Site Guide – Shaw Butte Paragliding – Phoenix, AZ
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Site Guide – Shaw Butte Paragliding – Phoenix, AZ

Over Thanksgiving, I traveled to Phoenix, AZ to spend time with my family and was lucky enough to snag a hike and fly at Shaw Butte in central Phoenix. This was definitely an interesting site and well worth checking out if you’re a confident P3 pilot.

Location: Shaw Butte is located in central Phoenix, in the North Mountain Park, which is a large recreational area in the midst of the city.  It’s pretty easy to find with a google search and has ample parking. I like the mid-city flying aspect, as this isn’t something I’ve encountered very often!

Approach: Although there is a road to launch, I was told that it requires a high clearance 4WD vehicle along with gate access, generally making Shaw Butte a Hike and Fly site.  The hike to launch took about 45 minutes and was pretty mellow, following a well packed, low angle trail most of the way. Towards launch, we split off onto the “old trail,” which was steeper and more rocky, but this was only for a short distance.  All in all, the hike wasn’t too strenuous, but it is AZ and the air is pretty dry, so make sure to bring along some water, especially if it’s hot!

Launch: Shaw Butte has one of the most technically demanding launches I have yet encountered and I definitely agree with the P3 rating given to this site. Surrounded by power lines, prickly trees, sharp rocks, and cactus, this cliff launch is very small!  There is just enough space for one pilot to spread their wing and take about two steps in any direction before they must be in the air!  Because there is very little room to run or maneuver, a steady breeze is necessary for this launch.  Light wind, strong wind, and cross wind could all make things pretty difficult and even dangerous, so it’s very important to pick a good cycle on this launch.

I saw this first hand when some other pilots struggled to get in the air and ended up in the cactus multiple times.  This is a site where your ground handling needs to be up to speed. Before flying here I would definitely recommend that you feel confident with kiting, launching, and reading cycles.

As for me, I felt very lucky to have a nice launch.  After seeing others struggle, I was pretty nervous so I waited for a good, straight cycle to come through.  The wing came straight up, I turned, and was in the air!

Flight:  I launched late afternoon on a winter day, meaning the air wasn’t particularly active. Although not a long flight, I had a lot of fun, hitting some gentle lift throughout the area.  Shaw Butte offers ridge soaring on the cliffs around launch, as well as thermal flying over the South Pad, the flats, and North Mountain.  Although my flight was pretty mellow, during the right conditions there is certainly potential for some big flights here! This is a desert site and can definitely get very strong.

Obstacles: Directly off launch, we encounter power lines that must be crossed in order to make the LZ.  In most circumstances, I don’t think they’re an issue and should easily be cleared. However, in case you were to hit sink directly off launch you should be experienced enough to make decisions about alternate flight paths and landing in a bail out. Other obstacles include radio towers, air traffic and airspace restrictions (6000 MSL), and possible turbulence/rotor from several lower peaks/ridges.

Landing: South-East of launch (after crossing the power lines) are a desert clearing and a retention basin that can be used for landing. Though they cannot be seen from launch, both are within easy glide distance and relatively free of obstacles, though you’ll probably encounter a few shrubs and rocks. Both LZ’s are large, convenient to parking, and offer easy landing approaches, though watch out for sink and turbulence caused by terrain features.

Final Thoughts: All in all I thought this was a fun site that offers a unique opportunity to fly in the middle of the city.  Due to the technical launch and the potential for some strong, turbulent conditions, I would have to agree with the P3 rating given this site. If you’re a P3 or higher pilot confident in your ground handling and your ability to choose appropriate flying conditions, then this might be a cool site for you!  For more information and requirements for visiting pilots, please check out AZHPA – Shaw Butte.

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