XC Tips For Paragliding
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 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 page.
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.
From 11.30am in front of the south west and west take off 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. Pilots will need a good well timed reverse launch to take off now.
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.
Nigel recommends paraglider pilots launch from the west take off as soon as the signs tell you that the thermals are working (breezes coming through, the giffon vultures thermalling, pilots getting up above the hill etc)
Whilst On XC
Pilots need to continually assess the conditions as they fly. What you experienced on take off could be quite different to how you find things an hour into the flight. Use some decision making logic to guide your route finding. Things to think about:
What sort of day is it and how is it changing?
wind direction and strength - which are the soaring slopes/ lee side slopes, is my ground speed fast/ slow, which direction will I fly furthest, is it getting too strong
thermals - where are the sunniest slopes? Is the lift strong / weak, wide/tight, gentle/ turbulent, drifting, affected by inversions?
cloud base - high/ low
Is the day improving/ calming down or deteriorating?
Am I in strong sink? = speed up
Am I in lift? = slow down
Hows my altitude? = do I need gain height or glide on to better lift
Where will I land in an emergency? = Always have a good reach-able spot in mind
The speed, glide ratio of a paraglider does not easily allow you to out-run pockets of rapid sinking air so you will need to top up height more frequently than the hang glider pilots and the vultures!
You should also need to be mindful of the differing valley flows and possible stronger winds lower down. If you out land check the wind direction by doing 360s and look for other signs - smoke, trees moving, other pilots, your ground speed etc.
For more XC tips and in particular where to go, visit our XC routes inspiration blog.
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