There are many ways to explore Arkansas’ terrain. You’ve got your hikers, your bikers, your kayakers, and then the folks who prefer the view as they smoothly soar high above the land: the hang gliders.
“We have a small but dedicated group of guys and gals that are very dedicated to flying the Ouachita Mountains,” said Mike Kelsey, who has been hang gliding for 14 years. “We fly year round if the weather allows, but the prime season is from April to November. That is when the best chance for good thermals and high altitude flights with cross-country potential. The record distance from Arkansas is 178 miles with local pilot Mark Stump launching from Mount Magazine and landing in Missouri.”
According to Kelsey, the premier location to launch is at either Mount Magazine State Park or Mount Nebo State Park. “These two sites provide four different launches, with potential for flights of several hours, and 40 and 50 mile flights are common from these two mountains,” he said.
“All pilots fly wings that have met stringent standards set by the United State Hang Glider Manufactures Association,” he added. “Pilots are rated according to skill level so that pilot cards can be checked to assure they have the skills to fly a particular site.”
Kelsey said the average flight time on a good day is around 2 to 4 hours, with altitude gains frequently up to over 6,000 ft and even higher in the hot dry summer days. “Pilots gain altitude by seeking out air currents that are rising,” he said. “Air will rise for a number of reasons, but thermals and ridge lift are the most common. Stay in the ridge lift or seek out thermals, flying from one thermal to the next, circling in the thermal to gain a few thousand feet and then seek out the next thermal.”
If you are interesting in checking out the sport or seeing gliders in action, Mount Nebo and Mount Magazine state parks are the scene of various fly-ins, where gliders meet to fly throughout the season. Clubs in the area also include the Central Arkansas Mountain Pilots (C.A.M.P) in Arkansas : www.centralarkansasmountainpilots.org and the Buffalo Mountain Flyers in Oklahoma: www.buffalomountainflyers.org.
Here is also a link to watch Mike flying at a recent Buffalo Mountain Flyin.: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-gQhO3i5YoA&feature=related
The view is from his headcam. Enjoy!