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The Cowley airfield is located about 10 kilometres north of the village of Cowley on Highway 3 in the southwest corner of Alberta. See the map of the Cowley area for more directions. Cowley has a long history of being the wave flying capital of Canada, and soaring activities have been taking place here since the early 1960s. In 1997, Cowley was named the first "National Soaring Site" by the Soaring Association of Canada. A brief graphical timeline of significant events may be seen in the Cowley airfield history Although the Cowley property is owned by the government, the airfield and its campground is officially operated and maintained by the ASC. Camping is free and there is water available but no power. The campground has a cookshack which is the centre of soaring camp activities. The camps are entirely a voluntary effort, and everyone on hand is expected to help out in some respect such as taking a shift as time-keeper or field manager out on the flightline. For fly-in visitors, there is avgas available at the nearby Pincher Creek airport and emergency avgas is available (in drums) on the airfield. There is a camp registration fee of $25. Tow tickets are $35 for each 2000 feet of tow and a $15 "wimpy" sticker may be added to the ticket for an additional 1000 feet. Oxygen is available on-site. Details of the camps, flying operations, and the flying conditions are in the Cowley Guide.
The ASC runs two major soaring camps at the airfield:
- the Cowley Summer Camp starts on a Saturday and runs for the 10 days ending the Monday of the August long weekend. The Summer Camp is the largest annual soaring event in Canada. Pilots and families are most welcome with free camping at the airfield campground. On a historical average, wave can be expected on 30% of the days.
- the Cowley Fall Camp starts on a Saturday and runs for the 10 days ending the Monday of the (Canadian) Thanksgiving weekend, which is usually the second weekend of October. This is not a family camping affair at this time of year except for the hardy – visitors often choose motels in nearby Pincher Creek. The weather is highly variable and at the airfield elevation of 3900 feet prone to freezing at night and a fair chance of the first snowfall of the year. At times the camp has been cancelled at the last minute due to a bad weather forecast, so check ahead by e-mailing the ASC office before committing to the trip.
Flying the Wave
The Fall Cowley Wave Camp of 2008 brought Mark Miller and his crew to the Cowley air field for the filming of a Discovery Civilization Air Dogs episode featuring The Cowley Wave. The Air Dogs show can be seen on Discovery Channel - Civilization.
Stalking the Mountain Wave - by Ursula Wiese
This book details the history of flying and practical matters related to the lee wave in Southern Alberta. It is highly recommended for pilots that plan to fly from the Cowley Airfield. Now that the first two issues of the book have sold out Ursula has made it available in PDF form through this web site.
Stalking the Mountain Wave
The Livingstone Block airspace
This wave flight airspace was created through the hard work of a few ASC members in the early 1970s, principally Dick Mamini and Bruce Hea. A map of the Livingstone Block is on the last page of the Cowley Guide. When operated by the ASC, this airspace is normally open to 28,000 feet (this is a "relatively" safe upper limit, easily allowing Diamond climbs). If a higher ceiling has been opened by ASC for a record attempt, for example, pilots above 28,000 feet must be in positive radio contact with Cowley Ground, who are "legally" responsible to ATC for flight following. The airspace above 28,000 is only opened by prior telephone contact with ATC by the camp organizers – not by radio call-in at the moment. The other no-go area is the airway which cuts a "hole" through the block parallel to its southern boundary. This airspace is from 12,500 to 18,000 feet, the south boundary is just south of Pincher Creek and the north boundary is almost to Centre Peak. However, pilots who are flying cross-country in the wave may get clearance to cross through this airway by radioing the Edmonton Area Control Centre on 132.75 MHz. Being able to fly through the airway is particularly helpful when soaring cross-country to and from the south in the wave.
Pilots visiting from other countries
There are specific Transport Canada regulations that apply to foreign pilots who wish to fly Canadian registered sailplanes solo or to fly their own sailplanes within Canada. Click on the ASC Document Vault page for the relevant information.
A few Cowley photos to give you a taste of this place.
Gorgeous lennies, Oct 7, 2004, at the fall camp. photo: John Gruber
The Livingstone Range close in. The continuous steep eastern flanks assist the formation of the wave over the valley. photo: Margret Simon
A panorama (scroll to the right to see the full picture) of the Cowley valley taken from the western slopes of the Porcupine Hills. The airfield is a little out of frame on the left. The Crowsnest Pass is above the complex of farm buildings in the middle distance. The Livingstone Range extends to the north from the Pass, with Centre Peak above the road in the right portion of the photo. To see the soaring cairn which is on top of Centre Peak, go to the bottom of this page and select the link, "The Quest" photo: Margret Simon
Tony Burton flies his Russia AC-4C in the wave at 22,000 feet NW of Cowley on 6 Oct 2005.
There was a great Chinook Arch that day back over the Porcupine Hills. photo: Tim O'Hanlon
There is a lot to do and see besides flying, with boating on the Oldman reservoir and several excellent attractions nearby (such as the Frank Slide, Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump, and Waterton National Park). Go to the Travel Alberta Southwebsite for area travel and sightseeing info and links. For more information and stories unique to Cowley, go to: * "The Quest"— the story behind the soaring cairn on Centre Peak * Index of the history of Diamond and record flights at Cowley