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)
Wind Map #1 - animated map of winds and other data over the surface of the world.
Wind Map #2 - this animated map loads faster but is the US only
Wind History Map - actual vs. forecasts
June 26Sunday PM – Widespread storms in the area are generating severe gusts (outflow) so all training is canceled in the interest of pilot safety.
Contact us to schedule/confirm if you want to train at the sod farms or fly our area sites.
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, we will attempt to contact scheduled pilots. We usually train at sod farm #4. Training times can vary because of weather or equipment issues. Pilots can always arrive earlier than the scheduled times to setup and practice kiting.
Most countries love adventure sports like hang gliding and paragliding. Switzerland, for example, 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.
Well, that is what it seems when we fly west of here. It is just all open space and, to the native, a land of enchantment. The desert is full of wonders and, as often as not, air that is going bonkers from all of the heat. Today was a good day to enjoy the immense amount of moisture in the air and low cloudbase. The forecast was for conditions to get really strong in the late morning so I had plenty of time. I launched from sod farm #1 and headed due west to the East Potrillo Mountains and the Torrey Paso, LZ, in particular. Going out, I got in some very strong lift under a cloud at 8 in the morning -- still trying to figure that out. Our resident meteorologist, Tom Bird, might know what THAT was. The lift was over 800'/min. This value is expected in the middle of the day but when it's early and cloudy? It could have been atmospheric ridge list (one layer colliding with another in a sort of convergence).
I landed at TP, took a break, and then launched in what was then increasingly strong and horsey air. I started back but then changed my mind and made a beeline for Hwy 9 about 5 miles to the south. On the way, I had to land because of high winds. They calmed down briefly and I continued to Hwy 9. Why towards Hwy 9? I knew that if I had to abort the journey, it is much easier for someone to pick a pilot up off of Hwy 9 then some dirt back road. On hitting 9, I started east. Things continued to deteriorate and, when I quit moving forward in the air, I knew it was time to land. Rod Burton -- bless his heart -- was so kind and picked my sorry backside up and took me back. Thank you Rod for rescuing your instructor!
Below, looking up at the clouds that were at 9,000' MSL. The lift under this one was intense.
Looking west towards the East Potrillo Mountains. You don't want to go down here because it is a LONG walk to anywhere.
I walked about mile with all of my gear to get to a good place for pickup. It was not necessary but I needed the exercise anyway.
My hero, Rod Burton, after we arrived back at the sod farms and exchanged vehicles. He drove my Tacoma out to the Potrillos. It would have been a very long walk, otherwise. Thank you, Rod!
Early Sunday morning we had one of the largest crowds we have had to date for flying and training at the sod farms. Those attending: Ken Hunkus (PPG), Daniel Rivera PPG), Heather Coulon (PPG), Keighley Hastings (tandem), Robin Hastings (HG), Nancy Hastings (expert witness), Jason Tilley (PPG) and yours truly, Had Robinson.
The tasks were two: 1.) Be able to ground track while keeping a constant altitude. This sounds easy but isn't. To do this successfully, pilots must practice enough so that the throttle is a part of muscle memory, like the gas pedal on a car. Who thinks about the gas pedal e.g. 1/3 now 1/4 now stomp on it! etc. 2.) Be able to land within 10 miles of the LZ marker. Actually, everyone is getting better at this. Flying anywhere but in the high desert is easy, like learning to swim with a life jacket on. Any pilot can nail the LZ if the winds are not light variable or raging, as is often the situation here. Again, practice, practice, practice.
Keighley Hastings also had her first PPG tandem with yours truly. She is the first passenger I've had who got it all right the first flight: Ran hard in the right direction (LOL), did not sit down when launching, nor did not throw up. Well done! To be fair, she did take a tandem HG ride a while ago, which is good prep for a PPG tandem. Here is 1.5 minute video of some highlights of her tandem flight. The guy who is waving at the camera is our eminent vice president of the RGSA, Robin Hastings -- and father of Keighley. Ken Hunkus supplied the video equipment and footage for the video. Thank you, Ken! Robin took the photo below of Keighley and I.
Students Heather Coulon, Ken Hunkus, Jason Tilley, and our best pilot in the region, Lee Boone, showed up for PPG training and general flying at the farms. On Friday at dawn Lee Boone began tandem training, the best time of day. That same morning Lee tried my tandem motor, the Polini Thor 130, and my favorite solo wing for all but the most advanced pilots -- the Ozone Buzz. Since the air was weak, he had to do a forward inflation with the heavier motor. Here is the video of it. Nice work!
Heather getting ready to do an unassisted forward launch. That is, a PPG launch that is not done with the assistance of the winch.
Ken just ready to launch. There is about six things every pilot must do the first 15 seconds of launch -- and why practice is so important because you don't have time to think of them all in an individual way.
Lee after flying his Paramania GTR reflex glider. These gliders are very fast and very responsive.
Sunday morning had high winds at the sod farm -- but within the limits of newer pilots. Jason is in the reverse position prior to turning forward and launching. He is examining his glider to be sure it is ready to go. In high winds it is easy to blown over when carrying a paramotor so things have to be perfect before turning forward. Once turned, the pilot must apply power and go during high winds or quickly get blown about, usually falling down and getting dragged.
FLYING TANDEM -- The guy on the left is yours truly. The pilot in command with his eyes closed is also our local comic, Lee Boone. Actually, we are both having more fun than any bunch of guys are allowed to have flying tandem. The wing is enormous and, being so heavily loaded, is more tolerant of turbulence than solo gliders. I am training Lee how to fly tandem. The biggest difference is launching when the passenger (the person is front) does not know anything about how to fly a paraglider. They routinely SIT DOWN, DON'T RUN, THROW UP, etc. which is why it is ALWAYS more fun to fly another pilot! Southwest Airsports is offering free tandems for the rest of June and early July to celebrate our becoming a PASA certified flight school -- one of about 30 in the entire U.S.
Not giving up on their training in all conditions, Jason Tilley, Heather Coulon, and Ken Hunkus met me (instructor Had Robinson) for a late evening of soaring at Kilbourne Hole. The forecast for late today put the winds in the middle teens. When we arrived at the Hole, winds were strong, sometimes gusting to the low 20's. We all waited until near dusk and beyond to see if the winds would slow down -- they didn't. I thought about the hang glider pilots? Where were they? This was a PERFECT day for hang gliding.... A little bit after sunset, I decided to launch in the strong air which was right at the limits for paragliding which means the moment you launch you go backwards in the air! Kilbourne Hole is among the safest launch areas in the world in that both in front (the Maar) and behind (over the "back") are safe to land in. That being so, strong air (14 mph+) should not be flown in except by experienced pilots (P3 and above). The fact that I would get blown backwards once I launched was a possibility and I was ready to assume that risk.
PILOTS MUST NEVER LAUNCH UNLESS THEY ARE READY TO ASSUME THE RISKS INVOLVED which is why new pilots Ken, Heather, and Jason decided to stay on the ground.
Heather, Ken, and Jason waiting for things to calm down -- which it never did. The white speck is the moon. The winds were strong enough to blow my glider around (foreground) and the pilots were guarding my wing from the gusts that were passing through.
The winds were ripping through launch despite it being so late in the day.
Once I launched it become clear that top landing would be impossible. Inflating my glider was tricky -- I had to run forward (downwind) to keep from being dragged when my glider entered the "power zone". The moment I stopped and turned to face windward, I shot up like a rocket in the firm but high winds -- and started to slowly move backwards. This meant that the winds over launch (as expected) were in the low 20's. As I was not ready to land yet, I used the speed system on the glider to move forward in the air and go out in front of launch and kept climbing up. I had never gone so far out in front of launch while still climbing. None of these events were a surprise. It was TIME to land (getting dark) so I snapped the photo below. Launch, the orange windsock, and our two vehicles are barely visible in the photo. Right after this, I turned 180 degrees and took off downwind, 1/4 mile behind launch. I landed in the bushes east of the Hole safely in light winds because of the nightly inversion that occurs in the desert. It is about 50' thick and is a nice safety zone in case pilots get caught in really high winds. It was a fun (for me) evening and instructive for everyone.
Once more, pilots Jason Tilley, Heather Coulon, and Ken Hunkus came out in the very early morning to improve their skills. Today was perfecting the reverse launch. Here is a YouTube video of Ken's first PPG reverse launch. He had spent a lot of time FIRST learning how to kite his paraglider -- the secret of launching and landing safely, at the least.
Heather getting setup just after dawn.
Jason checking his glider BEFORE turning to launch. This is why pilots must master this type of launch -- it is a safety issue.
These two days were some of the best air we have had for training pilots in months. At dawn on both mornings, the winds were steady, averaging about 7 mph until late morning on Saturday and mid-morning on Sunday. The sky cover Saturday gave us many hours to tow pilots up and for them to test their skills doing reverse inflations without being towed up.
Pilots Jason Tilley, Ken Hunkus, Heather Coulon, and Doak Hoover (help only) came out near dawn to practice. L-R: Jason, Ken, Heather, Doak, Marilyn & Had Robinson. Marilyn is expert the ATV rider who finds the drogue parachute and returns it to launch with the tow line so pilots can fly!
Foot launching with a paramotor takes more skill than launching without because of the weight, noise, and dynamic forces needed to leave the earth. If winds are calm, pilots must do one of the hardest feats in paragliding -- a forward inflation. It is so difficult because you cannot see the glider during the most important times of the inflation. Pilots were instructed to launch and land as many times as possible while doing benign maneuvers while in the air including big ears, 360 degree turns, flying a course, keeping a constant altitude, and learning to land in strong conditions.
These two days marked the first independent powered flights for Ken and Heather. Jason continued his training on forward inflations in weak conditions. All pilots saw how much the winds can vary in strength and direction off the earth's surface. Everyone successfully completed his PPG2 rating from the USPPA. Congratulations pilots!
Heather and Ken (background) getting geared up at dawn for 3 hours of training -- about all anyone can do.
Ken ready to launch by tow his first PPG flight. I will tow him high in the air, he will release from tow, and then start his engine. Getting towed up takes nearly 100% of the risk when launching with an engine -- because it is off. Ken's first flight was perfect, thanks to the requirement that all pilots must first learn to safely fly a paraglider before adding the complexity of powered flight. The next day, Ken completed his first powered flight independent of the tow system. What this means is that a pilot must launch under his own power -- always daunting the first time anyone does it.
A long distance photo of Heather getting towed up sans engine for a practice flight. She was over 500' high when I snapped this photo.
Jason doing a reverse inflation. His engine is running but he must first make certain that the glider is stable and directly overhead. In a moment he will rotate 180 degrees, move forward, and go to full power in a few seconds. This rotation must be done quickly because once facing forward, a pilot loses most visibility of his wing and has to guide it largely by feel.
Saturday afternoon was perfect for advanced training in PPG and, near dusk, for a Discovery Flight. For the former, we had Jason Tilley and for the latter, a new trainee, Daniel Beauchamp. Jason was learning the complex technique needed to launch a paraglider with an engine. There are about (8) things that must be done at the same time and why flying a paraglider really well requires hundreds of hour practice. The magic moment for good paraglider pilots who begin using an engine to launch is when the throttle becomes second nature. The winds were about 9-12 mph most of the afternoon and allowed him to do a reverse launch (face the wing, bring it up, and then turn and go). I (Had Robinson) required him to as many launches and landings as he could do that afternoon.
Jason just got his glider up, stabilized, and is turning CCW to begin his (successful) launch run. There is a LOT going on just at this moment.
Daniel coming in for a landing after his Discovery Flight.
Daniel landed at dusk. The reason for giving student pilots their first flight near/at dusk is because that is when the atmosphere calms down and presents the most pleasant air for those who have never flown a paraglider before. CONGRATS and GOOD WORK for your first solo paraglider flight!
When cold dry air collides with warm moist air, this happens:
Family and other matters prevented me (Had Robinson) from spending the Memorial Day weekend at the EFD but I was able to drop in on Monday around noon. As it turned out, everybody bailed but Aaron Butler (our newest PPG instructor in Oklahoma and a former student of mine) and a friend. This was mostly due to the weather which was rain and lots of it. Thanks to my handy Radar Scope smart phone app, I was able to determine where the dangerous weather was (far from Ft Smith) and have a few flights at the massive expanse of sod farms that are free of irrigation equipment.
The blurry dot in the photo is a rain drop on the lens of my camera. When is it too wet to fly? It's pretty simple: If your clothing is getting wet and staying wet, so is your glider and it is not a good idea to be in the air. A wet glider behaves dramatically different than when it's dry -- greatly increased stall speed, in particular. Those who have been caught in weather know the feel of a wet glider. As I was flying around, I was just on the border of getting wet. With humidity at 100% and the temperature in the upper 70's, it was very pleasant. As the afternoon went on, the rain increased and I began to get wet -- time to land.
There is one word to describe Ft Smith at this time: soggy. The Arkansas River (photo below) was near flood stage. Another 5' higher it would have covered the sod farms. It was an experience for us desert dwellers to visit "soggy"....
We have been on the road visiting family and hoping to spend some time at the Endless Foot Drag hosted by Britton Shaw in Fort Smith, AR. This region does not have many places to foot launch a paraglider or hang glider except one spot in southeastern OK (Buffalo Mtn) and a few spots in central Arkansas. If you want to thermal XC, for example, you will have to motor up, as I did, cut the power, and enjoy!
The advantage of PPG is that you can fly anywhere without having to be towed up or find some hill to jump off of. Another nice feature is that if you muff-up by picking the wrong cloud or ground trigger, you are not forced to land and start over. You just say, "Oh well" and motor off to find another and try it. The disadvantage is stuff on your back. I really don't like the motor there when I am thermalling but it is better than NOT thermalling. It does take some getting used to. Another downside is that you get sloppy because you know you won't sink out! Remember also that if you DO THIS, your motor frame cannot take the jolts that an ordinary PG harness can take. This means that you should not fly in really active air because you might break something on your frame. (I've already done that once.)
It was fun looking for thermals late in the day. None of the clouds had sharp edges (very active thermals) so it was hard to find clouds (tops of thermals) that were not barely going up (<200'/min) but really going up (>500'/min). The one in the photo below was a modest sucking machine. It has been many months since I have felt the powerful smooth lift below a cloud. I am right next to the main cloud. Little stuff was forming to my left as I was going along. Here is a 30 second video of some of the journey.
Jose Muñoz, Daniel Rivera, & I (Had Robinson) were commissioned to do an aerial show and drop over the 2nd Division National Soccer Championship being held in Juarez Saturday night. This would be a challenging event - flying low over 22,000 soccer fans during an historic match in a stadium that is less than a hundred yards from an international border. The morning before the game, I was able to fly into and around the stadium, something I have never done. In most of the world, getting an aircraft near or over crowds is completely illegal -- but we had permission. Suffice it to say, when doing things that are normally completely illegal, you can't have enough permission! In this regard, I was a bit nervous. The good news is that we had 100% permission to do whatever was necessary from the U.S. authorities in case of a mishap e.g. having to do an emergency landing on the U.S. side. We made sure that any show we would do would be a surprise as ultralight anything is never guaranteed because of any number of things, especially weather. Gusting was forecast for the afternoon which made me yet more nervous.
The owners of Los Bravos (the Juarez team), the Soccer Federation, and other authorities know basically nothing about aviation. If we are going to fly over the event, we must have access to the site and time to practice. This is critical for safety. Because of pre-game activities, we only had about 30 minutes for a preflight. I was able to do a practice run but no one else was able. On top of this, we were not allowed to be in the air except minutes before our show. The show consisted of a low flying smoke display, the dropping of about 30 Los Bravos mascots (small stuffed toy mustangs) and my landing midfield, donning a mustang custom, and hailing the crowd.
When the time came to go, it was canceled at the last minute. I was not disappointed! I was thinking that dropping these mascots into the crowd (they did have little parachutes) might have started fights and a riot, hence the possibility that we might have to flee for our lives.... Who wants to make the news? Dealing with huge crowds of very excited people requires careful planning -- for their safety and ours. All in all it was a great learning experience that, with careful advanced preparation and, especially, informing the authorities of our precise needs would make a future air show of this type a success. More good news was that we were paid anyway (it is legal for us to fly for $$$ in Mexico but not in the U.S.) On top of this, Los Bravos won the match and have now been placed in the 1st Soccer Division in Mexico! Also, learning how to deploy smoke grenades in the air without blowing ourselves up was useful. I will post instructions on this site soon about how it should be done.
Jose and Daniel in front of the Shangri La Restaurant in Cd. Juarez. It is a classy place with excellent food.
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