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Hawaii – Polipoli slope soaring

Polipoli is Maui’s “Bunny-slope”. It is the place to fly if you’re learning to fly something slow like a Gentle Lady. It’s also a great place if you’re interested in lazing in the sun flying a gentle gas-bag like the Lady or the Olympic II.

Thermal Soaring at Polipoli
Thanks to Duane Asami for permission to use this info.

Polipoli is a very scenic area on the slopes of Haleakala about 3,600 feet above sea-level. Located in Kula, it overlooks the isthmus that connects Haleakala to the West Maui mountains. I learned to fly gliders on this slope, as did many of the people in our club. Polipoli is a gorgeous spot to spend a quiet family outing enjoying the scenery. Often, the R/C glider folks can be found thermalling lazily for many peaceful hours.

If you look at a map of Maui, you’ll notice the island has what looks like a silhouette of a human head. Polipoli is located very near the middle of the “body” portion. Follow Hana Highway (36) east-bound out of Kahului about a mile. Turn right on Haleakala Hwy. (37) and follow it until it becomes Kula Highway (37). Continue along Kula Highway to Rice Park; turn left at Rice Park onto the “Old” Lower Kula Rd. Take the first right onto Waipoli Rd. (NOT POLIPOLI RD.) , follow it up-hill past Kekaulike Highway (377), continue on past the houses and into the pasture. When you drive over the second cattle guard (steel rails spaced 4″ apart across the road) you will make an up-hill, right-hand, hairpin turn. A hundred yards from that turn is the primary flying site. There is a second site just below the point where the road enters the forest.

Polipoli is a very easy flying site when the winds are from the north-west. Don’t be fooled by the weather forecasts, the wind wraps around the south end of the island so when the tradewinds are blowing (from the north-east) everywhere else, it’s blowing from the north-west at Polipoli. High-speed glass-slippers and F3B types do fly here, but they don’t do all that well. Try a Gentle Lady, Wanderer or similar slow, polyhedral ship. The Olympic II, Bird-of-Time and the MiniMax 1000X are other good choices for this site.

Hand launch downhill and look for a little slope lift on the right. Thermals are generally found directly ahead and down-hill from the launch area. Sometimes they show up near the tree line on the far right or the far left, but be careful. If the lift isn’t there, you’ll have a long walk to retrieve your plane. Most people here search around for a while then, if they can’t get back, they fly down to the lower pasture and try to land near the road so they can drive down instead of having to walk to get their plane.

Landings here can be a little tricky at first. Generally, you kill off altitude until the plane is slightly below eye-level, then make a wide turn to approach from the north-west which means a down-wind landing diagonally across the slope. As you approach the hill, keep lifting the nose until the hill comes up to meet the plane. If you land cross-slope, the wind will be on your wing and after you land, it could flip a light polyhedral ship.

Polipoli is best flown when the weather service anticipates trade-winds from 5-10 mph and the night is very clear. The ground gets very cold on clear nights and thermals build better in the morning. If winds other than trade-winds are expected, Polipoli may not be very flyable. Try to arrive no earlier than about 9:00 a.m., as the thermals haven’t built yet and it’s too cold to sit-around sight-seeing. On a good day, you can fly until sun-set or your batteries die. Half-hour and forty-five minute flights are commonplace here, although I’ve posted a couple of hour-twenty minute flights as have several others in the club.

There are other sites on Maui, of course, some of them quite nice and very scenic. Visitors and residents alike should try Waipoli or Maluhia for thermalling first, though, as they are the best when the trade winds blow, which they do most of the year. After flying these sites, you know why the County motto is, “Maui no ka oi”, which basically means, “Maui is the best”.


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