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Investigating Local Microclimates in the Sky

December 13 2016

Flight is made possible by a delicate balance of sun, terrain, and weather.
Using unique local microclimates Free Flight Research Lab plans to collect atmospheric data with in house built sensors to capture the local microclimate fingerprint for that moment in time and space. The San Francisco Bay Area is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet and the free flight community has the ability to share this unique perspective with the public, conversationalists and resource planners. Free flight is a non invasive platform that keeps natural spaces natural. The flying sites include species such as red tail hawks, golden eagles, bald eagles, California condors, and many others. Rather than the use of helicopters, both solo and tandem pilots are able to fly passengers and instrumentation over open spaces and parks with established launches and landings. The goal is to work with the parks and establish valuable data sets and flight schedules. To provide data-sets to the parks, and to build a team of citizen scientist pilots.

December 13 2016


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Mission Underway

Hi, I'm Jack. Yesterday was my third training session with Mike, and the best so far. We started around 4:45 with kiting at the Mussel Rock kiting gravel patch. The first few attempts to get the wing in the air were unsuccessful, however, a couple launches in and we got it overhead. After flipping around to face into the wind, I began to rise off the ground. This was due to the fairly strong winds and me being a little light on the wing (Mikes comment: When pushed from behind angle of attack increases, if there is sufficient velocity over the wing it will allow the student to momentarily take off). I got up in the air maybe 5 feet off the ground with Mike anchoring me. We were able to keep this up for maybe 45 seconds before Mike said he was letting go. I panicked a bit at the rate I was rising and pulled both brake lines, ending with me on the ground and the wing settling behind me. This was the first time that my feet had left the ground while in an aircraft alone. It was exhilarating.

We continued with our practice and a few launches later I got dragged by the wing straight into a scrawny twisted old pine tree that borders the gravel patch. This was followed by much clambering and tugging to get the wing out of the tree. It took a time, a small finger cut and three people but we eventually got it out and continued. By the end of our session I had three good launches including forward kiting of the wing, one of these managed without help. We decided to pack up and after a quick survey of the conditions we decided to take a tandem flight. After a short walk to the launch during which we had a short coyote encounter, we set up. Once the big tandem wing was in the air we spun around and ran into nothingness.

Having flown twice this is easily one of my favorite parts, those couple of running steps and then suddenly the ground falls away gently beneath your feet and you sink into the harness. After launch we banked and headed north to gain altitude over the sea cliffs. We flew for a short while with four cormorants, while marveling at the beauty of the late afternoon sun shining through the thick grey clouds that blanketed the sky. We could see all the way out to the Farallons, and as far north as the highest points in the city skyline. We banked south-west away from the cliffs and over the ocean. We flew out for a bit, then turned sharply spiraling down around our wingtip. We levelled out and flew in, landing in the same gravel patch where we were kiting. It was a great way to end the day, and I am ever more thrilled to be learning this craft.


Jack, this is so cool. Congrats on getting airborne!

Tomorrow Jack and I will fly tandem. Jack is a super-star student at Brightworks in San Francisco. He has attended my design workshops for the last few months, designing a variety of projects from rocket engines, to an Earth spacecraft that will capture climate data in the desert for months.
It is important to look at the weather at the coast. Right now the ECMWF 9km Forecast is calling for 14knt winds which in kilometers per hour is close to 26km/hr. This will be on the edge and not quite enough margin to fly safely with a 16 year old, light student pilot. Wind alone is not the only thing to look at, we will be flying along the coast so we need to look at the tides and make sure that there will be beach to land on if the wind dies...

We will have a wing to kite and a wing for me to show him the sky! I want to create a safe, exciting experience that demonstrate how perspectives can shift when becoming a bird. Looking forward to it. I reached out today to Marine Conservation experts that I know and offered to fly them along the coast and discuss what valuable data we can collect. From coastal erosion, to air quality, to algae blooms, and whale migration and marine species observation.

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Preparation Stage

After starting Free Flight Research Lab in 2016 I have tried in many ways to communicate the perspective shift gained by flying non-powered over the Earth. I realized I had to just take others into the sky. Videos sorta work, VR is ok, watching me get excited talking about it also sorta works.. but there is nothing like having your feet leave the ground as a flying human... there is before.. and after. Come flying with me.

Now in 2018 I'm happy to announce Free Flight Lab Stewardship Flights.

The goal of Stewardship Flights is to share the unique perspective of Free Flight above natural spaces with scientists, conservationists, artists, resource managers, public, and policy makers. Tandem Paragliding and Hang Gliding Pilots will conduct flights with groups of participants over natural spaces where established launches and landings enable free flight opportunities with a goal of conducting citizen science, resource management, and climate science.

Contact me for Flight Opportunities.


Many of these posts have shown what happens when you get it right. From the last one I was reminded to be honest about missing a day, or two.
Dec 23rd it was raining in the south bay. On the 24th. Post frontal. Wet. Cold. Muddy Hike. The last few weeks have all been muddy. I have a hole in my shoe and more excuses to follow..

Looking at the forecast it looked like a super early window, and I had already woken up late. As the normal sky crew started to fall apart. It looked like strong winds would come in and it could get blown out. (too windy). Many stayed in the comfort of their warm homes! pshhh... and we want to be explorers and adventures! anyway. we saw on the camera that the Hang Gliders were out in force. On windy days they get to play. However it's not clear that it was too windy for us. Two paraglider pilots went, but I think they launched early. Good job Hang gliders! Some of the guys and gals who hang glide are actual geniuses so... we aren't the only sky people to nail the timing. Social dynamics sorta allowed our groups flights to stall on the couch. Both Dec 24th and Dec 25th looked fun. Here is a view from the HG perspective.


Yesterday was a strange, but informative experience. With many people free for the holidays it was possible to get a couple pilots out to Mission Peak for a chilly hike and fly. It looked like the East winds would die and give a moment to take off. Well.. It was literally a moment. 3-5 minutes. What happened?
Looking at the sail tactics 200m model in the morning it looked like the bay was mostly light and variable until 2-3pm. The model shows surface winds so it is used to integrate into what the day might do. To me it looked like 2:30pm was the time to launch. I also say this because it is around max solar heating. The sky was very clear so heating would be good. The bay temperature is 51 degrees F per FTPC1 NOAA station. When I got in my car to drive to mission the air temperature said 47 degrees!. The bay has the potential to be the heat source, legend has it that the glider pilots use the bay to fly to the Golden Gate and to Diablo! crazy! I arrived at 12:20pm and felt that I was on the early side as the wind sock at launch was clearly over the back (OTB). Simon had hiked about 20min earlier and was reporting that it was OTB at 2nd and 3rd bench he also mentioned the Cows were freaking out. In the parking lot, and as I started my hike I could feel warm sun, and upslope flow. With a slight southerly component. I contributed this to the sunny south slopes. Yes all the cows were screaming to each other non-stop. I have never heard or seen something like this. I worked on a dairy farm when I was a teen. Super strange. Maybe a wookie cry for Princess Leia. At 2nd bench the flow was upslope. I felt as if I was walking with the transition. Maybe I nailed the timing!! South Faces had good cycles pumping up the sunny terrain. Birds started skying out in the mixing OTB and upslope convergence. Near the peak now. I think this could be great... 3rd bench upslope. 4th bench upslope. right near the end of the hike it felt pretty neutral. I caught up with SteFrank, and as I walked to launch I could feel the tail end of the OTB. YES!! nailed it..... or did we.. Got to launch. Talked about walking to a slightly different launch area to catch the sunny south face cycle. Started talking.. The sock went limp. Took pictures to celebrate being right about the timing. Still talking.. Upslope cycles. Looks like it was all coming together. Jakob showed up. We had chatted how he was delayed but would probably be perfect timing at the top. Looked up at the sun, and there was very high cloud that started to block the sun......... and almost immediately... the pumping breathing sunny faces shut down and the wind went OTB... Dont worry it will come back.... Nope. solid OTB. No hope for the sun to come out. Options: Walk Down, Shoot the Gap in a light cycle, East Launch (the peak east launch no longer exists due to crowds), or be innovative.

I took my wing to the top of launch and kited it towards the east. I played on the hill and surfed/soared the back little features. It was really fun and good kiting practice. High ground speed on one leg, to side hill landings.. Trail below and plenty of space. fun to hop around. joined by some little birds. I love multi-species friends.

It seemed very reasonable to actually take off and fly the opposite side of the mountain. The East Peak Launch is closed, but we were playing at the normal launch area. Some pilots have thought and dreamed about soaring the Dark side for awhile. It seems in some ways safer than shooting the gap, as you have more terrain clearance, and an opportunity to gain altitude by flying the terrain. I bounced my way over to the ridge and learned so much about the topography. It's amazing how many times I have flown there, but never really noticed how the features work on the reverse side. A lovely little bowl sits on the back side of the main ridge. I took off and took a line farther north then I have gone to date. After turning around the ridge I pushed out as far as I could to avoid any possible rotor. I thought that the houses and their furnaces would let me find some additional lift. Turning the corner was funny, because I have never seen the terrain and water tower from that angle. I was low and north, far from the LZ. There is plenty of safe landing options over there, but would need to hike back. I found some lift that was strong and a bit broken. I scooped up some meters and was able to not only make the LZ, but get to the R/C hill to look for some last lift. Pretty incredible how fast things can change. Just a thin layer in front of the sun fundamentally changed the microclimate I was in. Imagine the impact of smog and industry emissions on our microclimates. It's pretty nuts. There is a weather station at the middle peak of Mt Tam that tells you the solar radiation. Check it out. After landing we were greeted by a curious brown calf. Looked like it wanted a nibble of the bright ripstop nylon. I joke and call all the calfs MooCowCows. ahahahah joke to self..

At the end of the day we took an innovative line, learned just how sensitive timing is, and to be ready and stop yapping!!!!

I'd like to make temporary micro weather stations and deploy them all over mission for a given period of time. To model and validate our site. Time to write more grant applications! Feel free to share and tell others about Free Flight Lab!

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This was a fun week of chasing forecasts. The day after Windy, Windy Hill Sunday. I attempted the flight again with Jakob. We quickly hiked Windy Hill on Monday to find 23mph winds at the top. While it was possible to go downhill and launch. It was as risky as the day before. We hiked down.
Windy Hill is an East wind site. The winds were predicted to flip to west around Thursday. The bat symbol was put up and those that could, rearranged meetings for Thursday the day after the Solstice. Minimal Sun, but there was a moment that coordinated well with the flip from East winds to West winds. At 10am Thursday, Sail Tactics showed that in the south bay the winds would go neutral and start to fill in around 2:30-3pm I ran some errands in Berkeley and made it to the parking lot at Mission Peak at 1:20pm.

I think I'm going to nail the timing, if the 200m forecast was right. . The landing zone already shows early west, but the windsock at launch was clearly over the back (OTB). During the first part of the hike I could feel cycles coming up slope, but for the last half of the hike I felt wind pouring over OTB. In the final stretch I saw birds on the Sunny West Faces of the Peak. From past experience the peak flips first due to its prominence and its blocking effect, combined with rocks that face the sun. When there was a peak launch I have taken off West while the normal launch windsock still blows OTB. There is a gap near launch which delays the flip in wind direction until everything has spilled out of the gap.

When I got to launch one pilot had taken off in the OTB trying to get a thermal out front off the lower ridges. He actually failed and was a little too early. Trusting the forecast I knew it was prudent to wait. Looking out onto the Bay it was one of the clearest days I have seen in a long time. From Mission you could see all the buildings of San Francisco, Oakland, Mt Tam, and up past San Quintin. So... Clear.. On the water at the San Mateo and Dumbarton bridges you could see a west flow starting to fill in the south bay, very similar to the trend and coverage Sail Tactics Predicted.

I also knew that the cycles closer to the peak can work before the normal launch and ridge features. I prepared my gear and walked south past the trail and to a place that previously I have caught thermals in an OTB wind flipping time. (I know that's a bunch of words crammed together) This unique effect is part of why I started FFRL. I know that future cities and architecture will consider small geometrical and thermal effects to build balanced or advantageous microclimates.

The wind sock showed no wind.. but I felt cycles. I kited my wing, then launched. Hugging the terrain I was able to soar up in light bubbles. Two pilots remained only a couple meters below me and had no wind to kite their wings into. I was not much higher then them, but was able to connect with the fresh cycle and take it up above launch. Pure Magic!!! The rest of the flight was as gentle and remarkable as this first thermal. On the hikes I like to watch the eagles and hawks. They fly with a certain style depending on the day. They were floating along and patiently thermalling. I don't have good word to describe, but I copy them. It pays off. I was able to work light, very light bubbles, and chase them as they drifted and connected with other bubbles from sunny faces. I want to share how I see this. I want to find the right words to onboard everyone. only 100,000 people on earth have this perspective. Ahhhh!!! Ok. Ill work harder to try to put it in writing. On one of the shortest days of the year. We flew from the moment the window opened to its close an hour later. I flew closer then I ever have to redtails, who when the lift wasnt good landed in a tree.... i followed.. then .. realized that I didnt want to land in the tree!!! ;) lucky birds. I went to the peak to try to fly the hot rocks, but my timing was off, so I continued to surf sunny faces. Working terrain and trees. Looking for leaves rustling. Skimming the ground, saying hi to hikers as I flew past. I was able to work my way back up to attempt to cross all the terrain back towards launch. Milking every bubble on the way. I worked my favorite spot to get low saves, but a little too late, not enough sun. I tried soooo hard.. but then continued down to the landing zone. Even though this wasn't the longest or highest flight. There is a certain magic to it and experiencing the Fluid Dynamic Playground EARTH!. Nailing the timing. Flying arms length from terrain, catching small bubbles with one bird friend. Gosh.. Im out of breath trying to find good words to type. My sensors are almost ready to capture these micro climate finger prints. I think I will be able to start Tandem Training this upcoming year. I need to raise enough money to buy equipment. Then I will be able to share and narrate at the same time.

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Your posts are always great. Did you try embedding the Doarama as a video? It might work!

It's even colder this morning! Sunday morning we attempt to fly at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve.

It was Windy!!! One pilot from our group flew. It is his local playground, however it was very strong, and presented some inherent risk that I was not willing to take. This could be a much longer conversation. The pilot landed safely. It was possible to drive up to Channing near Vallejo and fly today. I didnt confirm that those pilots flew, but it was a wonderful crisp day for a hike in the woods.

I hiked down.

(photo credit: Bob Posey)


After a night of discussing forecasts, the collective group of pilots decided to attempt a Hike and Fly of Mt Tamalpais. At 7:15AM I was surprised by frost on my car and had to scrape it off!! in Mt View. I hope people covered their plants!

Sail Tactics puts out a 1:00AM 2 day wind forecast and a 7:45AM day of which is ultra-high res at 200meters. The 1:00AM looked like there would be a flyable window from 9AM-2:30PM. I picked up Jon and headed to the Fire Station at Stinson Beach. As Pilots we have to sign in at Pan Toll Station first. Crossing the golden gate the observations matched the predictions with a less 5 knots to Light/Variable.

Mt Tam. Offers views of the Farralon Islands, Point Reyes, Pacifica, and the Interior Bay including San Francisco, Angel Island and Mt Diablo. Basically the whole Bay! Over the last week the Area was impacted by a number of Storms, bringing rain and wind. Typically in the days following storms the air mass in unstable and flying conditions can be very good. Free Flight Lab is interested in capturing conservation data of the Lagoon. I plan to monitor and detect any possible Algae blooms and observe changes in the land due to tidal changes. Looking at the new forecast it seemed like the flyable window got shorter and the new wind came in sooner and stronger then the 2-day. The hike is beautiful. At Launch you could see some breeze start to spill over the point and fill in along Stinson beach. I believe in the forecast so I was prepared to Launch. As my friends made fun of my habit to launch early I saw birds and could feel the air. It was about to be time. I took off and was able to soar the faces near launch in the fresh breeze. The breath from the mountain changed and it was time to move on. I aimed for the next ridge, sunny faces, steep terrain, looking for shadows because on the hike we saw that the grass was still covered in frost. Thermal Gradients make for good thermal triggers. I was tricked into turning in a little bubble and the gains did not match the losses. Time to leave the ridge. At this point this line can be nerve racking, I chose to attempt to hook a thermal and now had to glide efficiently over the trees to the next ridge. I made it easily, but... without local knowledge it looks like there is no good way out if you get too low. Actually there is, but it not a great option. It would probably be fine, but not worth taking chances.

Arriving at the Main Ridge I worked light bubbles along the shadow lines and tree lines.. Alternating sides as the mountain breathed. Finally at the last moment before pushing out to the beach... I hooked one, not a bubble but a nice continuous source of lift. Coring it to ~2600ft I was able to see the whole bay area. I flew over to where I launched, said Hi then proceeded to play in the sky with friends both hawks and pilots until my fingers froze! I took a flight path north to investigate the Lagoon. Floating along lifty lines I flew over coastal highway 1. For an hour I took to the skies flying on invisible elevators, and after landing on the beach I went up for seconds, this time as a Tandem Passenger to help a friend train, and look at the possibilities of flying passengers and equipment for Free Flight Lab. What a great day exploring a local Microclimate. We Flew from 11AM-2:30pm It ended up being a bit of a blend of both forecasts. The transitions and timing were spot on. Tomorrow Windy Hill.

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Plants are happy with the atmospheric river bringing so much rain to the area!
With it comes high winds, and moist soil. Pre and post front there is possibility of flying, but the days are short, the sun is low, the ground is wet. Today the clouds look great, but they are screaming past my window. Sky people become ground people when this happens. This means it's time to work on instrumentation. FFRL is working on three different sensor packages for the atmospheric research platform and Microclimate investigations. I'm currently writing an Instructable on the sensor. The sensor I'm working on today is a weather tracker. Based on an open source drone weather tracker I'm iterating on the layout and packaging. I plan to improve on the form factor and overall footprint.

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Interesting. Which drone sensor package are you repurposing?

Expedition Background

In July 2016 I created Free Flight Research Lab as a platform to create measured positive impact. I want to create a better future on Earth. These expeditions are to seek knowledge and understanding of our Earth System while experiencing the Fluid Dynamic Playground in real-time. I want to collect, share, and empower others to explore their world and passions.













This is awesome! I love the mission.