27 Nov Review – Shaw Butte Paragliding – Phoenix, AZ

Over Thanksgiving, I traveled to Phoenix, AZ to spend time with my family and was lucky enough to snag a day of Hiking and Flying at Shaw Butte in central Phoenix.  It was a bit windy, and would also be my first time flying this site, so I  chose to launch later in the day during gentle conditions.  For this reason I didn’t have a very long flight, but I did manage to snag some lift here and there, and overall had a great time!

Location: Shaw Butte is located in central Phoenix, in the North Mountain Park, which is a large recreational area in the midst of the city.  It’s pretty easy to find with a google search and has ample parking. I like the mid-city flying aspect, as this isn’t something I’ve encountered very often!

Approach: Although there is a road to launch, I was told that it requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle along with gate access, generally making Shaw Butte a Hike and Fly site.  The hike to launch took about 45 minutes and was pretty mellow, following a well packed, low angle trail most of the way. Towards launch, we split off onto the “old trail,” which was steeper and less well maintained, but this was only for a short distance.  All in all, the hike wasn’t too strenuous, but it is AZ and the air is pretty dry, so make sure to bring along some water, especially if it’s hot!

Launch: Shaw Butte has one of the most technically demanding launches I have yet encountered and I definitely agree with the P3 rating given to this site.  Surrounded by power lines, prickly trees, sharp rocks, and cactus, this cliff launch is very small, with just enough space for one pilot to spread their wing and lines and take about two steps backwards before they must be in the air!  Because there is no room to run or maneuver, a steady breeze is necessary for this launch.  Light wind, strong wind, and cross wind could all create serious issues, so it’s very important to pick a good cycle on this launch.

I saw this first hand when other pilots struggled to get in the air and ended up in the cactus multiple times.  This is a site where your ground handling needs to be up to speed, so before flying here I would definitely recommend that you feel confident about your kiting and launch ability.

As for me, I felt very lucky to have a great launch.  After seeing others struggle, I was pretty nervous so I waited for a very nice cycle to come through.  The wing came straight up, I turned, and was in the air!

Flight: As mentioned above, I didn’t have a long flight due to flying late on a winter day, but from what I gather, this is a fairly advanced site and again, I agree with the P3 rating.  Shaw Butte offers ridge soaring on the cliffs around launch, as well as thermal flying over the South Pad, the flats, and North Mountain.  Although it didn’t happen for me, I’ve heard some pretty epic flights can be had here! But please be aware that this is a desert site and can get very strong!

Obstacles: Directly off launch, we encounter power lines that must be crossed in order to make the LZ.  In most circumstances, I don’t think they’re an issue and should easily be cleared. However, in case you were to hit sink directly off launch you should be experienced enough to make decisions about alternate flight paths and landing in a bail out. Other obstacles include radio towers, air traffic and airspace restrictions (6000 MSL), and possible turbulence/rotor from several lower peaks/ridges.

Landing: South-East of launch (after crossing the power lines) are a desert clearing and a retention basin that can be used for landing. Though they cannot be seen from launch, both are within easy glide distance and relatively free of obstacles, though you’ll probably encounter a few shrubs and rocks. Both LZ’s are large, convenient to parking, and offer easy landing approaches, though watch out for sink and turbulence caused by terrain features.

Final Thoughts: All in all I thought this was a fun site that offers a unique opportunity to fly in the city.  If you’re a P3 pilot confident in your ground handling and your ability to choose appropriate flying conditions for yourself, then this might be a cool site for you! For more information and flying requirements, please check out AZHPA – Shaw Butte.