Arkansas’ Hang Gliding Scene

Zoie Clift
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
,” 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. 

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