XC Tips For Hang Glider Pilots
St-Andre-les-Alpes is a world class flying site because of the reliable weather, good thermal sources and abundance of north south aligned ridges.
Consequently pilots will fairly easily find reliable sources of lift, can follow the long ridge lines like highways and hop from one ridge to the next to cover big distances. Fairly common are routes north to the Dormilouse and back. A trip of over 100km.
This is why St Andre is often used for flying competitions too.
Many pilots come here wanting to extend their personal best cross country XC flights so we have complied some of information from our experience here to help you.
Make sure you have checked the weather forecast. You should know what the anticipated wind speed and wind direction is for the day and the forecast cloudbase and thermal strength. There is a good automated live wind balise on take off that can save you a wasted trip up the hill.
Know your airspace. We are lucky to have very few restrictions on airspace around us but there are restrictions on the Mercantour National park - 1000m agl and if you head south east you will meet restrictions from Nice airport. Check an up-to date airspace chart for details. Ask us - we have one.
The area is infrequently under restrictions for military aircraft but they do happen. Check out the FFVL site for more information.
Get your kit organised. As well checking all your flying equipment (including good batteries for gps and vario) make sure you take a large scale map, your phone (for organising retrieves/ rescue), water, food and sunscreen (in case you have a long walk out).
If you use a 2m radio the french emergency channel and wind forecast are broadcast on 143.9875mhz.
The Launch Window
Read about the tips for safe launches and landings on the Tips for Safe Flying blog.
Hang glider pilots nearly always use the south west take off for launch.
As the sun moves around Le Chalvet so does the upslope wind and the south west and west face begin to work from about 11.30am.
Thermals begin weak and pilots will be scratching in the dynamic lift and toping up in thermals as they come through. Thermal strength and frequency will increase and the upslope wind on take off will get stronger.
By about 1pm, when with the associated venturi effect the wind speed on take off becomes too difficult or dangerous for paraglider pilots to launch.
Strong inversions and later in the season the start of the thermals may be delayed an hour later.
Mark recommends a later start for hang glider pilots aiming to launch between 2-4pm.
Good flying can be had here till as late as 9pm in the Summer and 7pm in Autumn/spring.
Whilst On XC
Here is Mark's decision making logic while soaring hangliders:
How is the day going/changing? = strong, weak, turbulent
Whats my average climb rate? = can I fly faster with saftey
Am I in strong sink? = speed up
Am I in lift? = slow down
Hows my altitude? = do I need to change gear - Move to conserving building height or speed up
Where will I land in an emergency? = Always have a good reach-able spot in mind
Can I run this ridge or should I get high and stay high? = Yes or no
It is possible to cover tremendous distance in out and returns using the weakest conditions applying these simple rules.
I also have a fairly weak tolerance to turbulence and will generally fly much later in the day using my class 5 hang glider. I love the mellow glass off flights that start from about 3-5pm depending on the time of year. Even leaving at this time we can easily cover 100km out and returns or cats cradles round the mountains.
I am often dismayed to see visiting hang glider pilots launch and land early when the day would have been so much better a few hours on. Saint Andre is generally a better flying site later in the day.
Go and enjoy the lake the area and other activities. Aim to launch for 2-4pm depending on the time of year.
For more XC tips and in particular where to go visit our XC routes blog page.
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