots can always arrive earlier than the scheduled times to study the weather, setup, and practice kiting.
Nearly every country in the world promotes and loves adventure sports, like hang gliding and paragliding. Switzerland even put an image of a guy paragliding on their 50 Franc note. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has opened the doors of Texas parks to USHPA pilots. Other public land administrators in the U.S. should do the same.
Nick Reiter, Nick Larson (yes, 2 Nicks), and yours truly headed out to Hwy 9 for a high tow tandem, because winds were nearly dead calm everywhere so towing is all we had. We met at the west launch (1/2 way to the Potrillos) and set up for a westerly tow. Towing a tandem is like pulling up a couple of sacks of potatoes and the two Nick's were not featherweights. Anyway, as I started the tow, the aluminum carabiner broke at the weak link so we had to stop. I warned everyone (among other things) that the link or something could force the tow to stop at any time. It was actually good because Nick #2 had never done a tow before and it gave him a good introduction while at ground level. The fickle winds started to be more east, so we set up for an easterly tow. I replaced the aluminum carabiner with a steel mallion which will never break. It does not replace the weak link, however, which was set to around 90 lbs.
Towing east was the ticket and the two Nicks went up - though slowly - as Nick #1 was flying his 38m glider right at the upper range limit. This is the beauty of towing -- winds can be almost from any direction and we can still get up and out.
Everything went just great. Nick #1 landed near the racetrack. It was a great afternoon. Southwest and west of us the sky was darkening so it was good to be on the ground. Below, the two Nick's ready to go! With the air as switchy was it was, when it was time to go -- everyone had to GO and GO FAST! Another great afternoon in the southwest.
The tandem on its way up!
Here is what we were looking at far off. It was good to get down when we did. These storms are really late in the season for the high desert.
Everybody - apparently - had to work or catch up so there was no one to join yours truly at Anapra -- not that it would be epic, of course. The local stations all reported air in the range SE @ 8 or so around 5PM today so it meant that conditions at Anapra would be marginable. I hustled out there and, as I was approaching the rim of the Mesa from the west, I saw the tops of the Creosote bushes waving around behind the rim. This is always a good sign but they were not waving a whole lot. I raced as fast as I could to setup and got into the air about 5:30PM. It was already starting to die down so I was not able to make more than a few passes up and down the rim of the Mesa. I side-hill landed just below launch, thankfully, as I saw the inevitable coming. Had I not forgotten my C class glider, I probably could have stayed up another 10-15 minutes.
After I landed, I kited at the rim for about a half hour. It's always good practice to do this. This is the only photo - kiting at launch. I had to whip out my camera, hold the lines in one hand and attempt steering, and then snap a pix. It was barely successful. A very pleasant but short flight....
Today, the intrepid Buzz Nelson was the first to fly the Federal Mine site in the Potrillo's. CONGRATULATIONS, BUZZ!
Tom Bird and I had worked on the site many weeks ago but we did not get a chance to fly it. The primary advantage of Federal over Torrey Paso is that you can drive a 4 X 4 within about 10-13 minutes of launch. Another important advantage is that the site is fully exposed and out front of the range. That is, it is not surrounded by fingers or set back in a bowl which can complicate the air coming in. Federal helps us to know what the air is like when it comes in from the flat desert that extends a couple of dozen miles out front. The hike is easy to the new launch which is about 1/2 the way to the top of the range. Torrey Paso is still an important site, especially if conditions are weak. Buzz had no trouble getting up and out at Federal.
The launch area. We made a big improvement on it but more needs to be done, especially getting rid of plant remains near the ground and removing sharp rocks which can slice glider lines.
Buzz a few seconds off launch. Down below, our truck can be seen at the original location of the mine. The mine was obviously productive as the tailings were enough to build a huge flat mesa out in front.
Buzz climbing out from Federal. The weather today was brisk and there was significant gusting. Lift was everywhere -- for now. Federal is about a mile south of Torrey Paso.
Buzz about a half mile out in front of Federal launch
About 15 minutes after Buzz launched, the wind direction turned much more south. I had planned to launch next but the change in wind direction made it more difficult to stay up. Buzz landed about 1/2 mile in front of the mine on the access road. Determined pilots can also land right at the mine.
WE SALUTE BUZZ' FIRST AND SAFE FLIGHT FROM THE NEW FEDERAL LAUNCH SITE!
Tom Bird, Buzz Nelson, June & Nick Reiter, and yours truly set out early for Mag Rim today. All the models looked good for soaring and getting up -- and they were! Today was unique because all pilots safely top-landed. We are sorry that Bill Cobb, Lee Boone, Mitch Graham, and Richard Matthews were unable to make it. If we had had just one pilot in the air, that would have been a record for this remote site. Nice work everybody!
Below, Tom, our flying meteorologist is checking the conditions around us. There were storms way north and a big cell working away south of Columbus. Any of these monsters can put out a gust-front, which the one to the south did but after we had landed and were on our way home.
Nick helping June do her first launch at Mag. She was the first to go.
What perfect launch style - lean forward, power forward, hands up.
Buzz setting up.
Nick is ready to go!
Tom was next.
Tom is visible at launch, moving forward, over the edge. Buzz (at center) was on his way up.
It was getting towards dusk. Here, Nick (L) and June (lower R) are out in front of South Point. The sun peaked through briefly and illuminated the Organ Mountains in the distance.
Buzz with Nick and June below. Tom was behind me.
Nick (L) and June (R) just when the sun was going down.
One of our first group photos at Mag L-R: Tom, Buzz, Nick, June, and what's-his-name. Thank you all for flying safely in such a fun and beautiful place!
Many were tied up with w*rk or other disasters and could not participate in the self-tow routine at the turf farms a.k.a. PPG.
We had another afternoon of organized and delightful fall air in the region and yours truly was able to take a long flight in the state of Chihuahua. If it were not for Hwy 9 and the border, you could not tell where you were. The desert wilderness goes on and on for 100 miles or so. Every few miles are the remains of cattle operations that once dominated this area. You always have to keep in mind that if you have to land down there, it could be a LONG walk back to the border and then you must hail a U.S. Border Patrol Agent in order to clear U.S. customs and immigration. It was fun to fly the UP Summit XC with all its speed and glide. Self-tow up high, cut the power, and go on glide for 6-8 times your AGL.
This is our PG and PPG training area at the Evergreen Turf Farms in Santa Teresa, NM. If every training area was as clear and unobstructed as this one, we would have 1/2 the number of accidents in our sport.
This is the view I had for nearly an hour. In the far distance is Chiracahua Peak SSE east of Safford, Arizona, 150 miles west of my location. There was plenty of moisture in the air and the NM Boot Heal and Villa Ahumada, Mexico were getting some good rain. Only in the great southwest. I had to turn around and go back to launch, as flying in the dark is not particularly a good idea. Besides, if I go down somewhere, will our beloved president, Rod Burton, be as agreeable to picking me up (as he done a few times)?
We had a mile thick inversion today which generally means anything happening above in the atmosphere has ZERO effect down where we fly most of the time. Pilots Bill Cobb and Buzz Nelson came out to practice their landing skills in the most buttery air I've ever seen in the afternoon in the desert. Thermals were non-existent. Both pilots did well. Bill had a less than soft landing one time but 10's for the rest. Buzz worked on nailing the LZ within a few feet consistently, a requirement for the P4. Tom Bird was also able to come and visit.
Bill coming in for a perfect landing -- he actually landed on top of the cone.
Buzz roaring off launch to a 1,000' AGL. His efficient Ozone BuzzZ5 got him extra high in the air. Notice his nice touch on the brakes -- feeling the input of the glider as it climbs out. It was a great afternoon of training how to become safer pilots. We still have way too many accidents, all of which would have been easily avoidable if pilots were more careful doing their pre-flights.
I put out the call early in the day on the RGSA Google group list that Mag could be really good this afternoon but, alas, I should have also put the note on Group Me because not all pilots got the message in time., (My apologies to Tom Bird.) Nick Reiter, however, did get it and we set out together from El Paso and arrived at Mag a bit after 5PM -- just in time to beat the calm conditions which usually occur near the end of the day at the surface.
Winds were about 13 mph gusting to 17 when we arrived. The air always comes nearly straight in at launch if the winds aloft are from SE to NW, just as it does more or less at the launches in the Franklins if the winds are anything from S to NW. This was Nick's first time at Mag so he spent some time at launch getting familiar with the air, something all experienced pilots will do.
He launched just after 6PM and I, shortly after that. We both flew about an hour (until sunset), climbed to 500' over launch, and top landed near the parking area. We did notice that the air was getting more SSE.
When I launched 15 minutes later, the winds aloft had already started turning SSE from south. As always, pilots should turn left and head down the Rim. I could tell the direction change because my forward speed over the ground as I went down the Rim dropped to a few miles per hour. The lift also was weaker and began to get turbulent as the SSE winds swirled around the Rim at the south end. Pilots have to be patient climbing out when the air is SE to south and not get close to the terrain as turbulence could cause a collapse. As soon as you arrive at the south end of the Rim, lift dramatically increases and the turbulence goes away.
Nick heading out from launch. Note carefully the horizon in the distance. There are some towering clouds a 100 miles away which I thought was worth keeping an eye out. The horizon is fairly clear, but for the clouds.
This photo of the south Rim was taken about 10 minutes later. Note how things have grown in the distance and the emergence of a dark band near the horizon.
A closer view of Nick on his way to the moon.
The Rim looking northeast. The Uvas Mountains are a barren wilderness. Nonetheless, they do contain secret oases with perennial water and enough to allow permanent settlements of Indians a century and a half ago.
A later view of the southeast and the southern tip of the Rim. The dark horizontal band continues to grow. This is an enormous mass of humid air (and why it is opaque) that is marching into the region from the Gulf of Mexico. I estimated that it was moving towards us at about 25 mph which turned out to be about the speed it was moving. While we were flying, I was watching this air mass, warily. The humidity of the region jumped from about 22% at 6PM to over 60% four hours later when this air mass hit us. As the night went on, the humidity jumped again to almost 90% by 5AM. This is damp air for the arid southwest. When I checked the models, they did show a change in the wind speed and direction towards the SE but it was not to occur until after 10PM -- the whole event started much earlier.
The air began to get somewhat twitchy, no doubt caused by the SE push that was overcoming the weaker southerly winds and air mass currently in place. The windsock in our parking area had started southwest but now was showing SE. It was time to land. Nick and I were thankful that the change in the weather (a major one!) was delayed long enough for us to enjoy the enchantment of flying Mag Rim!
Flying back to the parking area after our Mag Rim adventure. What a day!
Saturday afternoon at "Lake Turf" was pretty damp from the recent 2.5" deluge of water. We had to thread the 1/4 mile of tow line straight through the dry parts of the grass that spanned two farms (#3 and #2). Buzz Nelson came out to practice his landing skills and we were joined by new P-1 student, Steven Tighe of El Paso. While the farms were wet, the air was wonderful -- a steady 7-9 mph out of the SE. While we can fly when the air is calm, pilots get so much higher when there is a good breeze coming in.
Buzz was the first to launch (L) with Steven helping out by holding the drogue parachute away from the pilot about to launch.
Now it's Steven's turn. He followed the directions on how to launch very well and had an excellent first and subsequent flights.
Steven getting high under tow. Once at the end of tow, the new pilot detaches from the towline and does some simple turns under radio direction from the instructor. The tow line going out from the winch as it crosses the farms to the turn around pulley and up is just visible to the left.
Steven, off-tow. flying back behind launch in order to setup for landing.
Buzz getting up. It was getting late in the day and the moon added some magic to the flights.
Our number One site for pilots of all skill levels and where we can witness the stunning beauty of the vast high altitude desert of our region. Pilots Bill Cobb, Tom Bird, Buzz Nelson, Mitch Graham, Bill Cummings (who came to help out at the LZ), and yours truly (Had) waited the weekend for this!
There was a major storm in the area and our professional meteorologist and pilot, Tom Bird, was watching things to be sure we did not launch into a gust front created by the storm. These boundaries of fast moving air can be deadly and must be carefully watched.
Below, waiting for the "all clear". The storm can be seen passing north of us. L-R: Bill Cobb, Buzz, Tom, and Mitch. Bill Cummings was about a mile south at the main LZ in case Mitch (also an HG pilot) needed help. We were last here in March and it was amazing to see how the grass had grown.
Buzz was the first to launch after the storm had passed. What a great wind-dummy he is! Thank you.
Mitch bringing the Wasp up. Bill Cobb had just given some help -- whoever is on the ground and close by needs to be handy to assist pilots launch, as needed.
Climbing out at Mag. Buzz can just be seen in the upper right.
If Mag was within 30 minutes of Salt Lake City or San Diego, it would be the busiest ridge soaring site in the world.... As it is, a "gaggle" might be four pilots in the air at the same time, like today.
"Moonwalking" at launch. Mitch was hogging the launch area so I grabbed him by the leg and pulled him to edge where he and the Wasp had to fly away. I did let go of his leg so there would not be a tandem....
The view looking south from Middle Launch. Pick your spot to top land.
Tom working his way up in the weakening lift at dusk near the south end of the Rim. There is a huge incentive to stay up -- the vertical from the base of Mag (where a pilot can side-hill land) is over 500'. In the early days, I got to know that hike along with the joy of carrying all of my gear. If you start to get lower than the south end of the Rim -- LAND ASAP! We all got safely home but not without some diversions (flat tire, lost (then found) equipment, getting the hang glider back to the parking area, and general fumbling around in the pitch dark.
Bill Cobb practicing his kiting skills at Middle Launch -- one of the few soaring sites where pilots can choose to kite or launch. There is nothing better than being at launch with your glider ready to go. It helps build confidence in our skills.
Pilots present: Mitch Graham, Richard Matthews, Steve Crye, Tom Bird. Quite a crew!
We went to farm #1 first but the wind direction and the irrigation equipment would not permit easy setup for towing. New student Mitch Graham followed us through the mud and dirt as I sized up whether we could use it. I’m glad he did not get stuck….
We then went to farm #2 which, with southwest winds, is barely useable because of the pronounced change in altitude from one side to the other. In order to tow, we have to use the southerly quadrant which shortens our tow distance considerably = we can’t get pilots up as high as we normally do. We could have scouted out farm #4 but it was getting on and we needed to setup then and there and get people into the air.
Mitch and Steve towed while Richard did PPG. Tom assisted. Marilyn did her usual outstanding job of getting the drogue back to launch quickly to service the queue. (photo by Buzz Nelson)
Mitch is new in town (with the Army) and his day job is flying an Apache. He is self-taught in paragliding and one of the few we USHPA instructors have encountered who actually flies well. Good job, Mitch, in surviving the early stages of flying which are always the most hazardous. When he took the P1 exam at the shop, he came within 1 question of acing it and the question was one of a couple of “gimmies” that USHPA instructors debate about which is the correct answer. He also did well launching and landing within a few yards of the LZ every time. Richard flies the Chinook and having two helicopter pilots in training has been a privilege. Ultralights and helicopters have some common issues, such as the ever present (and risk) of task saturation. (photo by Buzz Nelson)
The winds were light but not switchy which made them somewhat difficult for Richard to practice forward launches (slightly uphill, no less) with his paramotor. The
lighter the air speed, the more critical it is to launch perfectly into the wind – and he did very well.
Steve practiced his forward inflations, tow technique, and nailing the LZ. (photo by Buzz Nelson)
I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off….
It was a great afternoon and evening, guys. So glad you all came out to work on being more skillful pilots. It is an investment in your safety and wellbeing. No one can ever be good enough.
Buzz Nelson, Tom Bird, and yours truly (Had) made the trek out to this small range 30 miles west of El Paso in hopes we might be able to take advantage of the easterly winds. We have been discussing the need for a new site that faces more east and that has easier access. So today, Tom and I explored the area around the Federal H Number One Mine (4,378' MSL 31.86257 -106.99967) which is about 0.3 miles SE of Torrey Paso and 250' lower. TP, however, is around a finger in the range and not visible from Federal. Our hope was to have Buzz at the TP launch and Tom and I above the mine somewhere and compare conditions.
It was great having Tom, a professional meteorologist, along to analyze the winds coming in. The forecast for the afternoon was 110-120@10. As is characteristic of the high desert, you might find anything when you go out. Both TP and Federal had similar obs: east@7-8 from when we got there.
I was at Federal early, my first time driving up the old access road. The first 75' is washed out badly and could be fixed with a concrete culvert and some gravel. The rest of the road is in good condition right up to the old mine shaft, which was filled in and posted. The mine area was graded flat and is about 165' N-S x 260' E-W. It has some bushes which could be removed to make it a useable LZ for PG. Approach would be from the sides. The east edge of the area has a sharp drop off so there is some rotor at the west end.
The rusted steel post marking the mine shaft is just to the right of my vehicle.
I hiked up the slope directly up and west of the mine and was impressed with the rocky slop which had minimal loose material and little vegetation, especially compared to Torrey Paso. Every 40 yards up or so, there is a natural bench. Having done so much site work over the years, it was easy to pick the best one that had the best slope in front, the clearest area, and was maybe 10-12 minutes from the mine.
Tom and I cleared some of the creosote and weeds and moved some big rocks to get a reasonable launch area. I set up my glider, preparing to launch. The winds were steady 90@8 at launch. I received Buzz' SPOT message that he had launched and we watched him fly out front of the range and go south, right over us. He was today's "wind dummy" and reported to us that the air was really horsey (gusty) so I was in no hurry to launch. By the time we really made the launch safe, the winds became really cross (per the forecast) and we called it a day. Photo by Tom Bird
We are anxious to try this new launch ("Federal") and see how it compares to Torrey. It is much more accessible and open out front. Will it be as easy to get up and out? We'll find out. While hiking down from launch, I almost stepped on this little guy, a Black Trail rattlesnake. I am very glad that these reptiles make noise when you get too close. Photo by Tom Bird
This was one of the busiest we've had at the farms in recent memory. The following pilots came out: Lee Boone, Richard Matthews, Matt Hayes, new PG/PPG student pilot Mitch Graham, and yours truly (Had). Lee tried out the Paramania GTX (being sold by a former student pilot) and the rest of us helped or worked on launch/land. PPG pilots, like PG, must become experts at landing without power. It is not easy to do. The air was twitchy today so we all quit pretty early. Some days, we can fly, tow, train, etc. the entire morning. Sometimes, we have to stop because of high pressure which makes the air very turbulent near the ground 2+ hours after dawn. After flying, we had a great discussion about active piloting with Lee making the important point that we must always be on the glider, sampling the air through the toggles. It is so safe to train at the farms - thank you again, Evergreen Turf.
Lee Boone and I (Had) almost went to Mag Rim this afternoon but, with Tom Bird's assistance, we decided it might be too weak so we went out to the turf farms -- a place of safety, open space, and away from congestion. We enjoyed over an hour of flying in buoyant air. In the photo below, we discovered some very good thermals at the end of the day and Lee decided to cut the power and thermal in them. The sunset is more like those near smoggy cities rather than in our high desert thanks to huge fires thousands of miles away. We both landed at the legal limit on glide.
Tom Bird and I (Had) made the trip out in hopes of a repeat of yesterday's air, which was epic. Today was a complete bust. The difference in the balloon soundings and forecasts was slight -- a tad lower winds, much lower humidity, and a little more southeast. For the last half of the afternoon we sat at the Torrey Paso launch and endured gusts in the low 20's and powerful thermals rolling in the entire time. Just at sunset, we went down to the lower launch and I was lucky to get off just in time for a short flight. Even so late, the air was still twitchy. We are going to work hard to figure out what was going on.
Just landed at the main LZ after sunset. Note that the windsock is pointing near south. Near the end of the day in this part of the desert, the winds generally move south. The desert is blooming like crazy, bugs and critters are everywhere.
Paragliding in south central New Mexico. The towering clouds in the distance are strong thermals coming off the Potrillo Mountains. It rains a lot out there, probably double of what we get in the Rio Grande Valley. Photo by Buzz Nelson
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