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Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Holy Grail of PPG

UI'm Welcome!
The 9th Annual
Gathering at Monument Valley
Oct. 6,7,8,9  2016

Franck Simonnet
There are no registration fees, 
all that is required is a good attitude.

Gouldings Lodge and Campground

Please Contact Gouldings direct to Book Lodging, RV Space or tent camping.    

There are private casitas available at special rates for our Gathering.  Speak with Linda Litsui in group sales before June 1st to reserve a suite.  Identify yourself as a member of the "Ultra Lite Group" to receive the discounted rate.

Event Schedule:

Friday Oct. 7rd
6:30 am Pilot Briefing
7:00 am morning flights
12:00 Road Trip thru Monument Valley Tribal Park
4:00 pm evening flights

Saturday Oct 8th
6:30 am Pilot Briefing
7:00 am Group flight
4:00 pm evening flights
8:00 pm Banquet at Gouldings Restaurant

Sunday Oct 9th
6:30 am Pilot Briefing
7:00 am morning flights

Other Questions.... 

Contact: Joe Onofrio   


1. USE YOUR HEAD and..
Respect the Terrain  !

This is not a Fly-In for beginners. We are launching at 5200 MSL. When the conditions are perfect, anybody can fly Monument Valley Tribal Park. However, anything over nil wind will create mechanical rotor and conditions can change fast. Remember the windward side of one Monument is often the lee side of another. When in doubt, stay high.

2.  Launch and Leave
In addition to our group there will be Vistaliners and other aircraft using the airstrip.  Expect traffic between 10:00am and 2:00pm.  There is plenty of room near the airfield for public demonstrations of  ego skill, and equipment.

3. Do not stress the livestock or Buzz structures 

.  When in the Navajo Tribal Park stay at least 1000 feet above the desert floor.  This is especially true of  Goulding's facilities, the Park Entrance and View Hotel.

4. The EVENT Radio Frequency will be:    462.6375.  FRS 4 & GMRS 12

The following are procedures to be used at the Goulding’s airstrip in Monument Valley.-

-Ground equipment(trailers, etc.)should be parked on the west side of the airstrip in the gravel area south of the windsock. Do not park near the hangar or on the paved areas.

-No close overflights in the areas south and west of the runway between the runway and the cliffs(mesas?). Do not “buzz” any of the Goulding’s Lodge buildings.-Any ground equipment or aircraft that is to be left at Goulding’s airstrip after you leave must be cleared with management.
-The asphalt parking area at the south end of the airstrip is reserved for commuter aircraft and short-term parking. Other aircraft should use the dirt parking area west of the runway.

-Takeoff is from runway 34 and landing is on runway 16.-CTAF is 122.9.-Field elevation is 5,208’. Be aware of density altitude.

-The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a separate entity from Goulding’s Lodge. The park superintendent has asked Goulding’s to please “suggest” to Ultralight individuals that they pay the $5.00 per person entry fee into the park if they plan on flying over the park. All Goulding’s Lodge is doing is following up on the park’s wishes. Goulding’s Lodge has no connection with the operation of the park, or their policies.

Overnight camping is allowed only at the campground.


1) Is there a fee to go into the park?

The Navajo request a $5 donation for each day you fly into the park. If you want to make a donation they will take collections at the Park Entrance.

2) What Facilities are available?

Gouldings Lodge and trading post is a self contained village with Motel, Restaurant, Grocery Store, Fast Food, Gas Station and Campground. The lodge is mostly pre-booked, call for availability.  There are also brand new two and three room condos condos specially priced for our event.    The campground accommodates RV's and has areas specified for tent camping. It includes a swimming pool, laundry, gift shop, Internet station and showers. There are also"Porta Johns" located around the campsites.

3) Can I pre-ship my equipment?
YES ! Ship to: Goulding's Lodge 1000 Main Street Monument Valley, UT 84536-0001
435-727-3231 Mark your box with pilots name.

4) Is Aviation gas available at the airstrip?
NO ! If you require av gas....bring it with you.  There is a gas station 1/3mile fron the LZ..

5) Annual Dinner 
Saturday night there will be a Banquet at the lodge  restaurant. We will be the Celebrating the life of John Fetz ..... If you have any photos of Johnny, please send them to Joe Onofrio.

6) Do I need to drive from the campground to the LZ?
Probably, it's 3/4 of a mile from the campground to the airstrip. If you have a trike you could probably drive it down but... there is a grade and unless you have brakes, your boots are going to be smoking by the time you get there. Gouldings has assigned an area at the airstrip where we can park trailers overnight.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015


                  The Gathering at Monument Valley

  Picture a barren landscape with a dusty desert floor as red as mars, dotted sparsely with small thorny brush and purple sage, its surface gently marbled by long dry stream beds that meander to nowhere.  Then suddenly before you, a massive towering structure a thousand feet high rises straight up from the ground. Its smooth orange-amber sides reflect the sun as if chiseled by a being whose head would touch the clouds. As you cautiously fly closer, you can almost feel the gravity of this unnatural structure pull you closer. It’s as if the ground is beside you, making the jagged rocks below seem like a distant worry.

  That’s how I like to describe flying in Monument Valley, Utah while hanging from a motorized lawn chair with a paraglider holding me up.
Another pilot there succinctly described his flight that took him briefly close to the sheer face of the gargantuan formations, “It was intimidating.” he said.
 This hauntingly picturesque land that has been the backdrop for many westerns and action movies was also the site for the annual PPG and light- sport aircraft event in Utah know as “The Gathering“. Joe Onofrio, a PPG trike pilot, is the organizer that deliberates with the Goulding’s Lodge and the Navajo Tribal Park so that we may fly this unique location every year in October.

  The pictures speak for themselves (and make one speechless) as we witness the grandiose landscape jutting from the high desert floor. The air is crisp and clean when we launch from 5200 feet MSL and climb to over 7000 feet just to safely get over the towering mesas.  In our powered paragliders we can only fly down with the monuments and spires if the wind is very calm-- they can create dangerously turbulent rotor with just a 6mph wind. Pilots are briefed about this every morning.

 This year there were a record number of pilots, as more Europeans and Americans made the effort to fly this world famous landscape.
However, the Gathering is for experienced pilots only: Partly because of the challenges of the desert and the mesas but also largely because of the LZ.

  The LZ has a nice paved landing strip for tourist planes and light-sport aircraft but it can be a real challenge for even the seasoned foot-launching PPG pilot. There is only a small gravel area beside the runway that quickly becomes crowded with people and aircraft. Many pilots, including myself, barely made it over the berm as we launched across the runway. Some PPG pilots found it hard to compensate for the thinner air which reduced lift on their wings and push on their props. I almost had an incident myself while attempting a launch with my “fast” wing and a spare prop that wasn’t giving me full thrust. Let’s just say that the witnesses of this scary launch attempt now know what titanium sparks look like when a paramotor is sliding across the tarmac at full power (amazingly, no damage to paramotor or pilot). Some days we were forced to launch up hill or cross-wind according to the wind direction. The wind that we did have was rarely laminar since our LZ is actually bordered by mesas on two side. Thorny weeds dotted the LZ apron but were mainly gone by the second day… because we had ripped them all out with our paraglider lines! In spite of the challenges, nobody was hurt (although some props, cages, and egos will be in the repair shop for a while).

  All of the large Mesas have tops as flat as tables but just like the desert floor, they are dotted with thorny underbrush. Many PPG pilots secretly tell themselves that they’d like to land on top of one, “I’m king of the world..”. This is known as a-- get ready for it-- a ’top landing’ (you probably never would have guessed that). Anyway, they quickly change their minds when they see up close the line-snagging shrubbery and the possible turbulent air that might be swirling up over the sharp corners of the monument. There may also be some trepidation when they realize, though there is ample space, at the end of the make-shift runway there is a sudden vertical drop 1000 feet straight down. There is certainly enough room, but usually not enough guts.  This year, however, two brave PPG pilots,  Ryan Southwell and Brad Scott not only top-landed a mesa but camped out there for the night as well. A short video of their adventure (from Team Fly Halo and Ryan Southwell Films) should be out soon.
  During the day, for 5 dollars, you can take a ground based tour of a special area of monuments with your own vehicle. This is a spectacle that we cannot see closely from the air because we are not allowed to fly low over this particular part of the Navajo Reservation. It is quite a sight to step out of the car and in the quiet of the plateau,  behold the warm colors and smooth walls of these monoliths that gravity forgot. Also available are “open” bus tours which many of the tourists choose to take. After the tour guides noticed their passengers eagerly snapping pictures of us flying around, they made it a point to stop the tourist buses by our LZ so they could see us up close and get more photos. I’m sure that the tourists went home to their friends and said, “Look at this picture I got of a crazy guy flying around on a PARACHUTE.”

  As the sun slowly sinks to the horizon, golden rays of light stream across the fingers of the unearthly spires to highlight the crimson rocky facades and lonely dots of green in the desert. Nighttime was dotted by warm fires at the campground, brave souls telling outrageous flying stories (some of which might even be true) and bright stars hovering just over the desert floor. In the high desert, it can get close to freezing at night even though you will be wearing a t-shirt by afternoon. I’m glad that this year we opted to rent one of the fine lodges with full amenities. Unfortunately, our ‘mountain man’ status has been revoked until further notice.
  The scenery is so different in its stark beauty from the Midwest that I found myself taking pictures of almost everything. I’m pretty sure that I have a photo of a pile of rocks and quite possibly some coyote poop (but we’ll just call it dinosaur dung, to make it interesting). And of course, I did not forget to take the one photo that almost every light-sport aviation pilot takes to prove they were there: The photo of your own foot dangling in space with the spectacular landscape far below.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Gathering at Monument Valley 2014

The sixth annual  “Gathering at Monument Valley” was held the second week of October at Gouldings Lodge and Trading Post in the Navajo Indian Reservation, near the border of Utah and Arizona.  Altitude 5200 ft. ASL.

It is a non-sponsored event with a different atmosphere than most American Fly-Ins.  . First, it’s a long way to go, and the accommodations are limited to recreational vehicles and tent camping.  One would not expect to draw a big crowd, but this year’s turnout was excellent.  They were a diverse group of pilots who have traveled hundreds, even thousands of miles, with one common agenda… Fly the Holy Grail of Powered Paragliding. In the group of 70 pilots were several of the sport’s most recognizable people, including filmmakers, instructors and a host of colorful characters hailing from all parts of the Americas and Europe.  It is one of those rare venues, where the professionals blend in and politics and marketing are set aside.

Flying Monument Valley has its own unique set of challenges. The terrain is a labyrinth of massive buttes and delicate spires towering more than a thousand feet above the desert floor.  The bases of the monoliths are marked by steep slopes covered with scree and the flats are engraved with deep impassable arroyos. Everyone agreed, that while the terrain was rugged, there were places to make an emergency landing, (even  trikes), provided you had sufficient altitude.   Even so, any walk out and recovery would be difficult and possibly expensive.  The consensus was, that unless the conditions were perfect, it was best to stay high, know the direction of the wind and keep in mind, that the weather side of this monolith might also be the rotor side of that big rock up wind!  If you want to fly low, then stay in the flats near the airstrip.

During the non-flyable hours there was plenty to do.  If you wanted to see the monoliths from a "snake's" perspective, the lodge provided jeep tours through the park.  Or you could explore the area yourself by foot, bike or ATV.   Gouldings is the trailhead for several great hikes that lead into to hidden box canyons or walk out onto spectacular vistas.  The old trading post has a museum that documents the old west and the years that John Wayne filmed his epic westerns in Monument Valley.  For a small fee, the Navajo have a resort and visitor center that hosts a large display of Indian and geological artifacts.  Or you could just hang at the park and soak in the pool
The entire weekend was flyable but Friday afternoon provided the best conditions with the majority of pilots getting long flights, deep into the Navajo Tribal Park. Some chose a particular group of monoliths and flew them, up close and personal, while others went for altitude and enjoyed the big picture. A favorite tactic was to fly close to the surface of a high mesa and experience going from 5 feet AGL to 1200 AGL in the blink of an eye. The high flyers described surreal views, such as one poetic gent who claimed it was like looking down on dozens of butterflies playing in a rock garden.  Low or high, with over 100 square miles of breathtaking territory, it’s possible to fly the Navajo Tribal Park and Reservation for years without ever repeating a track.

Filmmaker Ryan Southwell’s broke new ground when he and one other spent the night 1200 above the desert floor camping on top of Eagle Mesa.

“I've always loved camping, and getting away from it all, but going to a place only accessible by air takes the thrill to a whole new level. My friend, Brad, and I left the folks at, “The Gathering”, to fly over and mount Eagle Mesa with our overnight gear. We pitched tents on the edge of the east cliffs and enjoyed the beautiful stars, a hot dinner, and an amazing sunrise over the mesas. It's incredible to know you are in a place that only a few humans may have ever set foot. In the early AM we were greeted with flyovers by Team Fly Halo to ensure our safety as we launched off that rock for our return. The overall Monument Valley fly-in experience was incredible and I can't wait to get out there again.”

It was fun watching the beach pilots launch at 5200 ft. but it was even better watching the veterans after they landed.  Guys with hundreds of flights would land after a long cross country and swagger back to the staging area. Only, instead an, “Ah Shucks", look on their face, it was more like the look of a beginning pilot after their first flight, grinning from ear to ear, totally amazed at what they had just experienced.

By all measures, the sixth annual gathering was a great success. The accommodations were good, the weather was flyable, and everyone was able to experience an, “Epic Flight”.
The 7th annual "Gathering at Monument Valley”, will be the first weekend of October in 2014
Hail Storm the day before

Kick off Spaghetti Dinner

fixing the brand new Mini Plane

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Paul Anthem talks about meeting "Monument Rotor"

Paul Anthem:
On the second morning of flying at Monument Valley in southern Utah four of us planned on flying together out to the monoliths and mesas so that professional paramotor photographer Franck Simmonet could get some photos.
“You don’t need to get close to the mesas” he said, “just stay close to me so that you are big in the frame”.
We launched into almost no wind. It could have been because we were in the wind shadow of the huge mesa beside the LZ. Whatever it was, as I flew out to the mountainous monuments, I was doomed to misjudge the winds.
The day before I had flown out to the large horse-shoe shaped area of monoliths and felt a few mild bumps when I was right in the middle and below the top of the mesas, some of which reach almost 1000 ft. Just about everyone was flying fairly close to the towering structures-- but the wind was mild then.
Apparently, this day, the winds were much stronger AND I had completely misjudged the wind direction. I always stay away and above of the leeward side of any large obstruction but, as I slowly descended towards the largest mesa, I mistakenly thought I was on the windward side.
That’s when I heard Franck over the radio, “Go heighter, go heighter!” (Yes, I know it’s “higher” but he was saying “heighter”). By the time he radioed that warning I realized that I was NOT climbing very fast-- in fact, I think I was sinking at full throttle.
Then, maybe 20 or 30 seconds later I felt my wing start to vibrate. This is not a very happy wing, I’m thinking. I can feel that I’m loosing brake pressure on the right side (the monolith was to my left several hundred feet). Franck and Matt are a few hundred feet above and behind me. My wing was deforming in such odd and obvious ways that it prompted Matt Witchlinski to radio his concern, “Paul, are you in some bad air ! ?”
I didn’t even try to answer. SOMETHING is going to happen soon, I thought. He had barely finished his sentence when my wing was smacked out of the air.
Now, I often play around with my wing and induce asymmetric collapses but the wing is STILL flying. This was nothing like that. My wing was batted down and folded up and I was falling instantly. It happened so fast all I had time to do was let off of the throttle and hope I didn’t fall into the wing.
The wing recovered with a few violent jerks as I checked the surge. I later learned that after seeing my predicament Franck and Matt instantly turned around to avoid the same fate-- they didn’t get to see what happened next.
I’m pretty sure that Matt radioed back about ten seconds later to ask if I was alright. I didn’t answer. I was too busy concentrating and trying to control a wing that was dancing around and vibrating like I was on a drum. You know that feeling you get when you’ve vomited and you can feel it coming on again… I was waiting for it but nothing could have prepared me for the violent collapse that came next.
My wing was hit in the center and thrown back behind me and to the side. For a second I was laying back looking up at the sky. Then the balled up wing swung over to the other side and I was sideways. I dropped down and the wing swung me to the other side and on my back again. Then, next thing I know, it’s in front of me, below the horizon and smooshed up into a ball I could probably fit into my stuff sack. Well at least I can see the wing now. I drop under it again as I tense my arms in a braking position. The wing re-inflates with some rocking and surges, but thankfully, I’m flying again.
I look down and see that I still have several hundred feet of altitude. If I get hit again I might have to throw my reserve. I don’t want to do that while caught in a rotor with only jagged rocks and a cliff face below.
I don’t know if I can take another thrashing like that, I thought. I was lucky that I didn’t fall through the lines or get a major cravat… and I’m still being rocked.
I could feel that I was caught in the huge rotor- it was like a vortex. I couldn’t climb and I couldn’t get away from the monolith. The other guys had got away, maybe they can look back and see some way out. I pressed the radio button on my helmet,” I can’t get out! I’m stuck in the rotor! What should I do ?”
“Climb out”, they said.
“I can’t, it’s pushing me down!”
For a second, I considered going low but then decided that if I had another collapse like the last one that I wouldn’t recover in time. I thought about heading TOWARDS the mesa but decided that although it might get me under the down rotor, it might also suck me up and put me through the wringer again.
So I just kept at full throttle, heading away from the mesa, hands clenched on the brakes trying to keep the wing as stable as possible with every twitch and twist.
Finally, after what must have been 15 minutes, I felt the air smooth out and I started to climb again.
I headed straight back to the airport.
I had had my excitement for the day.

Paul is an accomplished pilot and the creator of the famous PPG for Morons Videos see more at: