Getting and keeping permission to fly on government-owned land

Written by Dave Garwood RC Slope Soaring Column As seen in the June 2017 issue of Model Aviation.

Cool Slope Soaring flying sites are sometimes located on government-owned (public) land. Those entrusted with the care of parks and dams have conflicting missions: To make the land available for recreation and to preserve it for use by future generations. Public health and safety are high on their list of concerns. Many public water supply lakes are open to fishing, boating, and swimming. Inland flood-control dams and coastal parks might have great Slope Soaring terrain. Sometimes we are allowed to fly there, and sometimes not. Permission to fly can change. The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the twin towers in New York caused a spike in concern for the infrastructure of dams and other sites, and resulted in some sites being closed to flying.

Wilson Lake Dam, Lucas, Kansas

We are fortunate to have had a long and productive relationship with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Wilson Lake, the site of the Midwest Slope Challenge for 24 years. Mike Bailey recapped the history: “The Corps has never minded us flying on the dam, except for a brief time after 9/11. It is the highway patrol that takes exception to us being near the highway on top. If we stay down away from the top we are okay, though they might not like any flying on the dam [because of] the possibility of distracting a driver.” One of the items in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ lobby display at Wilson Lake is a Slope Soaring glider. To me this symbolizes a happy and productive relationship between fliers and the federal government.
A Dave’s Aircraft Works Ka6E cruises over Wilson Lake with the dam in the background. Photo taken at the 2009 Midwest Slope Challenge by Alex Paul.

Brookville Lake Dam, Brookville, Indiana

Larry Chervney, of Harrison, Ohio, wrote: “You probably know that the Brookville Dam is one of best places in Indiana for slope soaring. For years, the [U.S.] Army Corps of Engineers stopped individuals from flying gliders off the dam. Now there is a new Army Corps of Engineers manager in charge of the Brookville Dam. After some negotiations, he reopened the dam to slope soaring.” Opening the dam to flying started with a letter that Steve Burch wrote to the new manager: “Date: May 1, 2016 “To: Director, US Army Corps of Engineers at Brookville Indiana “Subject: Slope Soaring at Brookville Lake Dam “My name is Steve Burch, I am a lifetime resident of the Brookville area (55 years). [What] I am writing to you about is to obtain the privilege to slope soar radio controlled gliders from Brookville Dam. I feel that this would be a very positive recreational draw for the Brookville Lake area. “The Brookville Dam is a very unique area for slope soaring. It is considered one of the best spots in the eastern United States for this type of RC flying. In my opinion, there is no better spot anywhere. People are willing to drive hundreds of miles for the opportunity to fly here. What makes the Brookville Dam so special is the way the wind (when coming predominantly from the south) is forced between the hills on each side of the dam, creating a very strong high pressure ridge or in other words, lift. This ridge lift is what keeps our model gliders up. All flying is done south of the road and the gliders are then landed on the grassy face of the dam.
The author poses with a Dream-Flight Weasel at Brookville Dam. The Weasel is a fine traveling and new-hill-exploring sailplane. Photo taken by a kind tourist.

“I have been flying all types of RC and full-size aircraft for over 30 years. I am willing to answer any questions that you might have about the type of flying that would be done at the dam. We are willing to provide any signs that explain the flying rules, sign-in boxes, or whatever the Army Corps feels is needed. “As far as security issues are concerned. The gliders we fly are very light. Most of them are built from foam, some are balsa with Mylar covering. I don’t feel that a glider that weighs a couple of pounds would be a security risk. To the contrary, people flying on the dam would be the first people to notice any suspicious activity and [I] am sure they would report it. “Our national aeromodeling organization, the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), has offered full support. The AMA has safety guidelines in place for flying sites used by its members. Also, all members have liability insurance. Liability insurance should be one of the requirements for flying at this site. In addition to insurance, all members have ID on or in all gliders, making it easy to identify the owner of the aircraft. “I want to thank you for your time and ask that you seriously consider allowing slope soaring at Brookville Dam. It is a very unique and special area for this activity, really a one-of-a-kind location. “Thank you, Steven Burch” Steve further mentions that, “The best advice I can give is don’t give up. Don’t stop at the first person who tells you no. There is almost always someone they have to answer to, and they might not think the same way. Keep making those phone calls.”

Cleveland Edgewater Park, Cleveland

Jeff Carlton shared the story of opening up a lakefront park flying site that was once closed to Slope flying: “Edgewater Park is the best place to fly slope in the Cleveland area in north winds. Folks have been flying there since the early 1970s, when the Ohio Department of Natural Resources managed the site. We had no problems with permission to fly at this fabulous open hill, with smooth winds coming across Lake Erie. [It was] a slope flier’s dream. “In 2012, I heard rumblings of a takeover of one of our favorite flying sites by the Cleveland Metroparks. They manage one of the most acclaimed park systems in the nation, including the Cleveland Zoo. They are a shining jewel for the Cleveland metro area. For RC enthusiasts, not so much. “Area clubs tried in vain to use the Metroparks to fly, but were declined, citing the expense of liability insurance, the danger to other visitors to the park, and the noise of the motors. The Metroparks [Ranger Department] spent much of their time chasing off folks who did not know or didn’t care [that] they weren’t permitted to fly there. Many pleas to Metroparks folks by organized clubs were denied [because of] those unsavory elements. And who could blame them?
A view of the Cleveland skyline from Edgewater Park, a Slope Soaring flying site secured by the North Coast Soaring Association. Note the four RC sailplanes in the air. Photo by Ken Stroud.

“In 2013, it was announced that the Metroparks [was] indeed taking over all [of] the lakefront parks from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. “I had a chance to sit down with Brian Zimmerman, the CEO of the Metroparks, and talk about our history with the site, our curation of the hill over the years, and the hopes we had to be grandfathered in to allow us to continue to use the site, knowing their reluctance to approve permits. “I assured him that we had insurance coverage and the club would continue to fly responsibly. He assured me that as long as we had the proper insurance liability coverage, would only fly non-powered aircraft, and adhered to the rules that our organization had set for flying at the site, the club permit would be approved. “True to his word, that is exactly what happened. The North Coast Soaring Association was born and we have had nothing but support from the Metroparks, the Metroparks [Ranger Department], and the caretakers at the hill. We help enforce the rules, help maintain the hill, and even offer spectators a chance to fly with our supervision from time to time. “My advice for other clubs looking to secure permits on public lands is to know the location’s rules before you go in to ask them to change them. Know their history and know why they have said no in the past. “If they have had problems with people flying RC without permission, damaging property, or just being a nuisance, you are going to just annoy them more. But, if you understand their reasons and can allay their concerns and find a way to help them manage that site, you might just find an ally in your quest to secure the proper permit to use those public lands safely.” I thank Larry, Steve, and Jeff for documenting their successful efforts to open up Slope Soaring sites that were closed at one time. Their concluding advice to those who follow is gold. Note also that the pilots offer to aid in policing bad behavior and posting signs, which reduces the workload of the land management. For more information, refer to the AMA resources mentioned in the “Sources” list. -Dave Garwood [email protected]


League of Silent Flight (LSF) Larry Chervney [email protected] AMA Flying Site Assistance Program (800) 435-9262, ext. 230 Getting and Keeping Flying Sites Brookville Lake Dam Edgewater Park Wilson Lake Dam

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I appreciate this article, but I am more interested in how an individual seeking to fly on private property can obtain the information needed to notify the proper authorities/persons of intent to fly when the property is within 5 miles of a military airfield, but is not in a no-fly zone. Can anyone help with that? Or could that be the subject or a future article?

Hi Scott. I reached out to our Government Affairs director, Tyler Dobbs, and he provided the following response to your question: Currently recreational unmanned aircraft operations require that users notify all airports (including military) within 5 miles that that operation. Airspace map providers such as AirMap or the B4UFly app can help in determining your location and the contact information for the airport in question. Once the notification is given, users can fly at that location following all the rules of PL 112-95 Section 336 and operating within the safety programming of AMA. Its worth noting that the FAA will soon be implementing new requirements for recreational users (PL 115-254 section 349). This requirement will include obtaining airspace authorization when flying in controlled airspace. We will update all members when these changes take place and provide details on how to receive authorization. Please let us know if you need further assistance!

For 35 years I flew slope gliders year round off the +/- 126' high Mount Baldy Dune on Lake Michigan in Indiana. A couple year ago a near tragic accident of a young boy playing on the sand fell into a million to one void big enough for his body. These voids are from a covered ancient forest and are barely noticeable as "dimples" that quickly fill in with the shifting sand. The NPS in Washington has been recently adverse to RC gliders and hang gliders and used this to declare no more flying for our own safety. Last Fall the Park asked for some hang gliders and slope gliders to put a display on at the dune........but we still can't fly there. An aerial drone picture survey was permitted to ascertain the void dangers, but the drones could not operate from Park property. This "protected " Park is a walking dune and at my inspections (unofficial) last Fall, the changing climate has violently changed the topography and vegetation. Nature does this to a walking dune. What is protected is becoming worthless and the flying sites being eroded away. But Washington is still blind and unreasonable.

I grew up there near the dunes and tried a few times to slope Baldy but never really had a good plane for it. I'm fortunate enuff now I can travel to UT and Ca to slope. The last time I was at Mt Baldy not only can you not go on it but the dune has been blown down much lower & less steep than when I lived there. Sleeping Bear would be awesome with a west wind but we may still be banned there also?

It has been my experience that "slope" flying (in my case, flying over the small dunes in Brevard County, FL) is enjoyable though it can obviously only be done when the winds are favorable both in velocity and direction. I have always been cognizant of and careful not to fly over the heads of beachgoers, and if there are too many present on a particular day I won't fly. Flying safely and courteously is always the best practice, and having AMA membership with the concomitant insurance, I believe, is necessary. Unfortunately most "drone" (multirotor) pilots seem like they could care less about safety and in my opinion are the cause of most all of our problems regarding flying and the loss of flying sites. It is refreshing to read that some slope-flying sites are available thanks to AMA members who personally contact and interact with officials in order to keep or open flying sites.

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