Coordinates: 46°24’33″ N 8°08’15″ E 1050m ASL
The conditions around the landing field in Fiesch have caught out many competent pilots over the years and should be treated with respect. The header image above shows the view if you were to fly straight out from the Heimat takeoff, with the village to the south-west, on the right. The usual wind direction from mid-morning to mid-afternoon on good flying days is from the south-west. In these conditions, the conventional approach is shown below; the viewpoint of this image is from the other direction. You are supposed to take up position upwind of the southerly corner of the landing field, circling to the left as you lose height, then fly a downwind leg over the campsite and turn into wind to land on the spot, in front of the Good Flight shop. This may sound ridiculously prescriptive, and if it’s quiet, with no other pilots preparing to land at the same time as you, then no-one will mind how you set up, or even admire some acro moves if you’re that way inclined. But when it’s busy, there may be tandems and students coming in to land in quick succession, expecting the courtesy of predictable behaviour by other pilots, so if you suddenly appear from an unconventional direction, you can anticipate some sarcastic comments about your perceived incompetence whilst you pack up.
In this video clip, of a high performance hang glider landing from the pilot’s point of view, the approach is slightly atypical, but the wind is coming from the usual direction. This footage of an inexperienced paraglider shows a more conventional set-up in very light conditions (hence the pilot at 2:20 – 2:28 getting away with coming in the other way!). Watch out for concealed ditches and some boggy areas if there has recently been rain! The packing area is on your right as you touch down, next to the road.
Coming in to land here is straightforward most of the time, which can lead to complacency, but you should always be prepared to deal with the occasional hazards for which it has acquired a notorious reputation:
- In a south-westerly, there can be a venturi effect accelerating the valley wind near the ground. You may have been losing your last few hundred metres of height in a steady 15-20km/hr breeze, then suddenly find that on your downwind leg over the campsite it has strengthened to 25-30km/hr, leaving you unexpectedly short, with a long walk of shame to the packing area. This is more likely to be embarassing (especially if you land in the goat paddock!) than dangerous.
- If the Bise breaks through down the Fieschertal valley, it can blast through the landing field very suddenly and with considerable force. If you are unlucky enough to arrive during this process, the turbulence generated by windshears can be considerable, as in this video clip.
- There may also be brief spells of katabatic flow off the Fieschergletscher. The chance of a dollop of cold air spilling down and inducing a sudden reversal of the usual south-westerly is increased when it is early in the season, late in the afternoon at any time of year, and with north overpressure.
- Occasionally, convergence can set up over Fiesch and make it difficult to get down there at all. In that situation, assuming there are no circumstances (e.g. overdevelopment) which require an urgent descent or restrict your options, I would work the lift until I had enough height to escape into the Goms, with a view to landing at Niederwald or (better still) Ritzingen, where the valley breeze may well be strong, but is likely to be laminar.
So how can you avoid trouble? My first suggestion is that you do not plan to land in Fiesch on days when there is a significant north overpressure. When it exceeds 4hPa (in which case the Oberwallis would in any case be an incautious choice for free flying) you can almost guarantee that at some time during the day there will be some unpleasant turbulence around here. If you are already airborne and realise (perhaps from observing pilots below in difficulty) that a nasty north-easterly flow has developed in Fiesch, then it will probably be safer to land elsewhere. Around Fiescheralp, options include the Heimat takeoff or the large flat area between Galvera and the cable car station. In the club site guide, it’s recommended to land at Lax (the village 2km to the southwest of Fiesch) under such circumstances, but there is no official field there. If you can make it to the Goms without difficulty, landing there is likely to be safer.
Whenever you are landing in Fiesch, keep a close eye on as many wind indicators in the landing field and around the valley as possible, so that you are ready to revise your approach at the last moment if necessary. The Flying Centre Oberwallis has a landing field 1km up the valley with windsocks, which will show any north-easterly reversals of the normal valley flow before they reach Lischa.