America's Best Hang Gliding Club

Tennessee Tree Toppers

History of "The Ramp"

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                    Click on picture for a larger image                      Commemorative Plaque.pdf  (The best way to read the words)

          Commemorative Plaque donated by Mike Nash!

        Keith Atkins: Design, writing, and plaque layout; brass image of aerial photography.

        Denny Haldeman and Dennis Van Dam: Assisted with writing the "History of the Radial Ramp" section

        Steve Lee: Coordinated and supervised construction of the stone column.

        Miller Stroud: Provided the aerial photograph of the ramp.

        Nate Newkirk: Photograph enhancement.

In the ancient times of the TTT, we lived when gliders flew like finely crafted stones, some stones lighter than others, some pilots with fewer stones in their heads than others. It was a time of dubious self-regulation and rogues, of comrades falling from the sky, treacherous launch sites, determination, dreams, and occasional death and too frequent near-death experiences. 1982 was also a time of great enthusiasm and forward motion in the TTT. The first Mayhem was held that year, we bought the Whitwell launch, embarked on better first responder training among us, marked trails down the bluff for rescue, tried to get a medivac service in the region and other projects.

Dick Stern and Don Guess, our illustrious elders and founders, owned Tennessee Truss Company and many a new pilot spent at least a few days of employment there, before getting fired over a day of fine flying instead of showing up for work. Due to the synergy of the Truss company, we were blessed to have ready access to ramp materials to try to tame the wildest launch sites. We used these convenient rectangular ramps at Whitwell, at our first Sequatchie NW launch by Powells Crossroads, and then on Henson's Gap when we finally settled there. The ramp at Henson's was the largest of our ramp undertakings thus far and we considered it the best available, affordable technology. It was a magnificent aircraft carrier type of design that unfortunately put us on the edge of peril. Wings exposed to various air flows while the nose was shadowed made for many a crash and near death experience. In late 1980, when Dennis Van Dam plunged over the edge on one such launch, taking nose man Chuck Toth over the edge as well, it was the beginning of the end of that rectangle of horror. Though both survived miraculously unscathed and some bushes and brush suffered to save them, it was a last straw for many.

In the winter of 1981 while on a break from a week of tree planting in South Carolina, we found ourselves on the beach at Edisto Island, pondering the ramp issue over beers. A horse shoe crab washed ashore about then and proceeded to provide us the inspiration for the cure. The crab shell was placed on a mini-bluff of sand there on the beach that day and the radial ramp was born. Dennis cut short his tour of misery in the tree planting world to return home to begin the research and design process. The crab shell disappeared years later.

At that time there was nobody living in the vicinity of the TTT site. Bryan Burnside had just started brokering lots, and the mountain was still a holdout of scoundrels, and malicious partiers amongst the kinder, gentler populace. The mountain had a long illustrious history of moonshine distillation, pot growers and the wildness that accompanies those trades. Outsiders were generally regarded with varying degrees of kindness, wariness, or downright disdain. The original ramp was burned by some of the more disrespectful humans around and we feared the damage that would occur when someone inevitably rolled a car off it for insurance.

We had first considered a permanent, more durable ramp of stone, earth and other materials as well as other permanent options. Due to the prohibitive expense, fiscal tightness of the club, the immanent purchase of the Whitwell launch, not owning the LZ and other factors, it was decided to go with a temporary wood structure to ensure it would work well and allow us time to recover financially. We had anticipated at our April meeting, that using components of the old ramp, some donated materials and adequate labor that we could build the experimental ramp for $1000 worth of lumber. We had high hopes that this ramp would serve us for a good 5-10 years at that point. At 26 years later, we find it was an excellent investment, a magnificent design and smashing success of an "experiment". Denny

From the April 1982 TTT Newsletter:

The construction of the radial ramp at Hensons Gap will begin on April 30th and hopefully be completed on May 2nd. An intimate work party (meaning not enough help) was held on April 17th and 18th at which time we built the 6 radial trusses. Materials and trusses will be transported to the site on April 30th so some of us will have to camp out there until the project is completed to ensure that nothing disappears before we can nail it all down.

Hopefully this newsletter will reach you before we get started because we are definitely going to need all the help we can get on this ramp-raising. We have to disassemble the old ramp, get it out of the way, pull lots of nails, and do tons of toting, lifting and nailing. Dennis VanDam has invested hundreds of hours researching and developing this ramp as well as coordinating the materials we need. Now it's up to us to dig in and help bring it to reality. If you can help, please come up early Saturday morning May 1st.

For those of you who do not understand the need for this project, I'd like to give you a background on the problem.

The existing ramp is built with a square front in vertical air. To launch there in wind requires a special technique that is not always successful. The nose of the glider is shadowed from the wind while the tips are flying, causing a nose-down attitude during takeoff. To do it successfully, you must ease out on your nose until you hit the vertical air at which point you must pull in to avoid a stall.

We've had 4 tumbles over the edge from the control bar hitting the ramp, one near tumble, several nose men hit, one knocked over the edge, and dozens of close calls. Fortunately no one has been hurt badly thus far.

Consider the cost of one glider, one broken bone, or worse, and you'll see why we must rectify the situation. This new ramp will completely the eliminate the problem, and no doubt make for some of the easiest cliff launches in the area.

Excerpts from the May1982 TTT newsletter Radial Ramp Log (Denny Haldeman).

Radial Ramp Log

You've all heard of our seemingly endless plan to build a state of the art ramp at Henson's Gap. After a year of planning, exhaustive testing, designing and more deliberation the dream is now a reality.

It all started with a tumble over the end of the old launch by the soon to be master-ramp-revamper, Dennis VanDam. Somewhere in this tumble mode a vision came to him: "THERE'S GOT TO BE AN EASIER WAY TO JUMP OFF THAT MOUNTAIN." And, Vandamit, he was right. The new ramp has change the personality of the place by making launches an enjoyable rather than dreadful experience.

Dennis designed a model with streamers on it and mounted it on his car. Moving down the highway, photos were taken from another car recording the streamer patterns at various angles of attack and wind speeds. Dennis also designed a flow angle indicator and experimented with it on launch to determine the best slope for the new ramp. Smoke bomb videos were recorded by Dennis and Chuck at cliff's edge to further determine the air flow we had to deal with. Dennis also spent multitudinous hours designing the new structure and the unique radial trusses necessary to obtain our laminar flow.

The club meeting of April 10,1982, produced the go-fer-it with a budget of $1000. By the following weekend we were set to build the radial trusses at the old Post Office in downtown Wildwood, Georgia. Gladys Franklin, ex-landlady of Patty and I graciously allowed us the use of the place wishing for no remuneration.

April 16th, Rick Jacob picked up the plywood and provided the resources of his Jr. High shop class to mass produce the gussets used to hold the trusses together.

On April 17th, (soarable), we got together at the old Post Office and spent most of the day building the first one. Once laid out on the floor template, the pieces of it were used to mass produce the components for the others. The pieces were numbered and placed in anticipatory positions for the following day's action. Darkness fell like a Mariah 170, and fatigue sent most of us crabbing for home. Dennis worked on into the tumbling darkness of night perfecting the curve on the first born of the six.

April 18th, (soarable). One down, five to go.. We quickly devised a system to our madness, and hammers and miss-hit hails were soon flying with not nearly the grace of those fortunate to be elsewhere. Imaginative cusswords also soared the confines of the room with each fleshy-type nail hit by mistake. Chuck earned the purple thumb medal in the melee. The action built all to a point similar to which Edgar Allen Poe was inspired for a story. "The pounding, I can't take the pounding anymore!!" The TTT Truss Torture ended as daylight faded like the use of pods for flying. The trusses were completed. An experimental lift of one fine truss didn't raise the truss itself much, but it did raise the question of how to move the suckers. We had created some monsters. We slept on it for eleven days.

From April 19th through the 29th we accumulated nearly all the tools, devices, safety equipment and materials needed for the long weekend ahead. (optimistic). On the 29th, ten of us gathered at the old Post Office to load up the trusses. That anticipation proved anti-climactic as the water weight had diminished and 8 people could move them with relative ease.

April 30th. (soarable). The decking lumber was delivered and we were now obligated to hang with it until all was nailed together. Despite soarability, we accomplished a great deal that evening. The sunset was prettier than spectrum cloth as we chowed down and loaded up with liquid carbohydrates to prepare us for the hard work ahead.

May 1st. (soarable). The sun came up a half day too early. Most of the hardcore campers ran into Dunlap for coffee. Work parties had finally trickled in around 10 a.m. and we began disassembly of the old ramp. This phase progressed rapidly, smoothly and with the proper amount of fear. In no time, we had a bare spot to get started upon. In the process of dismantling the old one, we found a deterioration which would have given it a year to live at most.

The construction commenced immediately after the necessary deliberation. The plan called for Dennis to be the final authority in all matters and for Chuck and I to be coordinators under his command. Dennis proved to be a better leader than we were followers. Together with a few others of strong opinions, our disagreements provided breaks in the work as well as entertainment for those who could contain themselves.

The main cross truss was the first phase to go up. With the help of Dennis's one-of-a-kind ramp-jig (cables and turnbuckles), the main cross truss went right into position with a minimum of jacking around. As it was being braced, trenches were being dug and gravel placed into the bottoms to accommodate the rear cross trusses. Holes were being dug for posts to barricade auto traffic from the set-up area. The burnt trusses were being rebuilt as the radial trusses were delivered and off loaded. At the high point of the day, there were approximately 20 people involved in the various projects. No apathy here.

The initial alignment of the first trusses took longer than anticipated and our plan of soaring off the new ramp that day would not be. The coup de grace came when we were moving the radials into position. With eight people holding the second one at cliff's edge, a heated discussion involving numerous options at that point brought about no answers. It was finally concluded that our fatigue had reached a point of counter-productivity and that we would be better off starting anew in the morning.

May 2nd. (Soarable). An early start and clearer minds helped to pick up where we left off with a positive direction. All the radials were installed, jacked into position and secured. The rear trusses were being treated and placed into position. We then started decking the front and rear simultaneously. All the way up the front we could feel the wind in our faces and we knew it was going to meet all expectations. The soarability made us work fast and furious and in no time the last of the center decking was in place. Dennnis and I set up our gliders to ensure that we would be the first off the new ramp. Even without the diffuser wings, launches were cake. And did it ever look sexy from the air.

May 3rd. (soarable) The work crew subsided a great deal from it being Monday. Nonetheless, we managed to install the tapered aft section of the wings and spruce up the area. We were tired and in desperate need of showers after 3 days up there, and elected to give more thought to the wings until the following weekend. We also had to order more lumber for the wings since the old decking we were going to use was too far gone.

May 8th. (soarable) Another good work crew and we spent the majority of the day figuring out and framing the wing structures. Triangulated cables were installed from the main structure to the wings with the hope of eliminating unsightly bracing.

May 9th. (soarable). A wing and two-thirds were decked. It was a very tricky proposition necessitating safety ropes for the inside nailers and ladders for the outside nailers. Just couldn't get it done before dark though.

May 10th. (soarable) We finished the decking and most of the bracing. Spruced up the edges and cleaned up the mess. It looked wunnerful. We were finished in more ways than one and too tired to fly.

Despite a substantial cost overrun, everyone who has experience a launch there has felt the money and effort were well spent. This was truly a club effort of the highest magnitude. Thanks to everyone who helped. We did a helluva job on the rampiest ramp there is! Denny

-------------------------end radial ramp log...may 1982 TTT newsletter.-------------------------

The final cost was in the neighborhood of $2500 due to deterioration factors we had not anticipated.


 Submitted by: Denny Haldeman