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Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
May 1, 2000

It's prime flying season in The Hang Gliding Capital of the East and the pilot migration is well under way. Those visiting in the last couple of weeks were rewarded with a few frontal passages in quick succession, recycling the gamut of conditions every few days. Night rains and the typical energetic movement of springtime systems yielded a high rate of soarable days. Spring can be spooky though, as we launch with five man wire crews and wrestle our wings around the sky.

Those were the kinds of conditions I heard described on the radio as I arrived at Henson's Wednesday. Apparently, launch conditions were better earlier and several had launched in early afternoon, including Steve and Kathy Lee. Kathy reached 5000 over pretty quickly while drifting south past Cordell's. By the time they reached Inman Point at the river, Steve was 5000 over and Kathy was scratching on the ridge. Steve thought he could make the glide over the back from there, even though he hadn't drifted over the plateau at all. He hit nothing but strong sink crossing the badlands, however, and barely made it into the Lookout Valley. By the time he'd squeaked his way across the valley he was low enough to worry about landing in a hostile field north of the Lookout Mountain Flight Park LZ. It was there he found a thermal that gave him a climb right up Burkhalter Gap and over the mountain at Lookout. When he got enough altitude to relax and look around, he could see Kathy crossing the Lookout Valley behind him. She had crossed the river at Haletown and crossed Sand Mountain hopscotching from field to field, but did manage to make it into the Lookout LZ on her first flight since about a six month hiatus. Congratulations Kathy!

Steve hooked another thermal near LMFP and continued downwind. It was not long after this that I heard his last transmission audible from the ground at Henson's, declaring to his driver, Ryan Harlow, that he thought he'd be landing somewhere near La Fayette, Georgia. Curly Dunn continued to stay extremely high around the valley, relaying Steve's progress. His prediction was premature, and he actually landed closer to Cartersville, a 78.8 mile flight from Henson's Gap and just 2.2 miles short of the record. He said he could see the Atlanta skyline clearly before he landed. Great flight Steve! John Lawton, Clark Harlow, and I flew our RC Zaggies (to which personal attachment is unnecessary) around launch until conditions settled later in the afternoon, then flew our hang gliders along with Ben Gleich and Larry Wright from Ohio. It wasn't exactly a wonder wind, but the turbulence had settled substantially by a couple of hours before sunset.

Saturday was a very strange day. The forecast was hopeful with sunny skies and NW 5-10. I was about to load my glider on the van when it started raining! On launch pilots reported the wind had blown completely around the compass. When I arrived at Henson's the wind had just started blowing in lightly. The optimistic were eventually rewarded by a wonder wind that held them aloft 'til sunset. Sunday was almost calm with high pressure building in, but a wide temperature difference left plenty of room for convection. Greg Wojnowski launched early and landed late, reporting a max altitude gain around 4600 over. Steve Lee, Kathy Lee, Clark Harlow, Curly Dunn, John Lawton, and Tom Prouhet also skied.

The forecast calls for southerly winds and a good chance of rain Wednesday. Continued chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday and Friday with lows in the upper 50s and highs in the lower 80s. Clearing, postfrontal, and northerly Friday or Saturday. It could be another soarable weekend. See you in the sky!