Bill Buffam, Hang Glider Pilot

"What? Are you nuts?" is the usual kind of reaction. But think about it - humans in free flight, free as a bird (well, not quite - they can flap, we can't). What an incredible experience. Raean Permenter, of the Maryland Hang Gliding Association (MHGA), expresses beautifully what hang gliding is all about. Read her short and powerful essay Why Fly, on the MHGA Web site. You (whoever "you" are—pilot or wuffo) should also read this story by a newspaper reporter, who defied her greatest fears to fly tandem in Rio, and waxes spiritual about it. It's really quite moving.

Flying Facts and Figures

Most-recent flight 2005 July 2. A sled at Hyner, PA.

Total flights 451

Airtime 117 hours

Rating H4

Gliders

Flying since 1995

First altitude flight (as opposed to 30-second flights from the training hill) April 5, 1997

Club Wind Riders Hang Gliding Club, Valley Forge, PA.

Personal Records

Date Record Type  Record  Launch Landing Flight Details
2001-6-9 Longest duration 3hrs. 36min.

Sacramento PA

N 40° 39.585'
W 76° 36.344'

Malvern PA

N 40° 01.378'
W 75° 31.775'

Story

Barograph

2001-6-9 Best altitude gain 7297ft

Sacramento PA

Malvern PA

 

2001-6-9 Highest altitude ASL 8708ft

Sacramento PA

Malvern PA

 
2001-6-9 Longest cross country 71.8 miles

Sacramento PA

Malvern PA

 

Noteworthy flights

2003 April 27. Sacramento PA. 5 minute extended sled. A bad landing—no, make that a crash. This crash was the precipitating event for a reevaluation of the reward-to-effort and risk-to-reward ratios involved. After 7+ years and 100+ hours in the air, these ratios are not what they were. This crash made me think a lot, and take a long sabbatical. I finally dipped my toe back in the water—er, I mean air—on Labor Day weekend 2004. I might post more musings as they develop.

2001 October 13. 30 mile cross country from Ridgely MD, landing near Route 301 and the Sassafras River. Story, barograph, and maps (entire flight and landing).

2001 September 3. An hour-long flight from Ridgely, MD, out and return. Initially intended an XC, but decided landing out was too much hassle and returned to the airfleld, just squeaking in over the trees. The big highlight of this flight was flying with a bald eagle. He flew into my thermal and proceeded to give me a climbing lesson. He hadn't read the book on thermalling etiquette, apparently, because he chose the direction of rotation opposite from mine. This situation gave us both the opportunity to eyeball each other at close range as he came around the turn, briefly on my level. I can still feel the curious stare of those intense yellow eyes. Man, what an experience.

2001 September 1. 18 mile ridge-run cum over-the-back from Sacramento to Millersburg. Story, barograph, and map.

2001 June 9. 72 miles from Sacramento PA to Malvern. What an incredible, awesome, mind-blowing flight. A life-changing experience. Barely a day goes by (and I'm adding this bit in late 2006) when I don't relive, at some level of consciousness, some part of that wonderful journey. A sustained 3½ hours of being completely in the "flow" state. Sometimes it's hard to believe I didn't dream the whole thing. Here is the story and barograph. The Daily Local News of West Chester ran an article on this flight, taking up much of the front page of the Sunday July 8 edition.

2001 May 19. 15 mile ridge run from Sacramento. Story and barograph.

1999 April 10. First XC. 6.2 mile ridge run from Sacramento. Story and barograph.

 

Hang gliding picture gallery

Each thumbnail is a link to a real picture. I'm the pilot in every picture (well, naturally!), and also the photographer in most of them—it's obvious which. The camera is mounted either on the wingtip or on the crossbar at the leading-edge junction, operated by infra-red remote control (with 2-3 second delay).

Sacramento

No, not the capital of California. This is Sacramento, Pennsylvania style - a little village in the Western corner of Schuylkill County. The ridge of the Mahantango Mountains runs East to West just North of Sacramento ("the Sac" to all hang glider pilots). It's a beautiful place to fly.


Launching from the Sac.

Soaring over the Sac on the Ultra Sport. May 2, 2000.


Another shot from May 2, 2000, showing the beautiful Mahantango ridge.


Sharing the air with Joe Gorrie over the Sac.

A little more clearance here, after a couple of passes in ridge lift. Jeff Beyerle is down just above the horizon.

Another shot of the Mahantango ridge. This picture appeared (in monochrome) in the February 2002 Hang Gliding magazine. The shot is 1100 pixels wide, but if your screen is smaller you can try the 900 pixel or 700 pixel versions.

Hyner, Pennsylvania

The continued efforts of the Hyner Hang Gliding Club and the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources allow us to fly in the beautiful Hyner View State Park. Launching from the viewpoint itself, we eventually (we hope it's a long "eventually") land on a long grass airstrip 1300 feet below, along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Here I am launching in the early morning of July 4, 2002.

Ellenville, New York

Ellenville is a major soaring center. Here we have to compete for the air with paragliders and even stranger craft. A hang glider pilot once flew from Ellenville and landed in Central Park, New York City, 57 miles away as the crow flies. Really. I am not making this up. His name is TJ Young, and he pulled off this amazing feat on July 7, 1989.


Here I am launching with far more modest ambitions: an early morning sled, on July 25, 1998.

Soaring high above Ellenville on August 1, 1999. This was a personal best 2:42 and +4688' flight.

Crankin' and bankin' on the same flight.

The barograph from the same flight.

Ridgely, Maryland

Ridgely is home to Highland Aerosports, a superb towing operation run by a couple of great guys.


Hang check, September 4, 2004. Photo by Lenko Kovach.


Turning onto final, September 4, 2004. Photo by Lenko Kovach.


Sledding down from tow at Ridgely. July 23, 1999.

Golden, British Columbia

A bunch of pilots from the Wind Riders spent a week flying Mount 7 in August 1999. These shots are all from that trip.


Standing on launch with Steve Chychlyk, trying to scare the clouds and rain away.

Soaring high over launch. What looks like a gigantic glider on launch is in fact the launch ramp. There's a real glider just behind it.

Heading out over the valley.

A couple of thousand feet above the landing field.

Thinking about setting up the landing.

Embreeville

The Embreeville training hill in West Bradford Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania, is a mere 30 miles from downtown Philadelphia. To be picky about it, it's precisely 29.4 miles exactly due West of City Hall. Okay, it's 2.7 degrees South of due West. Yes I know: that's way more information than you need. But it's near Groundhog College Road, which has to be one of the best names anyone ever picked for a road.

Sadly, the hill is out of commission, at least for the moment. The landing zone has been turned into sewage lagoons by the local township. We believe this action is illiegal on several grounds, and have been fighting in court for almost three years. As I write this (August 2005) the lawsuit has gone to an appeal.


Here I am flying my Pulse at Embreeville.

A Newspaper for the Hang Gliding Community

Davis Straub started his electronic newspaper several years ago. He calls it the Oz Report. Davis has built up the Oz Report to the point where many pilots, myself included, regard it as every bit as important and informative as the official magazine of USHGA itself. There's no regular publication schedule, but you'll usually get at least one a week, and maybe 3-4 a week—even 7 a week—when news is happening at a high rate. Follow the linked picture below to the Oz Report site, where you'll find the current issue, back issues, and information on how to subscribe. What you pay is up to you—even $0 gets you a subscription.


Home Page