Hang gliding championships begin this weekend

The McMahon-Wrinkle Airpark will quickly turn into a beehive of activity this weekend, as the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Competition looks to take to the skies Sunday through Saturday, July 28.The Big Spring Airport and local airpark have been the backdrop for a number of world and national championship hang gliding competitions hosted by the U.S. Hang Gliding Championships, drawing hundreds of competitors from all over the world.According to Airpark Director Col. Jim Little, this year's competition has drawn approximately 40 pilots, with more expected to sign up in the days leading up to the event.“This year they decided to move the date up because last year they were competing with another event,” Little said. “They wanted to avoid the scheduling conflict this year.”Marking the 11th year in a row the U.S. Hang Gliding Championship — including the World Championship competition, which was also held in Big Spring in 2007 — has been held in Big Spring, what exactly keeps the winged heroes coming back to the Crossroads of West Texas?“There are three main reasons we love coming back to Big Spring each year,” said championship coordinator David Glover. “The first is the consistent weather. The second is the airport terminal facility, which is just amazing. It's the best for and kind of hang gliding competition. And the third is the townspeople, who are really so warm and welcoming.“We’re not winded or weathered out. The sun hits the ground and the ground heats up, so thermal layers of air go up. The base of the clouds are really high, which means we can fly up really high into the air and the thermals are strong, so you don’t have to fly around too much before you hit a thermal that pushes you up.“Our desire is to see how long we can stay up and then fly around a course as quickly as we can. It just has the right combination of meteorology and geography to allow us to fly for a long time and fly fast. The men and women who come here just love the flying. It’s excellent.”The weekend isn't just about competition, however. Saturday, pilots will be offering tandem flights for area residents wanting to experience the freedom of hang gliding for themselves. Flights can be scheduled throughout the week of competition for $100, however, the best time to set up a tandem flight would be the day before competition starts. To schedule a flight, call Lori Brown at 352-874-5742. For those wanting to come out and see the participants take off, there will be a spectator area marked by signs. Take off usually starts after lunch between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.“Take off and the traveled routes are all determined day by day. The weather conditions determine if they are not only able to take off, but how far they are able to travel,” Little said. “One of the most exciting times is what they considered to be bad weather, but it resulted in a neat site of 40 or 50 of them circling around Big Spring.”Cloud build-up and clear weather serves for the best flight weather, according to Little.“This is a great thing for the community to have. It has drawn national and worldwide publicity not only for the city of Big Spring, but for West Texas,” Little said.For more information, contact the airport at 263-4362.