KINGMAN - Everyone has wondered at some time in their life what it would be like to soar like a bird. Stacy Whitmore from Richfield, Utah, doesn't wonder. He knows. Whitmore is the paraglider many residents have seen soaring most evenings around Radar Hill and other areas of Kingman on a yellow and red wing, and he's looking to teach his hobby to other residents.
"It isn't scary at all. It's incredibly peaceful, very calming, even liberating," Whitmore said. He said he's flown with bald eagles, golden eagles and even an owl off of his wing tip.
Whitmore moved to Kingman earlier this year to take a position as a teacher at Kingman High School. Flying is one of his great loves. He got his pilot's license when he was 18, but school, work and family life intervened.
About six years ago, he was able to pick up his love of flying again on a family vacation to California.
One day while on vacation, the family was roller-skating down a boardwalk and Whitmore spotted a man giving paragliding lessons. After a few lessons, Whitmore was airborne again, and this time, without the high expense of a plane, fuel or fees.
When the family returned to Utah, Whitmore looked up the closest paragliding teacher on the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association's website and signed up for lessons.
There was no place to fly near Richfield, so Whitmore learned to pioneer sites around the small town by attempting to paraglide off of local hills and mountains. Since then, Whitmore has become a paragliding instructor himself. He has flown more than 2,000 times from 95 different sites and pioneered more than 65 sites, the most sites pioneered by one person in the country.
Kingman is one of the 65 sites Whitmore has pioneered in the last few years. At first the area didn't look too promising, he said. But then he realized that Kingman has a seasonal shift in winds from the south to the north in October. That fall shift funnels the evening breeze from Lake Mead to the north between the mountains and creates a gentle, almost consistent airflow up Radar Hill that is perfect for ridge soaring, he said.
"There's not a lot of places that have these kinds of conditions," Whitmore said. "You have an incredible place for ridge soaring. I would say that ridge is soarable at least half of the evenings between October and April."
The early mornings and late evenings, just before the sun goes down, are the best times for flying because that is when the air is the calmest, he said. "The idea that you can fly without a motor and to be able to read a mountain is one of the greatest freedoms," he said.
Several people have expressed concern about Whitmore soaring near Radar Hill. The owners of the communications tower on the hill have even asked him not to launch from the site. Paragliding isn't as daredevil as it seems, Whitmore said. It isn't like base-jumping.
"I'm a freedom seeker. I'm not looking for an adrenaline rush," he said.
Paragliders are in complete control the entire time they are flying, he said. The paragliding wing uses ram air technology. One side of the oblong wing is open like a box kite and collects the wind. The backside of the wing is closed, trapping the wind in the wing and inflating it, allowing a person to lift off the ground. The wing is controlled by hand brakes that spill air from inside the wing in order to allow the pilot to soar, turn and land.
The wing is connected to a large backpack that contains a reserve parachute in case a paraglider has to make an emergency landing. Whitmore said he has yet to use his reserve chute. Paragliders also wear helmets and usually don't fly alone.
"It's a very safe sport if you follow the rules," Whitmore said. He uses a series of gadgets to determine his altitude and wind velocity. He doesn't fly if the winds are higher than 16 mph.
If the winds are too fast, you're likely to get dragged across the ground trying to lift off, he said. Which is how Whitmore ended up with a broken nose once.
Air flows over obstacles, like Radar Hill, are like a wave, Whitmore explained. The wind flows up the north face of Radar Hill and provides lift, allowing him to glide. Once it reaches the top of the hill, it sinks and then roils as it rolls off the lee side of the hill. A paraglider never wants to be on the lee side of a hill, he said. It would be like swimming in a washing machine.
The communications tower is located behind the sink zone on the hill, Whitmore explained. He would never be able to reach the tower because there wouldn't be enough lift to sustain him across the distance from the edge of the ridge to the tower.
"I couldn't reach the communications tower if I wanted to. The airflow wouldn't let me," he said.
Even if he were to damage something on the ground, he is insured by the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association, which would cover any property damage. He would have to pay his own medical bills, however.
He has promised to honor the company's request not to launch from the property where the communications tower is located, he said.
Whitmore is hoping to share his hobby with other interested Kingman residents. It's a relatively inexpensive hobby to start, he said. The equipment and lessons cost around $4,500, and a membership in the USHGPA costs about $80. The equipment lasts for several years and can be set up and taken down in as little as five minutes.
The equipment is only sold through licensed paragliding instructors, he said. He is more than willing to loan residents his equipment so they can learn to paraglide. He has also located a practice hill in Kingman where he can safely teach students how to take off and glide.
He has been a paragliding instructor for the last five years, an advanced instructor for the last two years and a tandem flyer for the last four years. He has made friends all over the world by paragliding and helped to create the Central Utah Air Sports Association.
He warns that the time to learn is now, before the winds shift in April. For more information on paragliding, visit www.cuasa.com, www.ushpa.aero, or call Whitmore at (435) 979-0225. He can also be reached through e-mail at Stacey@cuasa.com.