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(Last updated: September 12, 2014)
Flying at the Region 4 North contest site includes several large valleys and many ridges along the Appalachian mountains. Like many contest sites these days, it also includes a few important airspace restrictions. The four cardinal quadrants pose numerous challenges and opportunities for the contestant who is familiar with the terrain, airspace and local weather conditions.
The contest area is bounded by Carlisle and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to the North; The Susquahanna River and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to the East; the Washington-Baltimore Class B, P-40, SFRA airspace and Front Royal to the South; and the Appalachians and Mifflin County to the West. A detailed discussion of each quadrant is provided in the adjacent pages. (Click for full sized photo.)
Turnpoints 2, 3, 7, 16, 20, 22, 32, 34, 35, 38, 39, 42, 47
The most important of the two airspace features in the northern quadrant of the M-ASA task area is P40, the Camp David prohibited area. When the President is in residence, a 10 nautical mile TFR is used to protect the airspace around Camp David. M-ASA has been granted a waiver for arrivals and departures from W73. You will be briefed verbally on exit and entry procedures before each flight when the TFR is in effect. The other airspace feature is the Harrisburg TRSA (Terminal Radar Service Area). The primary airports are Capital City and Harrisburg International. The airspace around these airports is Class D. The remaining portion of the TRSA overlies airspace that is normally Class E. Pilots operating under VFR are encouraged to contact the radar approach control to avail themselves of TRSA services, but participation is voluntary. Also within this airspace, south of Harrisburg International Airport along the Susquehanna River is the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. Temporary Flight Restrictions prevent over flight and loitering around the facility.
Generally, flying within the TRSA is not problematic. Carlisle (7) and Donegal Springs (10) are within the TRSA. If you are flying directly on the course line between these two turnpoints, you will be very close to the Class D airspace of Harrisburg International Airport and the Three Mile Island TFR.
The East is characterized by gently rolling farmland. Good fields and many private grass strips are available for landing. To the West is the high ground of South and Piney Mountains, sweeping northeast, separating the coastal plain from the Cumberland Valley. Turnpoints at Mt. Holly (34) and Pine Grove Furnace (35) are in the north end of this high ground. This area is considered unlandable, with most open fields devoted to apple and peach orchards. Mature apple and peach trees are clearly visible from the air. There are, however, numerous fields with young trees that are nearly invisible until seconds before landing. Fields with the same ground markings as those with mature trees probably have saplings in them. Recently turned field are the best option in this area. If unavailable, it is better to land in a corn field or other high crop than risking a landing among sapling apple or peach trees. You may cause less damage to your glider in the latter, but your total bill will be very, very much higher is you knock down a dozen or more young trees.
The Cumberland Valley is broad with rolling farm land lying generally southwest/northeast. Many good fields are available. Across the Cumberland Valley is the first of the Alleghany ridges that make up the Northern section. Thompsontown Bridge (42) is at the northeast end of Tuscarora Mountain. The valley upwind of the ridge has many landable fields. Farther north, Beavertown (2) is on Shade Mountain, one of several mountains that make up the Lewistown Ridge. The valley upwind of this ridge has landable fields, but many are narrow.
Thompsontown and Beavertown are typically only used on ridge days. There will be a daily briefing on flying these ridges if we task to the far northwest sectors of the task area.
Most of the Quadrant is gently rolling farm land with many private grass strips. As you approach the high ground, the fields will become more undulating. Beyond Biglerville, as you enter the high ground, be sure that you can glide over the hills into the Cumberland Valley (often called the Carlisle or Hagerstown valley) where fields abound. Again, near the hills the fields are sloped.
There is a narrow valley in the mountain range between Fairfield and Carlisle (an often used task leg). This high valley has numerous landable fields. However, most landings in this valley have resulted in minor damage to gliders. The terrain is more rugged than it appears. The ground is rocky. There are many fields being converted to orchards (saplings). And we’ve had several close calls (and one collision with wires). Because lift is usually stronger in the high ground, this valley is seldom the last, best resort to for a flight in trouble. In all cases, it is preferable to glide out of the high ground if at all possible.
Among the orchards north of Biglerville, there is a small, grass airport named Schulteis. It is in you database. This airport is hard to locate. It is literally the front lawn of a farm house. Further, there is a driveway running through it. This grass landing strip parallels the road running through a small valley. The strip is on the north side of the road. It is usually marked by two white balls at the east end of the strip. It was last used in 2006. At that time, it was safe to rollout across the driveway (ie, no ditches, no wires, no fences).
Further to the north and west, among the ridges of the Alleghenies, the valleys are more narrow, and in some places offer only limited landing opportunities. Here you will need to commit to land early. In other areas the valleys are broad and offer excellent landing options.
From the north and east sections of Quadrant 1, final glides are straight forward. There are many landable fields and private grass strips. The one “gotcha” is the line of small hills northeast of Fairfield. These hills become important when final gliding from the town of Gettysburg. During a best L/D final glide, if you don’t have an adequate safety margin (at least 300 feet), you may find the view discomforting. Additionally, there is a band about 1.5 miles wide without any landing options. Remember too that landings at Fairfield, except in an emergency, are always uphill (to the northwest). So you will need to fly to the far end of the airport (not the finish line) and make a turn of about 145 degrees prior to landing.
There are five grass strips in the database between Gettysburg airport and Fairfield. These are on the north side of the road connecting the two towns. Several are very difficult to see and may not be mowed well enough to safely land a 15M glider. Also pay attention to crops. The area’s wheat fields are deceivingly enticing from the air, but the crop may stand up to 4 feet tall. Please ask a local pilot for a briefing on the grass airports along this leg.
Final glides from the west or northwest must cross a 10 mile-wide band of mountain and forest. There are very few safe landing options available once you commit to flying across the hills. From Five Lakes airport, a minimum of 4,000 feet MSL makes the glide comfortable (at the very least, you should make the valley and its friendlier terrain). Be aware of wave induced sink while planning your course. On marginal final glides, especially with a NW wind, remember that the high ground adjacent to the ski hill needs to be cleared. Also be aware that a downwind, down hill landing at Fairfield will probably involve rolling off the south end of the runway.
With the exception of the high ground and the ridge and valley section of the North Quadrant, aggressive flying is possible thanks to the many farm fields and small private airports.
Approaching high ground turnpoints, or crossing the high ground you need to be sure to have enough altitude to glide to landable fields in the next valley.
The ridge and valley section of the North Quadrant can be very fast (>100mph) if the ridges are working. On thermal days, the ridges will often provide saves, so following the ridge lines often proves effective.
Ridge day task often includes the turnpoint at Thompsontown Bridge. The Tuscarora Ridge, running from Burnt Cabins to Thompsontown Bridge has a gap (Honey Grove) about 20 miles southwest of Thompsontown. Heading NE, the upwind ridge on the far side of the gap climbs gently out of the valley to become a long, round-topped mountain. Gliding from the high ridge upwind to the lower ridge and flying up the slope into the ridge lift works well. There are good fields along the low ridge that you will not be able to see from the downwind ridge as you approach the gap. Crossing the gap to the southwest, you will fly down the sloping ridge. Maintaining about 3,000 msl will generally yield a safe transition. At or below 3,000 msl, you will typically arrive at the SW side of the gap below ridge top: you will need to fly close to the ridge to find lift. The best fields are behind you for the next two miles, upwind of a line of low hills. You will note one field among the trees in the middle of the gap. It is short and sloped. Most local pilots agree that it would be very difficult to execute a safe landing into this field. It is not recommended.
Written by Chris O’Callaghan “OC” (Edited by Rick Fuller)
Turnpoints 1, 8, 9, 10, 11, 18, 23, 24, 25, 37, 40, 41, 48
The eastern quadrant largely lies between the Baltimore Class B airspace to the south and the Harrisburg/Capital City Class D airspace to the north. A couple eastern turnpoints commonly used for TATs lie close enough to the Baltimore airspace that caution must be used to avoid an airspace violation. These include Prettyboy (37) and Clearview (9). On the north side of the eastern quadrant use caution when approaching or leaving Donegal Springs (10) to stay clear of the 3 Mile Island power plant (no low saves above a cooling tower, please!) and the Harrisburg Class D airspace. The Smoketown turnpoint (40) is near the Lancaster Class D cylinder, so be aware of that airspace as well. One other airspace note – there are occasional skydiving operations near Littlestown PA, in between Hanover (18) and Taneytown (41). If you cross this area be aware of the potential hazard.
The eastern quadrant is largely flat and forgiving. Because of this, the R4N CD usually calls tasks in this direction during weak soaring days. There are some low hills between Hanover and York, which often kick-off thermals on weak days, with good landing fields on either side. Further east, near Lineboro, the terrain appears fairly flat from above, but be cautious of areas with significantly rolling low hills that can complicate field selection and outlandings. The far eastern area, near and beyond the Susquehanna River, is generally flat and free of significant hazards.
The East quadrant has many outlanding airport and field options. There are many large and flat ag fields in this quadrant. Crops will vary in this area, and normal care must be taken for field section.
One of the most often used turnpoints at R4N is York (48), which is a glider-friendly GA airport. We’ve had many dozens of outlandings there over the years and frequent aeroretrieves. The same goes for Carroll County (8). As normal, please broadcast your landing intentions on the traffic frequencies and immediately clear the paved runway after landing.
The Hanover turnpoint is at the large quarry on the northwest side of the town. A couple of miles south of the turnpoint, just west of the town, there is a grass runway airport frequently used for outlandings. This small airport has a main and crosswind runway, with a large farm house and barn near the intersection. Both runways are good for glider landings, and are suitable for aerotrieves. But as with most private and small grass airstrips, they can have temporary hazards, so you should check with a M-ASA local pilot for current conditions.
Clearview Airport (9) is paved and looks like a good landing option, but caution must be used. It is narrow and has a significant slope (downward to the northwest) which can complicate the landing and provide challenges. If you must land there, it is suggested to land to the southeast (upslope, toward Baltimore), or choose one of many large ag fields nearby.
There are other airports further east that are acceptable for outlanding, but are less frequently used by M-ASA pilots.
Prettyboy Dam (37) must be approached with caution. This turnpoint has heavy woods and rolling terrain for several miles around, with few or no landing options. Don’t go carelessly speeding in there arriving low. Reserve enough altitude to get back to the good open fields.
The East quadrant is great for a fast and generally low-stress final glide. There are many landable fields which are clearly visible, and few hazards.
The East quadrant offers classic flat-land soaring, without the complications of significant terrain or topography. Since this area is commonly used during weak soaring conditions, the key is to know where to find thermal sources. Frequently, M-ASA XC pilots have success flying from town-to-town using the pavement/buildings for thermal sources. The city of Hanover, 20 miles east of Fairfield, is usually a good thermal generator (and if it is doesn’t work, then Hanover airport provides a good landing option). The Hanover Quarry (18) is also known as a good thermal generator, as well as the low hills north of Hanover.
A large industrial facility at Union Bridge (43) is often a strong thermal source (look for the tall stack), and the quarry just south of there can be productive, too.
Recently, the Hunterstown power plant was commissioned which sits about 5 miles northeast of the town of Gettysburg (look for the three large “smoke” stacks). When active, this natural gas-fed power plant has been known to generate powerful thermals, even on very stable/weak days. The problem is that this peak demand station is not always running, so it’s uncertain if it will work or not. If it does, tighten your harness, hang-on, and enjoy the industrial-strength thermal ride. If the station fails to provide needed lift, there are good landing fields nearby (and an easy 30-minute drive from Fairfield).
Written by Mike Higgins “WM”
Turnpoints 4, 14, 15, 19, 28, 21, 29, 31, 39, 43, 45, 46
The Southern quadrant of the M-ASA task area has two critical airspace features: the Camp David prohibited area (P40) and the Baltimore/Washington SFRA, FRZ and Class B airspace. Please study your charts carefully. Know the boundaries and respect them. While M-ASA maintains a good relationship with the authorities, it is because we respect the heightened awareness they maintain in tracking aircraft in and around P40 and the ADIZ.
When the President is in residence, a 10 nautical mile TFR is used to protect the airspace around Camp David. M-ASA has been granted a waiver for arrivals and departures from W73. You will be briefed verbally on exit and entry procedures before each flight when the TFR is in effect. Additional procedural information is available in the description of the North Quadrant.
When the TFR is not active (most of the time), it is only required that you remain outside the prohibited area, which is a 3 nautical mile radius circle centered on Camp David. Turnpoint 21 (High Rock) is 1 mile from the edge of the prohibited area. High Rock is a hang glider launch site at the north end of a low ridge running NE from Turnpoint 29 (Mason Dixon). When the winds are westerly, it is not uncommon to see a dozen hang gliders and sailplanes on this ridge. P40 is entirely behind this ridge. If you are using ridge lift, it is unlikely that you will inadvertently enter prohibited airspace. However, if you transition to thermal lift, you must be careful not do drift downwind of the ridge.
There are few distinct landmarks available to define the northern boundaries of P40, However, if you are on a final glide from High Rock, keep the radio tower a half mile to your right as you cross the top of the ridge and fly a straight course to the finish line – you will remain well clear of prohibited airspace.
For legs on the east (Frederick) side of the ridge, stay well to the east of the town of Thurmont. P40 covers a significant portion of the town.
Aircraft arriving at Dulles International from the north typically overfly Frederick Airport. When the winds are southerly, it is not uncommon to see heavies as low as 4,000 msl. Traffic is especially dense between 1:00 PM and 4:00 PM as aircraft arrive from Europe.
To the east, the South Quadrant is characterized by gently rolling farmland. To the south, a pair of ridges diverge to create the Middletown Valley. While there are good fields south of Interstate 70, to the north the valley is very hilly. Fields are typically short, steep, and often bounded by high tension lines carrying power into Frederick (Maryland’s second largest city). To the west, the Hagerstown valley offers numerous landable fields. However, as you venture further to the west and south (towards Martinsburg and Front Royal), the threat of rocks increases significantly. Use your best judgment based on field type. Pastures should always be suspect, requiring extra diligence.
This part of the task area offers few surprises. Unsafe terrain is easily distinguished from the abundant, landable farmland.
The turnpoint at Mason Dixon is a drag strip. From a distance, it could easily be mistaken for an airport. The drag strip and its infield, no matter how enticing they may look from the air, are not landable due to the numerous wires criss-crossing the area. There are large fields north, south, and west of the drag strip. These are better options.
Harpers Ferry, at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, is picturesque. It is also almost completely without landable fields for a radius of almost 4 miles. There is one landable field in the high valley at the foot of the ridge NE of the turnpoint. Unfortunately, it is a corn field and unlandable from late June to October. East of the turnpoint there is more farm land, but the fields in this valley are short and steep. If you come off the ridge or exit blindly through the gap, it is unlikely you’ll find a safe field. You must glide about 3.5 miles to the west to find more acceptable options. The first acceptable field to the ENE is about 5 miles away.
Final glides on the east side of the ridge are straight forward. There are plenty of landable fields, right up to the threshold of runway 33.
Final glides from the west side of the ridge near High Rock are more challenging. Depending on the winds, a minimum altitude of 3,000 msl is required for a safe finish from the ridge at High Rock. There are landable fields along the way; however, they are smaller and steeper than they appear from the air. There is a golf course at the base of the ski hill. It has a few long fairways, but these are surrounded by trees. Landing here would require a careful assessment of the wind, potential obstructions, and finesse on the controls. Once past the ski hill (going east), there are numerous options.
The ridge running SE from High Rock has good sections, but is best characterized as a “low, weak ridge.” It is possible to fly from High Rock almost to Front Royal solely in ridge lift, but this is not recommended. Two areas require extra caution Greenbriar and Harpers Ferry. South of Mason Dixon, the ridge flattens and becomes disorganized. Lift sometimes remains strong through this area, but it is not reliable. You will need to climb before transitioning to the low ridge running south to Harpers Ferry. Best to find that climb before crossing I-70.
From the treetops, the ridge running south out of Harpers Ferry looks OK. However, it is almost always weak, and there are few fields within gliding distance of the mountain for several miles. As you continue south, the ridge descends over the next 20 miles until it is little more than a hill.
Thermals, as expected, are typically stronger over the higher ground and largely uniform throughout the valley. You can also expect some suppression of thermal strength in the low, moist areas around the Potomac River.
Wrtten by Chris O’Callaghan “OC” (Edited by Rick Fuller)
Turnpoints 5, 6, 13, 17, 26, 27, 30, 33, 36, 38, 44.
The Western quadrant of the M-ASA task area has three critical airspace features: the Camp David Prohibited Area (P40) and two Restricted Areas situated west of the Chambersburg Valley. P40 is covered in the Southern quadrant. Please refer to it.
The two danger areas, respectively R-5801 and R-5803, are very small, but can be very harmful under the current SSA rules. Only active from ground up to 4000 feet MSL and Monday ’til Friday from 08:00 until 16:00 local time, they are considered as unlimited and permanently active by the rules committee from the SSA. Zero points for the day, plus another 200 points or so penalty can really ruin your competition. It has happened in the past; do not be the next one to experience it!
The west Quadrant is characterized by a succession of hills, sometimes ridges, and inter-valleys that can range from a few miles to dozens of miles. The hills and ridges are almost totally covered by trees while the inter-valleys provide a mix of rolling and flat farmland. A few forests, quarries, towns and golf courses also show up everywhere, but the human footprint is mainly concentrated along highway I-81 in the Hagerstown-Chambersburg-Carlisle valley.
This part of the task area potentially hides a lot of surprises.
There are almost no landing possibilities in the hills just west of Fairfield. There is well a very short field just north of Mount Alto, close to the sanatorium, but it might not be cut. The motto for these hills is: do not count on anything in the hills.
The Chambersburg Valley looks pretty nice for out-landings and generally is, but it also hides numerous traps, like important slopes, stones, ground hog holes, high tension lines and outcrops. If you get low in this valley, give yourself a little extra time and altitude to investigate your chosen field. Particular attention is recommended closer to the hills for big size stones. If you have the altitude, it is often better to move back towards the center of the valley were fields are generally larger and safer. Outcrops can be found anywhere in the valley, but are mostly found in pastures and their gray color is sometime visible from the air.
There are a certain number of airports in this valley and they are all friendly to gliders. Some are particularly narrow at some point, like Five Lakes and should be considered with caution for big ships. Chambersburg airport has a nice concrete runway, but is an active skydiving area and it is highly recommended to check their level of activity on frequency 122.80 Mhz. Hagerstown Airport is not a very active airfield, but is protected by Class D airspace. It is recommended to contact them in case you get close to it or decide to fly over it. Their very long concrete runways make the airport suitable for heavy aircraft. It is better to know where they are.
Further west gets you in the ridges where the fields are small, narrow, sloped and difficult at best. A few inter-valleys offer better options, but the motto here is: be very cautious!
Final glides from the west imply the crossing of what we call “the hills”. Adding 1000’ to your normal safety finish altitude should be sufficient to make it to Fairfield. In good conditions and with westerly winds, it is often possible to start the final as far as the Tuscarora Ridge with a minimum altitude of 7000’.
Lower finals are possible via High Rock, but are not recommended, as they generally include detours and waist of time. But if you find yourself in such a condition, please refer to the Southern quadrant.
A task to the west offers multiple challenges. Crossing the hills demands sufficient altitude to do so and when the wind is from the west, the air mass generally offers very turbulent thermals. To the point that it is often advisable to initially drift to the east to find a suitable thermal that will take you close to the cloud base, before progressing back to the hills. Once the hills are crossed, the Chambersburg Valley often provides good and consistent thermals. The presence of cloud streets generally allows a rapid crossing head-wind with just one or two thermals. In northwesterly conditions the lift band is often under the northern quadrant of the cloud street. Taking a detour to line up with a good cloud street is always the option to favor. Further west lays a first range of ridges that are not useful to soaring. Sufficient altitude to reach the McConnelsburg-Burnt Cabin Ridge is needed to end a successful crossing of the Chambersburg Valley. If wind conditions are correct, running the Tuscarora Ridges is then pure fun. Our ridges are pretty low, so be aware that if it gets weak for any reason, you are already at pattern altitude, if not lower!
If the ridges are not working, they generally still provide better and more frequent thermals than the valley. So, it is not a bad idea to follow them, even if the detour is important. In ridge conditions, the speed factor is getting exacerbated by the distance you can achieve following ridges. It is often advisable to take the shortest way to the ridge and then follow it.
Written by Baude Litt “LBL”
(Updated: November 8, 2011)
The graphic below shows the general layout of the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Center during a Region 4 North contest. It shows the typical parking locations for sailplane trailers, campers and the usual spot for tent camping.
Guests should exercise extreme caution when crossing the three runways since W73 is a public use airport that allows takeoff and landings at all hours of the day. Due to our proximity to Camp David and P-40, we occasionally see W73 used as a practice airfield for military helicopters. Stay alert! (Click for full size image.)