Worldwide Turnpoint Exchange
The Worldwide Soaring Turnpoint Exchange at soaringweb.org is a great place to find waypoint files for soaring locations around the globe. In the North America section there is a range of turnpoint files to select from for Colorado. The most frequently used file for pilots flying from Boulder is the file Boulder Within 250sm, which is a subset of the larger Colorado Regional Collection. This file is currently also installed in SSB club gliders.
The main issues with this waypoint file is that it hasn’t been updated for more than 15 years and has thus become unreliable. E.g., many of the private airfields contained in this file no longer exist.
A New Colorado Waypoint File
For this and other reasons I have created my own Colorado waypoint files, originally based on the “Boulder Within 250sm” file. In addition to the Waypoint File, I also created custom Soaring Maps that show all waypoints on visually appealing and easily readable topographic maps. There is one map for all of Colorado and one just for the Front Range. You can find these here.
Back to the Waypoint file: using 2D and 3D views of satellite images (mainly using Google Maps, Bing, Open Street Map, and SeeYou), I reviewed all airports and airstrips contained in the public file, eliminated those that appear to no longer exist, and adjusted many of the GPS coordinates when they were a considerable distance away from the actual locations. Internet technology and satellite imagery has drastically improved since the creation of these files and it is now much easier to be accurate. I also deleted turnpoints that I considered redundant and added new turnpoints in areas where I felt they would be desirable. I also marked many important mountain passes not included on the published waypoint file.
In addition, I also added potential landout fields in areas where there are neither public airports nor private airstrips. Such fields are obviously inherently unreliable because their condition changes with the seasons (e.g. depending on what crops are being grown), and over time (e.g. new construction developments). However, I felt it was important to know the location of such fields. This way I can distinguish potentially landable areas from those that are always unlandable.
I also marked emergency landing sites within wider areas of unlandable terrain. While they must be ignored for flight planning purposes, knowing their location can be essential in an emergency situation (e.g. if an intended flight path is suddenly blocked by a thunderstorm or after encountering major unexpected and prolonged downdrafts). I never want to get into a situation where I have to land in one of these places but I still want to know where they are even if landing there could result in a wrecked glider.
This effort was aided significantly by a recent discussion of landout fields among experienced Colorado cross-country pilots. This discussion helped me eliminate some potential fields and add others in particularly critical areas. As part of this discussion, we also discussed a new global crowd-sourced tool to identify, rate, document, and update landout fields. I highly encourage all cross-country pilots in Colorado to make active use of this tool so that we can maintain a high-quality landout database for the Rocky Mountains. Your active participation is highly appreciated! Go here to register and upload a new field. It is very easy and you are doing a great service to the soaring community! (If you need help using the database, take a look at slides 20-25 in this presentation for an easy explanation.)
Downloading And Using The New Colorado Waypoint File
You’re welcome to use my personal waypoint file(s) but please understand that YOU DO SO AT YOUR OWN RISK. I cannot guarantee that any of the information contained in the file is accurate, current, or suitable for any purpose. In particular, you MUST NOT RELY on the suitability of any landout or emergency field. The information may be wrong or outdated. The suitability of landout fields depends on the season (e.g. crops, irrigation, flooding), the glider (e.g. wingspan, wing loading, landing flaps, brakes, etc.) the pilot (e.g., skills, experience, currency), the weather conditions (e.g. wind, turbulence), etc. Landing on private property may be trespassing. I may have overlooked obstacles in my research (e.g. fences, power lines, ditches, etc.) Fields that looked usable in a satellite image may not be usable on the day of flight (e.g. there may be people, animals, or equipment in the field), or the field may no longer exist at all (e.g. new construction, quarry, etc.). As pilot in command, you are solely responsible for the safety of the flight.
That said, I tried to make the information as useful as possible. E.g., if I had particular concerns about potential hazards associated with a field, I added this to the name with hazard codes behind a question mark. I used the following codes: l = insufficient length; w = insufficient width; s = uneven surface; / = slope; a = hazardous approach; ^ = likely ground obstacles; @ = difficult road access. THE ABSENCE OF A HAZARD CODE DOES NOT IMPLY THE ABSENCE OF HAZARDS!
If you notice errors in the file, please email me at ChessInTheAir@gmail.com so that I can correct the file!
You can download the files here. There are six files so you can download the full file or just the types of waypoints that you want (e.g. you may not want to see the emergency fields at all). The file names indicate what’s in the file:
- COMPLETE. This file contains everything: public airports, private airports, 14 er peaks, turnpoints, landout fields, and emergency fields. Please read below for a description of each. As a bonus feature, this file also includes preloaded the four Proving Grounds tasks (Boulder Dash, Hill Rambler, Niwot’s Challenge, and Lookout for Silver) as well as suggested tasks for earning all badges up to Diamond along the Colorado Front Range. Read more here about the task flying support program in Boulder.
- PUBLIC AIRPORTS. This file contains airports available to the public. Note: the GPS location may not be identical to the one in published airport directories. In many cases I simply took the GPS location from the satellite image when viewing the airport. Also note: some airports contain a question mark and a hazard code as part of the name. E.g., “?w” may indicate potentially insufficient width, this could be due to runway lights next to a relatively narrow runway. (I fly an 18m glider and “w” means I am concerned about the usability of this particular airport with my glider.)
- WAYPOINTS. This file contains turn-points, i.e. waypoints where there is no landing possibility. These are often mountain peaks, towns, mountain passes, reservoir dams, towers, or other landmarks. Waypoints have a three digit number before the name. I find that this makes it easier to enter them in a soaring task.
- 14er PEAKS. This file contains the GPS locations of all the mountains in Colorado that are taller than 14,000 ft MSL. They are marked like waypoints and also numbered with a three digit number.
- LANDOUT PLACES. This file contains landout fields. All landout fields start with an “x” in front of the name to indicate that this is not a public airport. These could be private airports (paved or unpaved), unimproved ranch strips, backcountry strips, farm fields, hayfields, crop fields, etc. Any place that might be landable if the conditions on the day are favorable (e.g. no tall crops, no obstacles in the field, appropriate wind direction, etc…) Opening the file in SeeYou will indicate the type of field (i.e., airport with solid runway, airport with grass runway, other landout place). Hazard codes warn of suspected hazards. Additional information may be in the description. The absence of a specific hazard code does not imply that this hazard does not exist!
- EMERGENCY FIELDS. This file contains places where you should never land but where it may be possible to safe your life in an emergency (if not the glider). The name of such fields starts with “xx”. In SeeYou they are labelled as “unknown” and displayed as a question mark. My personal criterion for including them was: if the surrounding terrain is unlandable and I may rather attempt to land at a particular place than jump out with the parachute, it is worth knowing about this location. This may also include places like golf courses or parking lots where landing out can be extremely dangerous not just for the pilot but also for others on the ground. I.e., on the day of flight, jumping out with the parachute could still be the better option!
I created these waypoint files for my own use. Feel free to adjust them for your own purposes. Please do let me know if you find any errors. And please contribute to the crowd-sourced landout database! Fly safe!