Monday, May 11, 2009

Arctic Circles

The other night, after hours spent poring over maps of the Arctic coasts of Alaska, I found it: the perfect place for paragliding aviation of the kind I want to do there: low and slow flights, alone and in the darkness of Arctic Winter. As I surveyed my charts, inscribing circles around peaks showing how far I could fly depending on launch elevation, wind speed and wind direction, a perfect conjunction appeared. I dropped my compass. This was it! I leaned over the map. Were my numbers right, my circles the right size? Yes. This was it! This was the place! Laughing out loud, I looked closer at my discovery.

The site has four peaks in a rough square about two miles on a side; a flight down from any of these peaks--depending on winds, my wing's glide ratio, my speed and a dozen other factors--should land me at a base camp in short order; my flights look to be about 2-5 minutes in duration. I can fly from halfway up a slope and skim tundra all the way down. I can hike up the backside of a peak and launch off it's West side, where just seconds from launch the cliff will drop nearly a thousand feet to the frozen sea below. I will place caches of emergency rations, stove fuel, and spare charts in various strategic locations so I am never more than a mile from supplies that can keep me alive.

The base camp site is above and a primitive attempt at sketching out a flight planning sheet is shown below, as is a table estimating flight time in minutes for launches at various altitudes with flights at certain glide slopes and speeds.

But I have to keep in mind that wind, my weight, and my efficiency at flying the wing all warp my tables and theoretical projections. The tables and numbers are only the crudest guides. I think of them as gesturing, vaguely, at reality. I need to know them, but I musn't think they're reality.

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