Santa Teresa, New Mexico -- El Paso, Texas
Explanations of the tools below and more weather info
El Paso National Weather Service - start here!
Meso West Region (Current conditions at stations in the SW - view profile without logging in)
Santa Teresa NWS (current conditions)
SPC Balloon Soundings (every 12 hours)
UoW Balloon Soundings - usually available before the SPC soundings 72364
NWS hourly graphical forecast - temp, winds, & gusting at the surface
NOAA Satellite image of clouds over west Texas - NM
National forecast of fronts, pressure & weather - easy to read
Soaring Forecasts - (go here for the thermal index)
Windy - animated map of winds and other data over the surface of the world.
Wind History Map - actual vs. forecasts
Week of July 24th -- Training this week. Note: we are completely booked for training for the reminder of the summer season.
All training is 100% dependent on weather conditions. Before coming out, check your email, this web site, or text us to be sure training is not canceled. If something comes up, we will attempt to contact scheduled pilots. 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.
Today had many firsts. We all want to officially welcome our newest pilots in the area, Nick and June Reiter. Nick is also a tandem pilot, like yours truly, and the first one to ever be in our region. It's been lonely out here and it will be great fun to have another. It means we can do tandem tows together (if he is also up for it) which are somewhat safer than mountain launches (in our high desert) and easier than PPG tandems.
Buzz Nelson did a first today to my knowledge -- being towed OVER a cloud. We are in G airspace and we all we must do is be clear of clouds. There is nothing about drogues and tow lines slicing through entire clouds, which is what occurred. The only way a paraglider or a soaring aircraft can safely get above cloudbase is to be towed much higher. Powered ultralights can do the same (I know) but there is all the noise and weight and time needed to get up that high.
"The couple that flies together, stays together" or something like that....
Nick and June hooked up to the drogue, ready to go.
On their way up
In the photo below, Buzz is off tow and has just flown down and down to the cloud, flying through the canyon between the two cloud peaks. When he went off tow and released the drogue, I began the rewind to bring it back. The towline cut completely through the cloud on the right. The drogue was in the "white room" for a bit and here is just re-emerging. It is about 1.25 miles away and just a tiny dot in the photo. The thin white vertical line is the towline. Normally when I begin the rewind, I cannot see the drogue but here it has a white background and shows up. The drogue is more than a parachute. It has an airfoil built in (by Marilyn) so it actually flies and does not just sink to the ground. It also has a satellite communicator so if the hapless pilot gets snatched by some alien tractor-beam from Planet X-34r, we know where to send the rest of his belongings.... It also helps if we have a line break and the drogue drifts away for miles through the air. Where did it go? The SAT comm constantly relays to a satellite its coordinates which in turn are sent to my cell phone. It's pretty clever these days -- and I will not lose the drogue!
And now the pilot's view --
Buzz gliding between the (2) cloud peaks
In another world only soaring aircraft can experience. The towering clouds in the distance are very strong thermals coming off the Potrillo Mountains. It rains a lot out there, probably double of what we get in the Rio Grande Valley.
Nick and June along Highway 9 after landing north of the road. This is his first time flying around here and he did a perfect landing which means he kept his glider out of the mesquite, the worst line-eaters in the world. It can take 40 minutes to pick all the glider lines out of this small tree. Congrats on your first successful flight in our region.
Buzz did not get snatched by aliens so he had to land somewhere -- about ten miles away after doing some XC through rowdy air -- which is what we have much of the time here. He landed on the east site of "Mesquite Fever Swamp" near the E. Potrillo Mountains. The roads (and I) were on the west side of the jungle so he had a bit of a walk. Buzz just emerged from the mesquite rain forest. We had radio contact and GPS coordinates and that's how we connected for the ride back to the launch area on Highway 9.
This is NM County Road #8 near where Buzz landed -- or what a good dirt road looks like after a deluge in the desert. Usually most cars and trucks can get through these places but today it's 4 wheel drive only.
What an historic day for paragliding in the southwest!
There was quite a crowd Saturday morning at the East launch on Hwy 9. Pilots Buzz Nelson and Richard Matthews setup in the light winds that morning. Watching it all were: Richard's mom, Catherine, pilots Rylan McCollum and his girlfriend, Sam, Bill Cobb, and Joe Herrera.
Richard was the first to launch, making it to a little over 10K' MSL. Buzz launched next but, thanks to me (Had) being in a hurry to rewind the drogue for a re-launch, I managed to create one of the worst line tangles I've ever had -- so much for thinking that when you have experience you can do everything faster, some things, yes.... It took maybe an hour to fix the mess and then it was too late to launch. Buzz would have to wait until the next day for his epic flight.
L-R: Buzz Nelson, Bill Cobb, Catherine Matthews, Joe Herrera, Sam, Rylan McCollum, and Richard Matthews preparing to launch.
Richard had the bonus of doing his first thermalling today, trying his luck in the light thermals that came off the racetrack close to the launch area. He was able to stay up a full 10 minutes longer than if he had just set up for landing. Below, he is coming in to land on a dirt road near the racetrack. It was tricky to do because there are thermals drifting in from the racetrack and, at any moment, a pilot could enter lift and get popped up again or enter sink and then lose altitude very quickly. Just before he touched down, he got in serious sink and came in short. It's hard to predict what the air in the desert will do. In any case, pilots should always setup so that they are coming in straight and level at 50-75' off the ground. Maneuvers and turns near the ground place the wing in an unstable configuration which is something to avoid when close to the terrain.
Buzz getting his gear ready. It was a great day for towing on Highway 9.
Richard Matthews, Buzz Nelson, and I headed out late in the afternoon to the east launch on Hwy 9. There were storms here and there and we had to check in with the National Weather Service to verify that the outflow from collapsing storms was done for the day. We noticed that the wind direction changed back to the forecast after the storms were done. We setup for launching. Both pilots got way over 9K' and were able to be towed up through the layers of the atmosphere. It is always an amazing thing because it cannot normally be done except via tow or power. Soaring pilots cannot get any higher than the lift from thermals which stop at cloud base (assuming they are not caught in the center of an overdeveloping cumulus nimbus). Buzz and Richard were able to see some beautiful sights.
Buzz was first to go. The paramotor on the winch is for locating pilots who land far out in the desert or who may need help. If I (the tow operator) lose contact with a pilot and he lands somewhere, I can launch with the paramotor, establish radio contact in the air, and find him/get coordinates. There were actually puddles of water out here after the recent rains.
At the beginning of the tow and at about 50' of altitude, the tow line jumped the drum and jammed. This is something that is rare (about once every 5 years). The photo below shows the instant the tow weak-link broke between the drogue parachute and the tow bridle attached to the harness. Buzz landed safely on the road, I pulled over and reeled in the drogue, and we just immediately started another tow. Traffic was not a problem because we do not tow unless the road is clear of traffic for miles in each direction. The weak-link is a critical safety feature. Notice that the pilot is not noticeably pitched forward at the time of the break. Because of the sophistication of this towing system, we can use weak-links that break at about 60 lbs. force which is just a few pounds more than the towing force.
Richard took this photo of Buzz on his way up.
Buzz is getting high! The winch has over 10,000' of Spectra line, a very thin, flat, aramid fiber weave that is extremely strong.
This is a photo of Richard within a thousand feet of the top of his tow. He is almost invisible in the photo, a tiny speck. Both pilots remarked how beautiful it was up there.
Buzz took this photo while still on tow going east. The Franklin Mountains are visible in the distance. Hwy 9 is the straight line on the ground -- the tow vehicle is not visible.
This fascinating photo Buzz took shows the heavy layer of moist air near the earth's surface. The East Potrillo Mountains are visible with the twin peaks of Mt. Riley and Mt. Cox just poking through.
Everyone landed at the launch area after a great evening of flying. We are fortunate to have this lonely stretch of road in the middle of nowhere to tow up pilots. Well done, guy! Safe flights!
Rather than be towed up by the winch for his first PPG flight, Richard Matthews opted for foot launch. Everyone has to learn how to do it safely. There is a lot going on when a pilot launches with a paramotor. The throttle gets in the way of both the brakes and holding the risers while inflating the glider. And then there is applying power at just the right moment. It's all "practice, practice, practice."
Today there was enough air coming in for a reverse launch, always the best because the glider is fully visible at the most critical time -- while getting it overhead. Richard did it well and had a successful launch and flight, practicing various maneuvers. Below, he had just landed. It was time to come down because the storm, though 20 miles distant, was getting stronger and outflow would be on its way.
Richard Matthews and I (Had Robinson) went out to the Evergreen Turf farms to train this afternoon. The weather was bucolic but, just in case, I called the weather station in Santa Teresa to get the final word on outflow and other storm related events. The word was "zilch". We were practicing forward and reverse inflations with a paramotor and then -- in just minutes -- we noticed a dark cloud overhead. Next came a few drops of rain. As it is not the best to get the equipment wet, we walked back to the truck which also had my utility trailer behind it.
The rain began to increase, including the wind. It was not going to be a small event! The winds began to build and the rain began to pour down. We both went into the utility trailer with the gear. It was a good idea to have brought the trailer! The rain and wind continued and got stronger. At 8PM it was still going at the turf farms so we called it a day.
Here we are in the trailer -- at least out of the winds and water. We are a bit wet and now we must prepare the equipment for travel back home.
Just before we took off for home. It was still raining....
Buzz Nelson and Richard Matthews came out in the late afternoon to setup at the east launch (10.5 miles west on the highway. Conditions were rowdy at 4:30PM with storms popping up everywhere. We just waited and everything calmed down. Both pilots had perfect tows and got over the tops of all the local mountain ranges.
Buzz checking the wind speeds. There were many outflows from storms in the Tularosa Basin. We knew they were done when the wind direction and speed returned to the forecast values. Buzz got to about 90% of maximum altitude because winds near the surface were 12+ and higher up they became almost calm. The tow vectors become less optimal because of line drag (about 10,000'). When winds are uniform going up, pilots will top 10,000' MSL. Thermals were weak but Buzz was able to get in a few. He landed down near the turn off for the E. Potrillo mountains.
A new P2, Richard prepares for his first high tow. On the side, he flies the Chinook helicopter which can lift a modest 50,000 lb. Richard topped out at about 8,600' MSL. The view is pleasant at that altitude and the air is cool. Nice work, boys.
The view of the towed pilot, about 1.5 miles away. Richard was able to keep his eye on the tow vehicle -- a fairly difficult task as it appears as a slow moving "dot". But which dot?
This canyon and many others that have a similar shape are located just north of the Rio Grande river approximately 115 miles east of Big Bend National Park. One word sums up the area: desolate. There is little soil in the region. It is so poor that only sheep and goats can graze the few bits of tough scrub brush there is. The solid rock surface of the area is divided up by numerous canyons that all feed into the river. They are rarely more than 100' deep and have vertical walls. Most have water at the bottom which gives life to the birds and animals of the region. Long ago, Indians made their homes in these canyons and on the adjacent canyon tops. Seminole Canyon is a Texas State Park and has remarkable signs of a long-lost pueblo of people living at a subsistent level. I spent a few days there, hiking and flying (outside the Park).
There are few bright colors in this part of the world -- an almost moonscape but for the canyons. Time is near dusk. To the lower right is Seminole Canyon. In the far distance, the canyon connects to the Rio Grande river, an international border. The Mexican side does not have deep canyons and is lower in altitude. The water in the Rio and in the Canyon is from the Amistad dam, approximately 35 miles southeast.
The entrance of Seminole Canyon at the mouth of the Rio Grande. Sporadic rainfall, high winds, and rock make this area relatively unpopulated by anything.
West of Seminole Canyon, the remains of the original SP Railroad bed can be seen. It must have been an enchanting journey to travel through here on your way to El Paso from Houston. The entire rail line had to be hacked out of solid rock in this area. The Pecos River canyon is the most spectacular of all the canyons and had, for a time, the 3rd highest railroad trestle in the world.
This is flat country and the only practical option for most paragliding or hang gliding is powered. Marilyn and I (Had) drove from NE Oklahoma to the far SW part of the state, what is the edge of the Great Plains. It's not dry yet here so deep grass covers the area. I flew with Jason Tilley (stationed at Ft Sill) and we practiced various skills, including executing turns while on speed bar using the bar alone. If the glider does not have the lines for tip steering, this is safest way to turn the glider because its shape is not distorted from pulling the brake lines. All flights should have some sort of exercise which will improve pilot safety.
Tall grass can hide holes and gullies so all aircraft have to be careful launching and landing in it. Below, Jason climbing out from our little launch area. A neighbor graciously gave us permission to use his field. Now, we need to find a tractor to mow a small square in it.
Jason getting ready to launch. Is this were farther west, we would have to deal with brush, one of the greatest nuisances to paragliders.
Bill Cobb came out late in the afternoon to improve his kiting skills -- something essential to safely handling a glider at launch. The winds were in the upper single digits which forces students to get the glider up quickly or get dragged around LOL. Just before dark, I was able to fly my 42m tandem wing solo with my paramotor. Speed through the air? Just 10 mph. It's a ton of fun but eerie flying so slowly, something only a large paraglider can do. The downside is that the glider is very lightly loaded which makes it unstable. Because of this, we can only fly these giant wings solo when conditions are completely dead (no thermals or turbulence in the air).
Bill was able to keep his glider overhead for minutes -- something that is not as easy as it looks.
While Buzz was up at Transmountain, Bill Cobb and I continued training at turf farm #4. Winds were light but we were able to kite. Bill is getting better and better as he learns to read his glider. Inputs are always subtle and must be timed accordingly.
A great (safe) exercise to learn how a paraglider works with a pilot hanging underneath is to do “Mesquite Slalom” with a PPG. You have to begin the turn way before you reach the curve in the trail. The glider goes inside the turn and you swing through the turn. And then you have to anticipate what’s head and stop the turn, perhaps, etc. We are the only aircraft that hangs down below the airfoil. I have spent years doing these exercises and it is still hard – and completely unnatural. But it’s a blast doing it and being maybe another couple of feet higher than if you were on a dirt bike. It’s one way to learn active piloting with less risk.
No photos because I forgot my flight deck!
My camera has been in repair for some time. It's great to have it back.
The Gardner Turfgrass farms were recently purchased by Evergreen Turf, an Arizona company. Over the years, we have seen the farms go through three owners now. Thankfully, we are not facing loss of such an important training and flying site -- one of the safest I know in the U.S. along with Britton Shaw's operation in Ft. Smith, AR.
Today we had student pilots Bill Cobb, Brian Ives, and Joe Herrera come out to kite, help, and fly. Bill banged away at getting his kiting skills up to par and Brian continued to launch/land a dozen times to perfect his technique getting to and from earth. Joe helped us get pilots in the air. PPG has nothing comparable to learning in such a short time how to launch and land. After a grueling afternoon of work, Brian and I did a short XC trip and landed just when we had to!
Brian and yours truly celebrating a very productive day -- for all.
It was bound to happen!
After the pilot pins off from tow, the drogue floats down. In this case, it floated down over a power line nearby thanks to a change in the wind direction. Thankfully, it is extremely dry around these parts and the line is also made of insulated material = we got the line down safely. There are so many things that can go wrong in aviation and why we must be so careful.
Buzz Nelson, a former rock climber, discovered and developed this site in the Franklin Mountains State Park (El Paso, Texas). It is now our best in the Park, thanks to his tireless efforts in making it safe. Our congrats to him for his help in promoting our sport in the southwest. It is near one of the main trails going to the peaks and there are always visitors.
Buzz preparing to launch...
...and flying away. It is easy to find all sorts of lift in the Park.
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