Gliders aren’t as popular in Alaska as in some other places, but there are locations where they do fly. The gliders and the tow planes that launch them can keep the airspace very busy. Paragliding also has quite a following, and is a popular form of aviation in some parts of the state. These lightweight, foot-launched gliders have a pilot suspended below a fabric wing. Despite having no engine, they can fly for hours, cover many miles and climb thousands of feet and thus end up far away from the launch site. As powered aircraft pilots, we need to do our best to avoid conflicts with these aircraft; one way to do that is to look for Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs) describing glider operations during our pre-flight planning. And if you are the person scheduling a glider—or paraglider—“gathering” or event, consider giving Flight Service a call to file a NOTAM, as a heads-up for your fellow aviators. Flight Service will help you describe the operation you are planning, get a NOTAM in the system, and help alert all pilots to your activities when you are operating in and around busy airspace.
Cessna 170B with glider in tow off the Denali airstrip (AK06). Photo by Rob Stapleton
Over the past year, the Mat Su Mid-Air Collision Avoidance Working Group has been looking at the flight corridor along the Glenn Highway, on the eastern edge of the Anchorage bowl. The group, comprised of government and industry stakeholders, spent considerable time exploring the range of flying activities that take place along the Glenn, from Palmer south to Turnagain Arm. In addition to the flow of GA traffic that comes and goes from the Anchorage airports, and aircraft skirting the Restricted Areas, Class C and D airspace, we learned about a range of glider and paraglider operations that occur along this busy corridor.
Civil Air Patrol (CAP) often launches glider operations out of Bryant Army Airfield or Birchwood—and on occasion Palmer. When flying out of Bryant, they will normally operate in the Bryant Class D and Restricted Area 2203, operating typically between 3,000 and 5,000 feet. When launching from Birchwood, glider tow operations typically range from the surface to 3,000 feet, but under good “lift” conditions, the gliders themselves may attain altitudes as high as 14,000 feet between Cook Inlet and the mountains. Glider operations are not limited just to Anchorage. The Interior Alaska, CAP holds a summer glider camp out of the Clear Airport, south of Nenana, and sometimes operates from Ladd Field at Ft. Wainwright.
Paragliders and hang gliders are another source of traffic along the Glenn Highway. With a locally active club containing about 60 pilots, they may fly on weekends and during week-days in the Eagle River area, typically up to 6,000 feet, between April and June. During July through October, operations shift to Hatcher Pass and/or Girdwood, although some hardcore types fly year-around. Paragliders will occasionally make cross country flights from Turnagain Arm to Palmer, achieving altitudes of up to 10,000 feet! Thompson Pass, near Valdez, is the location of an April Snowkiting event.
Scott Amy paragliding in Eagle River Valley. Photo by Matt Bonney
Given the speed disparity between gliders, paragliders and faster powered aircraft, it helps to be aware of the location of their operations. In the course of the group discussions, NOTAMs were identified as an additional tool—beyond see-and-avoid, lighting and CTAF usage, to help improve situational awareness between gliders and other powered aircraft sharing the airspace.
Filing a NOTAM
Recently, the Alaska Flight Service Program developed a two-page document that tells glider operators how to file a NOTAM. The key details include the location where the operations are planned to occur, range of altitudes expected to be used and the block of time scheduled for flight operations. The document also provides contact information for the three full-time Flight Service Stations in Kenai, Fairbanks and Juneau. They can help get you started or answer any questions about filing a NOTAM.
Finding the NOTAM
As summer and warmer temperatures near, pilots should be on the lookout for NOTAMs describing glider activities associated with an airport where gliders are launching. In the case of paragliders, launch locations are typically not tied to an airport, but rather a ridge top, with Eagle River Valley being one of the most popular areas to fly. If a NOTAM is in the system, it should show up if your route of flight comes close to the area defined in the notice. When you call Flight Service for a pre-flight briefing—or go online to use some of our favorite flight planning software—take an extra minute to look for NOTAMs that describe glider operations, as we all share the airspace.
Everyone wants to come home with a smile on their face at the end of their flight – so please use this additional tool to help make that happen!