By Misty Newman
Do you want to have one of the greatest adventures of your life? Experience the thrill of flying high in the sky in Maricopa.
“What I like most about hang gliding is I find it offers the most rewarding flying experience out of all the different aircraft I’ve flown,” said Luke Waters, who owns Sonora Wings with Crissy Waters. “Many hang glider pilots fly many different types of aircraft, but we all agree that hang gliding is the purest form of flight. Many people who experience hang gliding for the first time say it is how they have flown in their dreams.”
Sonora Wings is a hang gliding school and also provides Discovery Flights for the public from ages 6 and up.
There are three flying adventures for you to choose from. There are two Discovery Flights – one goes to 2,000 feet above the ground and lasts 15-20 minutes. The other Discovery flight is 3,000 feet above the ground and is 20-25 minutes. If you’re up for a real adventure, the Mile High Flight is 5,280 feet and you’re up in the air for over 40 minutes.
Luke and Crissy Waters get the opportunity to connect with many people from Maricopa and all over the country.
“Hang gliding impacts the community on many different levels,” Luke Waters said. “Sonora Wings is Arizona’s premier hang gliding school and the only school in the Southwest that offers aerotow instruction, where we use a specially designed light airplane to tow up the gliders. This method is the safest and quickly becoming the most popular way to launch hang gliders, so we get students from all over the country coming to Maricopa to train with us.”
Safety is typically a common question that people have before they go.
“Aerotowing also affords Sonora Wings the most convenient way to do two-place tandem discovery flights with folks who want to experience hang gliding with the safety of an instructor by their side,” Waters said. “Every season we bring several thousand new people out to Maricopa that fly with us or spectate while their friends and family take flights.”
The instructor also wears a parachute that will hold the weight of both passengers in the rare case of an emergency.
“We all agree that hang gliding is the purest form of flight.”
Like any new adventure, it helps to know what to expect. The flight begins with a safety talk, the overall procedure and what will happen once you’re in the air. For tandem flights, the instructor is in the harness on bottom and you are in the harness above. You will step into a full body harness and also wear a helmet.
Once you are all strapped in, the instructor gives a signal to the aerotow pilot for take-off. At this point, you start slowly rolling down the runway for a few seconds until you start ascending. Once the plane gets to the designated altitude, the instructor will detach the chord rope from the tow plane and this is when you are flying non-motorized.
This change in the flight will leave you breathless. At this point, the instructor gives you free rein to steer the glider left or right. To add to the excitement you can also request the “rollercoaster,” which will surely give you butterflies.
With the wind in your hair, feeling weightless, and being able to see for miles, it may be the closest thing you ever come to feeling like a bird. Being able to see for miles around will give you a completely new perspective on Maricopa. From Sonora Wings you can see Table Top, South Mountain, Estrella Mountains and Pachaco Peak.
If the flight bug bites you after you go tandem, Sonora Wings has you covered. In their flight instruction school you can learn to fly completely on your own. They use a building block method.
You start with the aerotow flights taking off and landing with an instructor. Once you start flying solo you eventually get to the point where you can land on your feet. Once you fly on your own and can land on your feet, you are taken to a training hill to learn the foot launching.
“Hang gliding is also a challenging sport that grows with the pilot’s skills and continues to offer new rewards,” Waters said.
Sonora Wings is not only tied into the Maricopa community, but the hang gliding community as well. Every year, Sonora Wings is a part of the Santa Cruz Flats Competition that recently held its ninth competition at the Francisco Grande Hotel in Casa Grande.
There were five classes of gliders that competed in this year’s event, a special dedication to the late Mark Knight, who was a well loved and respected member of the hang gliding community and owned Sonora Wings. The Casa Grande location is considered one of the best venues for a hang glider competition because of the desert and farmland surrounding the hotel provides good weather conditions for flying.
Flying from the resort is luxurious compared to other competition locations and brings in top competitors from around the world. The competition is based on pilots navigating their gliders around a predefined course that is usually 50-80 miles long. After seven days of competition a winner is chosen based on the times it took to complete the courses.
This competition requires a great amount of hang gliding skills and knowledge about thermals.
“Experienced hang glider pilots can launch and stay up, flying for hours using the natural currents in the Earth’s atmosphere, like a surfer riding a wave that moves in three dimensions,” Waters said. “They can gain thousands of feet in altitude and fly hundreds of miles in one flight using nothing but the power of the sun and thermals. A “soaring” flight when we stay up using thermals (areas of warm rising air) is one of the most rewarding and addicting things I’ve ever experienced.”
Misty Newman grew up in Idaho and was raised in the outdoors. She loves to go camping, hiking, fishing, & rafting. In her past life, two of her favorite recreational activities included bungee jumping and rock climbing. She was a ranger for a state park, a Recreation Coordinator for the Boys and Girls Club, and the photo editor at the College of Southern Idaho. She moved from Idaho in 2007 and has lived in Maricopa since. She now enjoys exploring AZ with her two beautiful children. Contact Misty at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.getoutdoorsmaricopa.com.
See her previous InMaricopa Outdoors stories: