Sky surfing | Idaho Senior Independent
By DIANNA TROYER
Ever since he was a child, sky surfing guru John Kangas has enjoyed flying. “I was always making gliders and wondering what it would be like to fly.” When he was 17, he discovered it by buying a hang glider.
“Back then, in 1976, hang gliding was a big deal, an emerging sport,” said Kangas, who was born in Cascade, north of Boise. “We called it sky surfing. The glider came with three free lessons, taking off from a location near Eagle, west of Boise. I was hooked.
The pleasure of flying never diminished for the 63-year-old pilot. He still pursues countless aerial adventures in central Idaho’s Lost River Valley, taking off from King Mountain near Moore where he built a glider park.
During the flight season from April to November, he navigates in powerful air currents by glider (also called glider), paraglider or hang glider.
Paragliders are sails with an attached harness that the pilot can sit on. A hang glider has a rigid frame and a triangular shaped wing and harness for the pilot to lie on his stomach.
“I always have the time of my life every time I’m in the air,” said Kangas, who finds the flight to be amazing with every launch. “I am just a tiny speck in such a big, big world. Seeing the world from the air is amazing. I live my dream.
Kangas said his first hang glider launched his career in aviation. He earned a degree in aviation management from Boise State University and coached the university’s flight team. He also became a pilot, flying jets for commercial airlines and small planes in the backcountry to earn income. He soared with hang gliders, paragliders and gliders as a hobby.
Eventually, Kangas heard of King Mountain, a prominent launch site in the Lost River Valley. State and national paragliding and hang-gliding championships were scheduled there, attracting pilots from around the world. They regularly covered 100 miles, sailing in powerful thermals that cut through the valley where the mountains rise to 12,000 feet.
To give pilots the opportunity to live their dreams, Kangas recently established a non-profit organization, the King Mountain Glider Park Foundation. He wants to make sure that the airfield he built is available for free in perpetuity for all types of gliders.
“I’m thrilled to have a dedicated volunteer board of directors from across the West who will make sure theft continues to happen here,” Kangas said.
He and his wife, Rae, began building the park in 2006 after purchasing land about 2 miles northeast of Moore. They envisioned a place where pilots could build hangars and houses. It took three years to develop a 17-acre airfield with a 3,900 foot by 120 foot irrigated grass runway.
With the track in place, they launched a Facebook page and website for King Mountain Glider Park. Kangas provided in-depth maps and guidance on navigating the valley rollercoaster drafts.
“Your flying skills will definitely be tested,” he wrote on the website. “There are soaring thermals, outrageous turbulence and the promise of long cross-country flights. It’s a superb flight in some of the most scenic mountains in the world.
To share their love of King Mountain, John and Rae began in 2009 to organize an informal annual summer flight, the King Mountain Safari for “all the birds” – paragliders, hang gliders and gliders. More than 60 pilots from all over the West usually came.
Their last Safari was in 2018, due to Rae’s deteriorating health. Kangas became her guardian until her death last year.
“Rae loved King Mountain as much as I did,” Kangas said. “She grew up next to an airport and loved small planes and gliders. When I work at the park, I always miss my beautiful wife, but an old fighter pilot friend said to me, “Press it. She would like to see our vision come true.
Last fall, Kangas installed a pump and completed the irrigation system.
“I look forward to having it operational this spring,” he said.
Each time he takes off, Kangas remembers a pioneer pilot, Frank Gillette, who helped establish the launch site at King Mountain in the early 1970s. At that time, Frank and a few other pilots took off from Big Southern Butte about 50 miles south of King Mountain.
Catching a thermal one day, Frank piloted his hang glider up the mountain, where he noticed a road leading to an ideal launch site.
“Frank was the flight icon to aspire to, the hero of our flight,” Kangas said. “I was lucky enough to fly with him.”
In 1993, Frank, then 63, set an Idaho distance record for hang gliding. He flew 162 miles from King Mountain to Anaconda, Montana. His record was broken in 2000 with a 180 mile flight to Bozeman, Montana.
Kangas’ personal distance record in Idaho is 100 miles. Within three hours, with a strong tailwind, it took off from King Mountain just west of Lake Henry and landed in Centennial Valley.
“Flying without a motor, maintaining your flight based on your feelings, your knowledge of the sky, what you observe, what you have learned before, and being able to apply it and keep growing is a dream come true for people who have a passion for flying,” Kangas said. “If you experience it, you’ll never forget it. We do what man has dreamed of doing for thousands of years. It touches your soul.
With airfield upgrades complete, Kangas plans to hold a fly-in in September, depending on air quality. In the past, events were sometimes canceled because smoke from wildfires caused poor visibility.
“No matter what, King Mountain is still Idaho at its best,” Kangas said. “All birds are always welcome here.”
Kangas aerial adventures and advice on flying in the valley can be found at kingmountaingliderpark.com.
Sky Surfing draws pilots to Mount Sentinel
Pilots succumb to the siren song not only at King Mountain but also at Mount Sentinel, southeast of Missoula. Mount Sentinel has the distinction of being the oldest recorded inland hang gliding site in the United States.
Lisa Tate and Karl Hallman, hang-glider pilots and Missoula residents, flew to both locations, soaring over central Idaho for hours, setting personal bests.
Hallman flew 110 miles from King Mountain to beyond Salmon, Idaho. Tate had his biggest elevation gain at King Mountain, reaching nearly 17,000 feet.
“You share thermals with birds,” said Hallman, 58, a respiratory therapist at Providence St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula. “It’s wonderful up there.”
Tate, 57, is the executive director of the National Museum of Forest Service History. She has been fascinated by flight since childhood. “I have always made model airplanes. As an adult, hang gliding was my life.
Tate’s connection to King Mountain spanned more than two decades. She has organized annual fly-ins and world-class competitions. She was also president of the American Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association.
“Due to the geography and weather conditions, King Mountain is a world-class destination for pilots who need dynamic and powerful thermals for long cross-country flights,” Tate said. “Mount Sentinel is known for its weather conditions that allow for smooth and dynamic flights.”
Hang glider and paraglider pilots from both mountains are known for their camaraderie.
“To King Moum, I made lifelong friends,” Tate said. “Flying there was the highlight of the summer for me and other pilots. The hang gliding community in Missoula is also wonderful.
Tate flew for several years at King Mountain competitions. Thanks to her organizational skills, she was eventually asked to manage the annual summer events there.
“I wanted to participate rather than organize, but if no one else was going to do it, I didn’t want to see them canceled, so I agreed to plan events that would bring drivers together and keep our sport alive.” , Tate said.
Although she hasn’t flown for several years due to work commitments, Tate said hang gliding has guided her life since she was 12, when she saw pilots take off from Mount Sentinel where she grew up.
“I was riding a horse near there one day and felt compelled to look up. I hadn’t seen a shadow or heard anything. I just felt something above me. A hang glider pilot was about 50 feet above me and waved at me. It blew my mind and that was the coolest thing,” Tate said. knew that I would fly a hang glider one day.
To learn more about hang gliding, Tate volunteered to shuttle with the Missoula pilots. She eventually moved to Boise, Idaho to take lessons, fly year-round with the mild winters, and become a proficient pilot.
“I flew as often as I could when I had free time as a museum consultant and glass artist,” she said.
Hallman became addicted to hang gliding in 1987 when he stopped by a friend.
“He had just flown his hang glider over the Mission Mountains,” Hallman said. “It was an amazing thing to do, so the next day I bought a hang glider and learned how to fly. I like to fly as far as I can.
His goal is to surpass the distance traveled by his mentor, Peter Swanson.
“He holds the record for flying to Helena,” Hallman said. “It’s a record that stands to this day, no matter how hard I and a bunch of really good cross-country pilots tried to better it. There are so many memories from decades of flying, and it’s always time to do more.
For more on gliding in the Missoula area, see glidemissoula.org ISI