Field Trip, Literally

Last Sunday didn’t look like a good day for soaring so I decided to use the time for a road trip along the Northern Front Range to research potential land-out fields – private airstrips, farmer’s fields, and other places where I might be able to land a glider safely if it became necessary. Knowing where such fields are allows me to safely venture beyond gliding distance of the main public airports and gives me more confidence to go on cross-country flights.

In preparation of my “field trip”, I created a set of criteria (see below) that would help me evaluate each landing area.  I also researched a number of potential fields upfront using satellite images on Google Maps.

Set of criteria I used to evaluate each of the potential out-landing fields.

In addition, I queried the Internet to see if other people had done such work before so I would have a good starting point to work from.  (In Europe, there are reasonably decent open-source databases of land-out fields available, e.g. as part of XC Soar.) Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find anything comparable for Colorado. Also, my prior experience with such databases in Austria demonstrated that they cannot be relied upon as fields can subsequently become unusable (e.g. new construction, fencing, other obstacles, etc.).  In addition, I have found that just because someone else marked a field as useable, does not necessarily mean that I would be comfortable landing there myself.

My drive covered the area between Boulder, CO and Laramie, WY along the Northern Front Range. You can click here to view the complete results of my research. Please remember that I did this for my own purposes only and you must read this disclaimer before you use any of this information.

I visited all the fields marked in blue and yellow on this map.

Please contact me if you are aware of similar efforts to research land-out fields for this or other areas in the Rocky Mountains.

In addition to learning about specific fields, I also gained a much better understanding of the topography along the Northern Front Range. And, as another side benefit, I saw some beautiful country side.

Farm in the Laramie River Valley. There are few landing spots in this long and remote valley NNW of the Rocky Mountains National Park.

Finally, a note for non-glider pilots who may be unfamiliar with the concept of “landing out”: when soaring, a good principle is to always stay within glide range of an airport. However, airports aren’t everywhere so pilots try to stay at least within glide range of a field where they can land without breaking the plane, and, more importantly, themselves. Landing in a field is what’s called “landing out”.  It is certainly inconvenient (because someone will have to jump into a car to come get you and your glider (which will have to be disassembled and put into a trailer), but it is not unexpected. If done properly, it is definitely not a “crash” or even an “emergency.” Especially in gliding competitions where glider pilots cover long distances, often in marginal conditions, it happens all the time and is par for the course.

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