St Andre Flying Tips
Advice for paragliding & hang gliding pilots flying at Le Chalvet, St Andre.
St Andre is suitable for all types of pilots. You will get plenty of amazing flying here if you use common sense and have a basic respect/understanding of the following:
- mountain weather and the forecast
- thermo-dynamic flying
- your own skill level and experience
- and you choose to fly at a time of day that suits your skills and experience
- morning - very calm, amazing views and light - great for top to bottom glides
- afternoon - thermic conditions - great for cross country routes
- evening - lifty and mellow - great for light thermalling and soaring
Make sure you have checked the weather forecast. You should know what the anticipated wind speed and wind direction is for the day and the forecast cloudbase and thermal strength. See our weather page for more details. Strong North West winds are best avoided as they often create turbulent conditions, particulalrly south of the Antenna, on the west slope of Chalvet Blanc and in the lee of Chalvet.
Know your airspace. We are lucky to have very few restrictions on airspace around us but there are restrictions on the Mercantour National park - 1000m agl and if you head south east you will meet restrictions from Nice airport. Check an up-to date airspace chart for details. Ask us - we have one.
The area is infrequently under restrictions for military aircraft but they do happen. Check out the FFVL site for more information.
Get your kit organised. As well as checking all your flying equipment (including good batteries for gps and vario) make sure you take a large scale map, your phone (for organising retrieves/ rescue), water, food and sunscreen (in case you have a long walk out).
If you use a 2m radio the french emergency channel and wind forecast are broadcast on 143.9875mhz.
The European emergency telephone number is 112.
Tell some one where you intend to fly and have some check in system agreed when you land.
Tips for Safe Launches
Generally between June and September the day starts with calm winds. This is the perfect time for easy glides to the landing field from the south or south east take off using a forward / alpine launch (for paragliders).
Thermals on Le Chalvet begin in front of the south take off around 10.30am. Early starts are made here but the thermals will be weak initially and it is a good time for low airtime pilots to get some practice.
As the sun moves around Le Chalvet so does the upslope wind and the south west and west face begin to work from about 11.30am.
Often this makes the wind on the south take off in lee and blow from over the back so if you started here but did not launch you are advised to move to the south west / west take off at this time.
From 11.30am in front of the south west and west take off thermals begin weak and pilots will be scratching in the dynamic lift and toping up in thermals as they come through. Thermal strength and frequency will increase and the upslope wind on take off will get stronger. Paraglider pilots will need a good well timed reverse launch to take off now.
After about 1-2pm, with the associated venturi effect the wind speed on take off becomes too difficult or dangerous for paraglider pilots to launch.
Strong inversions and later in the season the start of the thermals will be delayed and the launch window may extend to 2pm for paraglider pilots.
The dilema for pilots is if you take off too early you may scratch about, lose height and have an early landing. If you leave it to late the wind on take off will become too strong for paraglider pilots to take off.
Nigel recommends paraglider pilots launch from the west take off as soon as the signs tell you that the thermals are working (breezes coming through, the giffon vultures thermalling, pilots getting up above the hill).
Hang glider pilots nearly always take off from the south west take off starting later aiming to launch between 2-4pm.
Of course if you miss the launch window do not stress out or launch when you know it's unwise to. Go and do another activity for the afternoon then come back later when conditions start calming down again.
The days flying is not over, XC's are still possible in the more gentle thermals after 5pm and you may get the perfect evening glass off in the sunset.
Good flying can be had here till as late as 9pm in the Summer and 7pm in Autumn/spring.
Whilst On XC
Continually assess the conditions as you fly. What you experienced on take off could be quite different to how you find things later and in different locations. Things to think about:
- Wind direction and strength- Continously assess this using your gps ground speed, your drift in thermals and your fancy wind indicators on your flight intruments. Which are the soaring slopes/ lee side slopes, is my ground speed fast/ slow, which direction will I fly furthest, is it getting too strong?
- What sort of day is it and how is it changing?
- Thermals - where are the sunniest slopes? Is the lift strong / weak, wide/tight, gentle/ turbulent, drifting, affected by inversions?
- Cloud base - high/ low
- Is the day improving, deteriorating or overdeveloping?
- Am I in strong sink? = speed up
- Am I in lift? = slow down
- Hows my altitude? = do I need gain height or glide on to better lift
- Where will I land in an emergency?
Tips For Safe Landings
Early in the morning there is usually nil or very little wind. From the south take off the lake will appear very still.
By about 10.30am the thermals will begin lightly on the sunny faces and the rising air will draw more winds up the valleys. From the south take off the lake will appear rippled as the southerly valley wind comes up from Castellane. The wind at the main landing field at this time is fairly reliably from the lake and easy to land in.
As the day progresses and the sun moves around the mountain faces the westerly valley wind from Barreme/Digne will increase. If there is also a westerly meteo wind this will start earlier.
During the afternoon the westerly wind can penetrate over the Col de Robines and meet the southerly wind almost above the main landing field at Aerogliss. Keep a close watch on the windsocks at this time if you are landing here because the wind can quickly switch directions as the two winds ebb and flow. In strong wind conditions this can create some shear layers that can be hazardous and turbulent. The landing fields at Moriez or La Mure provide less convient but safer alternative landings when this is the case.
During the late afternoon and evening the westerly wind will often dominate at the landing field.
If you are landing later at dusk winds may change direction again or drop to nil.
Our recommendations are to make regular assessments of the landing field winds when you have plenty of height. Look for the wind on the lake, the two large windsocks in the landing field and other landing pilots. If you are planning to land in the afternoon and winds are strong land at Moriez, The training field at Meouilles or the glider landing field at La Mure.
Check the information boards at Aerogliss for further details. There are some fields near the town where landing is PROHIBTED. Make sure you know these.
Pick you landing area with plenty of height. Use this time to assess the conditions.
You need to be mindful of the differing valley flows and possible stronger winds lower down. Generally the winds will flow up the valleys and rarely do they get too strong to land in this area but avoid narrow valleys and gullies and turbulent locations behind obstructions. Check the wind direction by doing 360s and look for other signs - smoke, trees moving, other pilots, your ground speed etc.
Look out for phone and electric plyons and predict where the lines are going and if they present a hazard.
Avoid landing in crops and long uncut grass.
Once you have landed posie your glider up and move to the edge of the field. Check in to say you are down safe.
It is possible you may land out in some very quiet and remote valleys. Fortunately the local French residents are very accomodating to hitch hikers although it may be an hour before you see a car! If you fly towards Digne les Bains or towards Nice (not often flown) you can return to St Andre by the train - Chemin de Fer de Provence. If there is a group of you you can save the hassle and book us to provide a retrieve service for you. See here for details.
Whilst every reasonable precaution has been taken in the preparation of this information, we assume no responsibility for errors or omissions or for damages resulting from the use of the information contained therein. Information is provided ‘as-is’ without warranty of any kind, either express or implied. In no event will we will be liable to any party for any direct, indirect, special or other consequential damages for any use of this website or any other hyperlinked website.