Windy Hill is a Northeast-facing paragliding and hang gliding site, and requires excellent pilot judgement and skills in order to be flown safely. It is the most technical site in the Bay Area due to the long glide to the LZ, confined LZ, and frequent strong wind at launch. In addition to WOR and USHPA membership, a special use permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District (MROSD) is required to fly there. Visit Windy Hill Open Space Preserve for a hike or bike ride, and familiarize yourself with the launch and LZ areas, and determine whether you feel comfortable flying there. If so, keep reading for details on how to obtain a permit.
To fly at Windy Hill pilots must:
- Be members of USHPA
- Possess a USHPA Advanced (P4/H4) rating (Restricted Landing Field (RLF) special skill recommended for HGs), or a current and approved foreign equivalent.
- Possess a special use permit from the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. This permit must be printed and carried with you.
- Arrange for a site introduction from a Windy Hill administrator or other pilot who has significant experience flying at Windy Hill. This is mandatory, as there are a number of hazards and airspace regulations that you need to know about, before flying.
- Sign the Chapter Affirmation e-Waiver.
How To Get A Permit
Request a permit by sending an email to [email protected] and include the following information: Your name, USHPA number, USHPA Expiration Date.
Please only request a permit after meeting all of the Pilot Requirements above, after reading through the Site Procedures and site guide, and after visiting Windy Hill on foot and determining that you have the skills to be able to fly there safely.
The MROSD has a few days up to several weeks turn-around time for issuing permits, depending on office staff availability. Request a permit before you fly. Be patient, and do not expect to fly on the same day that you request your permit. Unfortunately there’s nothing that club officers can do to further streamline the process (we have tried!).
Warning: Windy Hill is unsuitable for pilots who have limited experience flying in turbulent conditions and strong wind, who are unable to reliably execute spot landings with limited space, and for paraglider pilots who are unable to hike one to two miles with 1000ft of vertical elevation change with their equipment, in case landing in the LZ is not possible.
|Minimum required rating and special skills||P4||H4 + RLF|
|Recommended wind limits (mph)||Min: 0
Wind direction range (degrees): Left: 40. Right: 20
|Launch altitude||1910 ft|
|LZ altitude||530 ft|
|Launch to LZ distance||1.4mi|
|Glide ratio to LZ||5.32*|
Long Glide to the LZ, and Bailing Out
- The glide from launch to the LZ is shallow (6:1), and there is often a strong headwind up at launch that does not reliably produce lift.
- Lower-end paragliders (EN-A or low EN-B), and sometimes even higher end wings may have trouble safely reaching the LZ, especially if there is any sink near launch, or if the wind is crossed from the North! There are several viable PG-friendly bail-outs along the Spring Ridge trail that can be used in an emergency. If you don’t think you are going to make the LZ, bail to the trail early, before the final committing glide over the canyon and winery, where there are no bailouts.
- Flying mini wings or small wings is discouraged due to their poor glide ratio, and their inability to reliably glide to the LZ.
- Do not, under any circumstances, land in the wineries adjacent to the LZ, nor any of the private properties along the hill. Landing here because you misjudged your glide is not an “emergency”, it is negligence, and jeopardizes everyone’s ability to fly at Windy Hill.
There are several features that tend to produce rotor when the winds are strong:
- Downwind of the 2 large trees immediately in front of, and to the right of launch
- The large trees out in front of, and to the left of launch, before the terrain drops off
- The entire tree line of the South side of canyon.
If you need to bail out before the LZ, be mindful of #3 in particular. Try to land far enough away from the tree line to ensure your own safety from rotor, but stay as close to the trail as you can (avoiding hikers) in order to minimize trampling of grasses and shrubs.
Pilots must demonstrate that they have sound judgement, and the necessary skills and physical fitness to be able to emergency land safely and hike back up to launch or down to the LZ, without injuring themselves, bystanders, or damaging foliage. If you are not confident in your ability to do this, please do not fly at Windy Hill, for your own safety, and in the interest of preserving the site.
- Windy Hill is deserving of its name. The launch area is in a large-scale Venturi in the Coast Range, and is subject to significant ridge-top compression.
- The wind at launch is often much stronger than it is out in front, and there is often a pronounced wind gradient. Even when the wind is is light at lower elevations, it can be blown out on launch.
- When the wind is strong, conditions are often turbulent, and there will not necessarily be usable lift, particularly if the wind is more Northerly.
The Landing Zone
- The LZ is surrounded by high trees on 3 sides, and can be thermic in late Summer and Fall, which can result in challenging landing conditions for HGs, in particular. The LZ can remain wet and cold in the winter, especially 1-3 days after rain. Valley temperatures occasionally drop to below freezing at night. The LZ can produce strong sink under these conditions, especially later in the day when the sun is no longer heating the LZ. Pilots must be prepared for this, and for fast landings.
- There is a fence and a winery on the North side of the LZ (the one side of the LZ that is not lined by high trees). Hang gliders must carefully set up their approaches, and be prepared to overshoot their desired landing spot if the LZ is thermic, and there is little to no headwind. The prevailing wind in the LZ is usually from the North; setting up a downwind-base-final-approach is recommended for both PG and HG.
- Be prepared for landing cross or downwind if a thermal is releasing from or near the LZ.
- Windy Hill is open to equestrians, and there are horse stables North of the LZ. Be mindful of this, when flying low, or coming in to land.
Pilots must demonstrate that they have the technical and decision making skills to safely land in a restricted landing field. If you are not confident in your ability to do this, please do not fly at Windy Hill, for your own safety, and in the interest of preserving the site.
- Windy Hill is in close proximity to 3 small airports (Palo Alto, San Carlos, and Half Moon Bay), several hospitals with helipads, and it is also very close to the Woodside VOR.
- There is a significant amount of general aviation traffic in the area. Although there is a glider symbol on the map, GA pilots are unlikely to know that gliders are in the air. Keep your eyes on the sky; see and avoid.
- Pilots must stay below 4,000′ to remain clear of the San Francisco Class B airspace. This altitude increases to 6,000′ to the south.
Here is a VFR map of the Windy Hill area. The sailplane icon with the letter H indicates the location of launch.
Weather and Forecasting
Windy Hill faces Northeast, and is at about 1910ft. There are a number of freely available and paid weather forecasting tools that can be used to forecast flyable conditions at Windy Hill.
There is a PG&E-owned weather sensor (station ID: 018PG) close to Windy Hill, about 3km South of the summit along Skyline Road at Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve. It produces somewhat accurate, 10-minute interval temperature, wind, and humidity readings. Its data can be viewed in a number of free tools including Windy. One of the more useful graphs for displaying the sensor data is the MesoWest site operated by the University of Utah:
Expect the wind speeds at launch to be anywhere up to 5kt stronger than the sensor shows, due to ridge-top compression. When the wind is more from the North and is strong, it also tends to be gusty at launch.
Hiking and Flying
Windy Hill is a great place for paragliders to hike and fly. The most direct route to launch is via the Betsy Crowder, Spring Ridge, and Anniversary Trails. From the lower parking lot, hike up the main trail and always take the path to your right. This will lead you to the summit.
Landing in the LZ at Windy Hill is an accomplishment in itself. Getting above launch is rare but possible. Flying cross-country is only possible on the best of days, but has happened on a small number of occasions. Hang glider and paraglider pilots have flown to the West towards the Pacific Ocean, generally following 84 towards San Gregorio. There have been several flights to the Southeast, the farthest to Morgan Hill. Legend has it that a bold pilot once flew over Big Basin all the way to Santa Cruz.