Photograph by Sarah Fruendt.

Flying Through Corona Arch

Words by Ben White.

Flying through Corona Arch was a pretty full-on experience – there was a full range of emotions, full commitment, and definitely a lot of fulfillment.  I had seen a video of someone flying an airplane through it, as well as a friend flying his paraglider and speed wing through it. To me it looked like a really cool space to occupy for just that one magic moment. I knew that it was a technical, dangerous flight, but I had no idea that years of skiing in the backcountry, rock climbing, and continually seeking instruction in paragliding and speed flying would all come together in 130 vertical feet of flying. It was less than a minute in the air, twice.

There was a moment of indescribable beauty as I stood on top of the rock formation above Corona Arch on Saturday evening, just before I pulled my gear out and set up for flight. Conditions were generally perfect, save for a few light puffs of wind coming through at regular, predictable intervals.

Putting my harness on and doing my pre-flight checklist was like un-caging an animal. I became hyper-focused on the task ahead as the rest of the world around me seemed to fade away. Every possible scenario raced through my mind as I waited for the perfect moment, when the universe felt just right, to fly.

Cliff launches are not only committing, they also present the possibility of deflation right at the edge, with no way to recover. I thought hard about how the wind would move through and around an arch. I analyzed the potential problems in the landing zones I chose for plan A, B, C, and through to Z.

I caged the beast-like desire to power into it, settled into a rational balance of risk and reward analysis, felt the magic moment show up, and launched. The air was smooth and buoyant, too buoyant in fact.  It became quickly apparent that flying through the arch would not be possible this time. I was too high. My mind raced to solve the new set of problems I was presented with as I flew past my intended landing point and kept flying in lofty currents that wouldn’t let me down. In an instant I was forced to create an entirely new set of plans and backup plans. I pulled off the most technical flight and landing I’ve done in two years and two hundred flights.

The next morning, I climbed up to the launching point to face the challenge once again. This time plan A seemed to come easily and exactly as I had imagined it. I launched, then felt my whole body glide for a moment to the left. I made a smooth turn to the right, then soared directly through the center of the arch. I landed, shared smiles and high fives with onlookers. It was magic.