Umpteenth Annual Festival of Freeflight

Well, this is about 2 weeks late. I’d wanted to post something about my 4th of July weekend up in the high desert of Lakeview, Oregon. Out of the last six years, I’ve made it to the Festival five times and my wife has been with me four of those times.

It’s truly a very enjoyable time. Never have we pre-arranged with anyone to be there at the same time, and yet, each year, we’ll always run into lots of old friends in the hang gliding world, some of whom we might have not crossed paths with in months or years.


I don’t get to fly anywhere near as much as I used to, so I was both really looking forward to this, and apprehensive as well. As anyone who pilots any type of aircraft will tell you, frequent flying keeps you proficient. It had been about 8 months since my last flight. Foot launching a hang glider down the slope of a mountain is a very precise and completely unnatural skill to master. You must judge when the time is right, ensure that your wings are properly balanced with lift (assuming a wind up the slope), and commit. When you commit, that means you begin an aggressive run and you do not back off for any reason. If something does go wrong, you are far more likely to pull off a badly executed launch (while everyone back on the hill breathes a sigh of relief and curses your stupidity) than you are to escape an aborted, blown launch without serious injury, or even death. The photo at right of someone launching off Sugar, south of Lakeview should illustrate. (click to enlarge)

Anyway, I did get to fly a couple of times and managed to make extended flights of both of them—meaning—I found lift and got well up above the altitude I launched from and stayed there. July 2nd was a particularly good day and some pilots who went cross country turned in flights in excess of 100 miles to the east of Lakeview, all the way into Nevada. I’m not much of a cross country pilot, myself. I’ve had a few flights in the 15 mile range, but the logistics are a real pain in the ass so you really have to have the time and commitment to go XC very often, and there’s no use in doing it unless you intend to go far.

This Festival has a number of fun contests with modest prizes. In the past four years of attendance, I’ve always registered at the Chamber of Commerce, but have never participated in any of the contests. I registered more to contribute to the financial support than anything. This year, I didn’t bother with registering, which I’ll live to regret. Read on.

Sunday the 4th, I was on Black Cap, a small, 1,200 ft. AGL hill above Lakeview central that’s popular to fly because you can often get up and away from there. (the 100+ mile flights on 7/2 originated here). All the townspeople can see you because you’re right there soaring around on the hill with the big ‘L’ formed with white rocks across its face. Plus, they often have an evening “glass off” which is pretty much uniformly smooth rising air over a large area from about 5-6 p.m. to sundown. You can just boat around for a couple of hours or more and it’s so smooth. To the left, I’m just about to launch. (click to enlarge)


So, anyway, it just was not happening in the height of the afternoon when I’d intended to fly. Everyone was launching and bombing out right to the bailout landing zone below. Not a lot of fun in that. It must have been about 4 p.m. or so when it began showing signs of changing, so I launched and got up right away. Then, I hooked into a nice thermal for about a 2,000 ft. altitude gain. Nice. Plus, it’s a bit cooler up there after standing and "hang waiting" in the beating sun for hours. Here to the right, I’m in the process of circling up in good lift. (click to enlarge)


All of a sudden, I realize that a lot of guys are launching and going straight for Hunter’s LZ, which is a grass field in front of the Motel we’re staying at, complete with its own hot springs and geyser that goes off about every minute. Then, I remember: the spot landing contest. There’s a cone in the center of the field, and the one who lands closest without whacking or letting their control frame touch the ground wins.

I dismissed the thought of participating right then and there. Never have bothered with those things, so why start now? But, 40 minutes later, I was getting tired and the thought of a cold beer was becoming appealing.

There was a nice breeze as I set up my approach over the LZ, so figure-8s were called for. With a figure-8, each turn is made in the upwind direction, so that by adjusting just the time between turns, you can maintain the same relative position over a piece of real estate as you bleed off altitude. Then, it’s a standard aircraft approach, downwind, base, and final (DBF). So, my last section of figure-8 as I’m about 200 ft AGL becomes actually a 270 degree turn as I judge it’s time to start the downwind. My glide slope seems nicely uniform and the angle on the center of the field is looking good.

“What the hell,” so I go for it. I know that to pull it off, I’m going to be coming in pretty low over highway 395 on final, so I look both ways (had there been any traffic, I could have shortened the downwind and still landed no problem), no traffic, so I cross the highway. “Watch the angle. Watch the angle. Ok,” go to the base leg on the other side of 395. “Oops,” I executed that turn onto final just a bit late. Crab to starboard just a bit. Now, ground effect. “Patience…patience. Ok…flair!” Wow, 15 ft from the cone! That’s not a lot, I can tell you.

It was the top performance, actually. But, alas, I didn’t register, and them’s the rules. Lost out on 200 bucks, plus the trophy.

Richard Nikoley

I'm Richard Nikoley. Free The Animal began in 2003 and as of 2021, contains 5,000 posts. I blog what I wish...from health, diet, and food to travel and lifestyle; to politics, social antagonism, expat-living location and time independent—while you sleep—income. I celebrate the audacity and hubris to live by your own exclusive authority and take your own chances. Read More

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