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                         Want to experience free flight? Local tandem paragliding pilot, Will Taylor, explains what is involved.

 

“To fly off the mountain and then be suspended above such a beautiful area is truly extraordinary.” Will Taylor, local tandem pilot

Have you ever noticed colorful gliders drifting in the sky over the Applegate as you were driving down Hwy 238? You may not know it, but Woodrat Mountain in Ruch is among the top destinations in the United States for the sports of paragliding and hang gliding.

Paragliding and hang gliding are two forms of “free-flight” that are powered by thermal lift. Thermals are pockets of heat that rise from the earth at midday and keep the gliders aloft—there is no engine involved.  As a result, it’s a form of flight that is peaceful, silent, and remarkably simple.

Although it takes special training to fly solo, anyone can sign up for a tandem flight with one of our trained local pilots. Below, local pilot, Will Taylor, talks about his love of flying, explains why Woodrat is such a renowned place, and details what’s involved in taking a tandem flight.

 

A pilot and passenger take off from Woodrat Mountain (photo by Tim Daw)

  What is your history with paragliding? 

About 10 years ago I lived in Oakland, California and started a new job that, unbeknownst to me, was located near a paragliding site. I happened to be outside one day and saw a gaggle of paragliders launch and fly around. Before that moment, I wasn’t aware such a thing existed! My mind was totally blown. I decided right then that I would learn to paraglide one day. A few years later, I moved to southern Oregon to be close to Woodrat Mountain and learn to fly here.

 Once I was a resident, I started taking lessons with Kevin Lee. He is one of two highly renowned instructors that we have here in the Rogue Valley (the other being Sam Crocker). That was six years ago, and I’ve become increasingly addicted since– to the point where my life is now totally structured around paragliding.

 

“It’s such a sublime and magical thing, to be able to surf invisible currents in the sky using only string and cloth.” -Will Taylor, local tandem pilot

What is special about paragliding at Woodrat Mountain?

There is a reason why one of only a few annual US paragliding competitions happen here at Woodrat. It is such a special place to fly!  During the flying season the weather is very consistent, which allows us free-flight pilots to rack up a huge amount of flying time. The surrounding terrain is complex, with numerous interacting ridges and valley systems, which makes for interesting challenges and routes for the pilots who enjoying flying cross country.

 The way that Woodrat is situated at the end of the Applegate Valley makes it especially conducive to great paragliding. The heating that happens in the valley during day is pushed towards the mountain by the flow of valley winds. As those currents of air hit the mountain they break away from the terrain as thermals that we can use to ascend sometimes thousands of feet.

 You take people on tandem flights. What was involved in getting a tandem rating?

 I actually had to return to the San Francisco area to get my tandem license. There are only a handful of people in the US who have the credentials and expertise to teach tandem flying. It entails a high level of responsibility! The tandem instructor, Jeff Greenbaum, has been teaching  paragliding for nearly 40 years. 

 Getting a tandem license first required me to earn a provisional rating that allowed me to fly with other pilots. In the initial course, Jeff made sure I was familiar with all the safety procedures related to tandem flying. I also had to become familiar with the unique aspects of flying a tandem wing– as opposed to a solo wing. 

 The next task was to accumulate a lot of experience before returning to take a final battery of tests. At this point I was allowed to fly only with other paragliding pilots to gain experience. After getting the mandatory number of flights under my belt I went back to San Francisco to take several flights with Jeff as my passenger so that he could observe my technique and be assured that I was indeed competent. I also took a couple of written tests for the FAA and the US paragliding governing body and went home a fully licensed tandem pilot!

Birds-eye view of The Applegate.

 After getting my rating, I flew with family and friends as often as I could and in a wide range of conditions to gain even more experience. After I was satisfied with my own level of expertise, I started flying commercially for Sam Crocker, who runs Sun Dog Paragliding, a tandem paragliding business here in the Rogue Valley. He has been flying as a tandem pilot here for over 20 years.

 

 What is special about taking a tandem at Woodrat Mountain?

As far as tandem flying, the consistent thermic conditions mean that we can often enjoy longer, sustained flights–as opposed to simply gliding down the landing zone without any lift to prolong the flight. And the location itself is worth the trip. The top of Woodrat Mountain is an excellent viewpoint of both the Applegate and Rogue valleys, with amazing views of the Table Rocks, Mt McLoughlin, and Grayback Mountain. To fly off the mountain and then be suspended above such a beautiful area is truly extraordinary.

Once on top of Woodcut Mountain, the pilot and passenger take some time to observe the weather, discuss the process of flying in detail, and just enjoy the view!

What should passengers expect?

Obviously, the experience starts by driving up to the top of the mountain. Once we get there, we take some time to observe the weather, discuss the process of flying in detail, and just enjoy the view! When we’re ready to fly, we hook into the harness together, do a series of safety checks, wait for an ideal cycle of wind, and then bring up the wing. As the pilot and passenger begin to walk down the slope of the mountain, the wing catches lift, and often we are flying before we even reach the steeper part of the mountain.  

A paraglider pilots takes a moment to assess the conditions and enjoy the view from Woodrat Mountain before taking flight. (photo by Tim Daw)

 Being a tandem passenger is akin to sitting in an easy chair in the sky. Since someone else is piloting, there’s not much to do or worry about. You are free to enjoy the view! As we fly, the wing is constantly responding to the air that we are moving through and giving feedback. Even as a passenger, you can tune in and begin to understand how the currents of air work and interact. I would say that is the most unexpected part of paragliding: Most folks know that there will be a nice view, but are often surprised to find themselves inserted into a previously unknown world above the ground–a world that can’t be seen but that has nonetheless become palpably and kinesthetically real. 

 We tell potential passengers that if they are able to jump off a park bench and land on their feet without any issue, then they are physically fit to handle a paragliding landing. We have a great range of control over the speed of the paraglider and are able to slow it down when landing.  We can land gently on our feet with only a couple of running steps being occasionally necessary.

 The average length of a flight is around 15 to 20 minutes. Longer flights of up to an hour are sometimes possible in ideal conditions.

 What if you are scared of heights?

I’ve found that many people who are afraid of heights don’t have that fear triggered by paragliding. It seems to skip the part of the brain related to vertigo and fear of falling since there isn’t really anything to fall off of. Also, everything is far away, so there’s nothing to run into. That being said, there are folks who know that they would just be terrified the entire flight, and they usually have the wisdom to know that they wouldn’t have a good time. I’ve never encountered anyone who thought they were going to enjoy the flight and then turned out to be too scared to have a blast.

 

“Being a tandem passenger is akin to sitting in an easy chair in the sky. Since someone else is piloting, there’s not much to do or worry about. You are free to enjoy the view! ” -local tandem pilot, Will Taylor (photo by Tim Daw)

 Anything you want to say about safety?

A few years ago, a large study on the safety of paragliding was conducted in Germany. It revealed that from a statistical standpoint, paragliding is about on par with freeway-driving in terms of safety. Tandem paragliding is widely believed to be the safest form of paragliding, since we chose to fly in only the most optimum conditions and use equipment engineered with a focus on safety–as opposed to performance. 

 Obviously, it is a form of aviation and not without risks. We also fly with a backup parachute in case of emergency, as well as undergoing extensive and continuous training.

How do people sign up? What does it cost?

It’s obviously a weather dependent sport. We get spoiled flying here in the Applegate where we rarely have to reschedule due to weather–although it does sometimes happen. With that caveat, we fly every day of the week. The price per flight is $250 and the best way to sign up is to call, or email Sam.

 Anything else you want to include?

 Just how incredibly fun it is! It’s such a sublime and magical thing to be able to surf invisible currents in the sky using only string and cloth. It is the most minimal form of aviation and immerses you in an entirely new ecosystem.  It’s something that most people will never get the chance to experience. I feel incredibly honored to be able to share that experience with others, and think that everyone should try it at least once!

 

 

Interested in taking a tandem flight with Will?

Contact Sundog Paragliding School:

www.sundogparagliding.com

sam@sundogparagliding.com

503-781-1795

 

*Disclaimer: The author, Applegate Valley Connect, or A Greater Applegate are not claiming tandem paragliding is safe and cannot be held liable for accident or injury resulting from the decision to take a tandem flight. This article is for informational purposes only.

              

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