Flying Sites in Jamaica
Over the years, local pilots have discovered and flown from a number of sites. The most frequented sites are Skyline, Kingston (#1) and John Crow Hill, Malvern (#2). Due to high humidity and lush vegetation in the tropics, thermals tend to be moderate (1-3 m/s), and cloud base is generally low, between 3,500 and 5,000 ft asl. All sites offer all year round flying even in the rainy season of September/October. Most sites are somewhat sensitive to wind conditions which are normally stronger in dryer months (Feb/Mar).
#1 SKYLINE , Kingston
1,450 ft asl, vertical: 750 ft. Our oldest site in Jamaica is located in Kingston, above Hope Estate next to the viewpoint on Skyline Drive, aka Liguanea ridge. This launch is on the lee side of the 7,500 ft high Blue Mountains and usually well sheltered from easterly trade winds. (#1 flight records)
Launch: drive-up from Papine.
Note: the launch is short and steep, and the site is NOT for beginners. For visiting pilots, we recommend intermediate skill levels because of a restricted landing field. Confidence in reverse launching is an asset!
Landing: several potential LZs in 1 km distance (glide 1:4). The regular LZ is the oval sportsfield of UTECH and can be made in a 'sled ride' (caution: buildings and trees as well as power lines surrounding the LZ). In strong SE sea breeze crawl up along the E mountains and approach LZ in X-wind.
#2 John Crow Hill, Malvern, St. Elizabeth
1,900 ft asl, vertical: 1,800 ft, in vicinity of Malvern and Treasure Beach, at Jamaica's south coast. Easy site with ample landing space, XC for beginners, beach in 15 km distance, friendly country people. (#2 flight records)
Launch: drive-up, 2 km W of Malvern, 15 km N of Treasure Beach. Poorly maintained road to site, but accessible with normal vehicles. Gentle grassy slope next to road, suitable for beginners. Good thermalling site with XC potential! Launchable from SE to NW.
Landing: 100 ft asl at the bottom of the hill on cattle land (glide 1:3). Farmers are generally very co-operative. (Special thanks to Mr. F. Dunkley for offering his meadows as LZ. Note: land on adjacent fields, if cows are out and always make sure NOT to land on vegetable plots of local farmers!) Retrieval: 20 min on paved but narrow road from bottom to top.
#3 Free Hill, St. Ann
1,900 ft ASL, vertical: 1,600 ft. The only site on the N coast near Ocho Rios. Drive up the hill from Priory, follow sign to Freehill, and in Freehill turn N towards the antenna mast. Site is not maintained by local pilots, but a couple visiting pilots have flown from here. (#3 flight records)
Launch: plateau at the antenna mast, but with over-grown edges. Launch towards E. The site is fully exposed to Easterly trade winds.
Landing: If possible try to get close to the coastal road (glide 1:7!). Otherwise look for bail-outs in the shrubby/farming countryside.
#4 Spur Tree S, Manchester
2,100 ft ASL, vertical: 1,000 ft - site only launchable in westerly conditions (otherwise tail). Access only with 4x4 via small overgrown farm road. Site is not maintained by local pilots. (#4 flight records)
Launch: Walk a few steps up from the end of the farm road and reach spot as per photo.
Landing: Easy landing on huge grassy area which is a filled former bauxite mine (glide 1:3). Walk out along private property to next road SE of it. Retrieval best along the mining conveyer belt road.
#5 Pen Hill, Kirkvine, Manchester
2,600 ft ASL, vertical: 1,300 ft. this site is in the cool hills of Manchester. Lengthy drive-up, last 4km only with heavy 4x4. New site, not maintained by local pilots. (#5 flight records)
Launch: facing SE, 1) above power lines, but a bit shallow and in wind shadow of adjacent woods; careful with high tension wires spanning across 200ft below launch! 2) below power lines, easier launch; both can be exposed to strong SE head winds.
Landing: top landing below power lines, or at the Windalco Sports Club (glide 1:5), at SE bottom of the hill (1,300ft asl).
#6 Cabbage Hill , St Thomas
2,900 ft ASL, vertical: 2,200 ft - this is a new site which has often strong cross wind conditions on launch. Access with regular vehicle through small country roads possible. Park vehicles at the road and walk 300m across private property to take off. Site is not maintained by local pilots. (#6 flight records)
Launch: Overgrown terraces S below the launch and some pine trees blocking the launch towards E.
Landing: Best landing on sports field S of launch adjacent to the road (glide 1:4); otherwise in dry Yallas river bed a bit further SE.
Flights from Skyline (#1)
In February 2001, 'flat-land' XC expert Claus Vischer from Germany took off for a casual afternoon flight from Skyline (#1) only to set a first record for X-country flying in Jamaica (approx. 15 km out and back). He flew along the Liguanea Ridge over to Red Hills, soared in front of Plantation Heights and made it back from there to Kingston. An hour later he landed safely on the wide open construction site (next to Barbican Square) where the Loshusan shopping center is now.
In March 2002, accomplished paraglider pilot Roger Barber from UK visited Jamaica and flew east-bound from Skyline to Mavis Bank. A year later, in March 2003, Roger set a new XC distance record: 21 km! This time he flew north with strong south-easterly sea breeze via Peter's Rock to Broadgate, 8 km short of the north coast. On other occasions Roger also flew via Hardware Gap to Wakefield/Cedar Valley in the Blue Mountains.
In May 2004, Jurgen von Duszeln, was the first local pilot to fly the 6 km along the Liguanea Ridge to Constant Spring golf course. Since then other pilots (Anna Kay von Dueszeln, Eladio Walker, Pedro Tirado and Vivian Gordon) have made this little XC flight over residential areas along the city perimeter.
Note: Due to controlled airspace west bound flights from Skyline are illegal, but the NE quadrant is wide open for our sport!
Flights from Malvern (#2)
In Jan. 2010, we discovered John Crow Hill (#2), a new site near Malvern, north of Treasure Beach. This site has good XC potential even for beginners.
In March 2013, Jurgen von Dueszeln, flew 16 km N along the mountain ridge to Park near Santa Cruz (Leonardo OLC).
In Feb 2014, visiting US pilots Lee Haigwood and Dean Warren flew on different days approx. 11 km to Treasure Beach (Leonardo OLC). Lee also established with his flight a new Jamaican altitude record of 5,878ft asl.
In Feb 2015, local novice pilot Orson Brown, gained a new open distance record of 12 km along the ridge N to Lacovia (Leonardo OLC).