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Puli

Site name: Puli, Tiger Head
Launch altitude amsl: 650m
Landing altitude amsl: 450m
Launch direction: W
Road access: Yes
XC: Yes
GPS Launch: 23.966409° N, 120.989535° E
GPS Landing: 23.965738° N, 120.979593° E
Site frequency: 150.69Mhz

Brief history

Puli is traditionally famous for it’s clean water and it’s reputation for being home to the prettiest girls in Taiwan, which the locals attribute to the water. It lies at the exact geographic center of the island and is probably the largest city that isn’t near the coast. The town sits at 450m AMSL and is surrounded by the foothills of the central mountain range which has it’s two highest peaks (close to 4,000m) within 60km of Puli. These days, it’s well known as being the town closest to the epicenter of the devastating earthquake that struck on September 21nd 2001.
The road up to launch is stable having been completely rebuilt during the winter of 2002. We pilots are lucky in that the road is necessary to access the drainage system alongside it, which has to be maintained in order to stop the mountain sliding down onto the houses below. The county government has (so far) been doing a stellar job of maintaining it. This was my regular site until the 921 earthquake. I tend not to fly this site anymore on weekends or public holidays as it does get very crowded then.

Downloads

Google Earth placemarks: puli.kmz
XC flightlog 1: puli.igc
XC flightlog 2: n/a
Video 1: puli1.mov (4.01mb)
Video 2: puli2.mov (4.04mb)
Video 3: puli3.mov (2.76mb)

Flight

There are now two launch areas, the old one and the new private one.

The old launch features a flat area with a front that rolls away into a slope that is one step from being a cliff. The land below is very steep so at least if you launch into sink you will not hit anything before you gain airspeed. There is a slight rise to lay out on, so the glider is a little higher than your boots. It is still most definitely an intermediate launch, being very short so it doesn’t lend itself to quick inflations in light conditions. It is often very windy and / or thermic on launch so good reverse launch skills are required. There are power lines strung just 20m behind the launch so it could go very badly if you were picked up and dragged back there.
The new launch inside the Heart of Taiwan flying club is grassy and has a good slope. There is however a building on one side that could make launching a bit more tricky in a northerly wind. The slope in front of the launch is gentle, so unless lift is good you stand a chance of touching down there. The slope itself is covered in tall elephant grass so you would not be able to run off it. I’d choose the private launch as there are less spectators to get in the way, no garbage on the launch area, there’s a proper toilet etc. etc.
Note that Tiger Head launch is only 200m above the large valley floor. Thermals start suddenly in the morning and are usually still rough and broken at launch height. If the trees you can see down the mountain are not moving with wind, do not launch. Since the hill itself makes a considerable ridge lift, the wind at launch will usually be straight in, even when the prevailing wind is due north or due south. If the wind at launch is cross, it’s usually a bad sign. In season the base wind is usually from the north.
There are also two LZs in use now. The one to the south is operated by the Nantou Paragliding Association, and is long but very narrow. The one to the north is maintained by the other group of pilots which use the old launch area. The paddock which was in use for several years back around 2000. There are some obstacles around it but it’s quite adequate for intermediate pilots and is open to all pilots free of charge. Puli is a site which is very deserving of a look around the bottom of the hill before flying and is definitely not for beginners…
The drive time between the launch site and LZ is about 15 minutes and local taxis are quite willing to make the trip if you have a phone number to call one in.

Soaring

The house thermals are on the spurs to the immediate left and right of take-off. On the left, go to the dirt gulley on the front of the spur. On the right, go to whichever side is facing the prevailing wind. One you have climbed out from launch it should be possible to thermal up to the 900m peak behind the launch, but be careful crossing the lake unless you have enough height. Although the bowl back there is often lifting, it would be bad to go down in there. Once at the back peak you have options to cross the valley to the north of Tiger Head mountain and explore the peaks over there. Or, you can go south towards Sun Moon Lake. Be careful as there are not many landing places in that direction.

The new launch

The new launch

The private club launch on Tiger Head with it’s nicely groomed grass, large spectator areas and pavilions.
The lake behind the launch ridge. Nowhere to land down there, so be sure you have enough height before going over the back.
The one place you could land down there is a military base. I don’t think they welcome drop-in visitors.
Puli lake

Puli lake

Issues

Tiger Head mountain is just outside town at 650m AMSL. As you’d expect for a low launch at a thermal site, it can be quite rough even when climbs are only in the order of 3m/s. There is another hazard which I think is unique in the sport, a booby-trapped betelnut ‘orchard’ right behind the old launch. One local pilot was unlucky enough to set off a home-made anti-personnel device while attempting a tree rescue and got 30 or 40 shotgun pellets in his legs for his efforts. The plantation is the one that’s seriously fenced, on the other side of the road from the old launch. The ‘keep out’ signs are for real kids…
Local pilots are friendly lunatics. The winter season can see a large influx of northern pilots and the site can get dangerously crowded at times. Your host was involved in a mid-air collision caused by total ignorance of ridge rules.

Weather and season

It’s possible to fly most of the year, but conditions over-develop very quickly in the summer months and thunderstorms at 2 or 3pm are regular enough to set your watch by. October through March are generally flyable without problem, though October / November and then March / April are the months for clear skies, high bases and wonderful post-frontal blue days. Altitude record at the site is 3,000m, but cloudbase is more often between 1,200m and 2,000m.

Suitability for beginners?

Not really. Puli is a low launch in an inland valley thermal site. Most often, if it is flyable at all, it is going to be rough. There is no nice mellow morning breeze to use for easy top to bottoms. There will be ridge lift long before there is any wind in the landing area and it’s very common for strong thermic activity to begin within a half hour of the first breath of wind on the hill. The landing areas are very small indeed. Pilots who can land in them consistently earn RLF (Restricted Landing Field) ratings which are only available for intermediate and higher pilots. Although the late afternoons are mellower than the midday hours, the landing areas are all great thermal sources and can be relied on to release a thermal just as you are on final glide. The obstacles around the landings are also most unfriendly.
Top landing is possible at the club’s location, though it involves flying just above a power line, over parked cars and then in low over a fence. Not for beginners.

Site rules

  1. Pilots must possess valid and recognized pilot licenses.
  2. Members may enter the site and fly without paying fees. Non-member pilots may use the site for a daily site fee of NT$100.
  3. This site is classified as being intermediate/advanced. Novice pilots are required to fly under the supervision of an instructor, and to have made prior arrangements.
  4. Pilots unfamiliar with the site should accept direction from the club’s instructors and experienced pilots present.
  5. The club offers qualified instructors to teach new students. Other instructors may instruct students or allow their students to fly at the discretion of management and by prior arrangement.
  6. Top-landing on the launch area is forbidden on weekends or public holidays.
  7. Pilots without radios or reserve parachutes or other necessary safety equipment are not permitted to fly.
  8. Before inflation pilots must have checked legstraps, waist straps etc. are all fastened and tightened correctly.
  9. Tandem flights are allowed with friends or relatives for non-commercial purposes but must be approved in advance by management. Those who haven’t made prior arrangements must pay a NT$500 site fee.
  10. The safety of all pilots is their own responsibility and the club accepts no liability.

If I have mistranslated or misrepresented this information please let me know by email or comments so I can correct it.

Note that pilots with licenses may apply to join the club for an annual fee. It’s not clear if foreign licenses are accepted or if other restrictions apply. It’s implicit in the club rules that they will not allow commercial tandem operations by others. Non-pilots are welcome onto the site for a minimum expenditure, with some food and beverages being available there. There are clean toilets available which is a welcome novelty at a paragliding site.
Nantou Paragliding Association does not maintain or operate the old launch area but has decided it’s unsuitable for top-landing and will retract your welcome to fly in Puli if you do so. Obviously there is going to be some tension when you have two operators on one hill, so tread carefully.

Getting There

Tiger Head launch is located just a kilometer from the east edge of Puli town. Puli is about an hour from Taichung by car and about two hours on one of the frequent buses, depending on traffic. Since the new Freeway 6 opened, travel time has reduced significantly, and traffic on the old Highway 14 is also much lighter than it used to be. There are no rail or air links to Puli.

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