Local News

Sunday, Mar 09 2014 05:31 PM

Slope soaring on a Sunday at the Bluffs

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A radio-controlled glider flies off the Panorama Bluffs with the Kern River Oil Field in the background.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    A combat aerial maneuver by the Bakersfield Park Pilots with the mountains east of Bakersfield in the background.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Members of Bakersfield Park Pilots fly radio-controlled gliders on the Panorama Bluffs Sunday afternoon. The type of flying is called slope soaring because of the lift created when the wind hits the bluffs. Pilots maneuver their gliders in the uplift.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Members of the Bakersfield Park Pilots fly radio-controlled gliders Sunday afternoon on the Panorama Bluffs and attract the attention of people out on a walk, who stop and watch.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Members of the Bakersfield Park Pilots enjoy a Sunday afternoon of flying radio-controlled gliders on the Panorama Bluffs. The type of flying is called slope soaring for the uplift created when the wind hits the bluffs. Pilots maneuver their gliders to catch the lift.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Sometimes pilots fly combat aerial maneuvers. Here, two gliders come in close contact.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Members of the Bakersfield Park Pilots fly radio-controlled gliders Sunday afternoon on the Panorama Bluffs. They maneuver their aircraft on the uplift created when the wind hits the slope.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Barry Westervelt hikes up the bluffs after retrieving his glider. When it lost lift it crashed three-quarters of the way down.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Richard Dowhower launches his glider from the top of the Panorama Bluffs Sunday afternoon.

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Rich Arner, foreground and Barry Westervelt control their gliders as they gain altitude by flying a thermal. Sometimes pilots will fly combat doing aerial maneuvers.

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By THE BAKERSFIELD CALIFORNIAN

The word went out Sunday morning on the Bakersfield Park Pilots Google Groups chat: north northwest wind, likely thermals, meet at Panorama Bluffs.

And the pilots did meet, along with their Weasels, Alulas, Combats and Drongos, the expanded polypropylene foam planes they use for radio-controlled slope soaring.

From a distance, the planes, most of which are actually flying wings, look like hawks and other birds, but are painted or detailed with strips, checks and colors, even eagle feathers.

Using the uplift generated by the prevailing wind as it hits the Bluffs, the gliders silently soar, dive, cut and loop, a half dozen of them outlined against the the blue sky, far above the dry Kern River bed, the inert pumpjacks of the Kern River Oil Field a backdrop.

Pilots control the planes' pitch and roll through eight-channel radios.

Richard Dowhower has been slope soaring for a half century. He enjoys the camaraderie, the small talk of the other pilots. Most of all, he loves the flying, although, he said, most of the time is spent "really trying to hit each other's" planes. He pointed out a dent on his wing's front edge.

"That's where my friends hit me."

Barry Westervelt flies all types of aircraft, including helicopters, electric planes and gliders.

"I have a room clear full of planes," he said.

He prefers slope soaring because "you're basically at the mercy of nature."

While manuevering his Combat wing in vicious darts and feints around the other planes, he said he wasn't too worried about anyone hitting him. But, he added, hawks have attacked the aircraft in the past.

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