Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
June 15-24, 1996

Last Friday was the longest day of the year, the summer solstice, the astronomical first day of summer. It's the point at which the earth, in its revolution about the local star, leans its northern hemisphere most directly toward the light. Light heats the ground, ground heats the air, and hot air is thinner. Hang gliding at this season involves a critical combination of timing, skill, and luck.

Dale McCartney demonstrated the right stuff the weekend of 6/15-16 by speckin' out both days while others went to the field. He reported better climbs and gains Saturday, but managed a grand over Sunday. A low pressure trough threatened thunderstorms through midweek, but its passage brought cooler air with a N wind Thursday as high pressure began to build in behind.

John Lawton, Fred Pearson, and I set up in anticipation of easy ridge lift only to watch velocity diminish as we neared completion of our preparations. Fred was maintaining on the north face when I launched and attempted to join him. Finding inadequate lift to allow scratching closer to the trees, hope turned to finding something on the way out. A buzzard circling to left of launch caught my eye so I moved to grab his bubble. It was only 50 fpm up on the good side, but easy enough to work. Fred lost the light stuff on the ridge and went to the field. Top of the lift was only about 800 over, but the drift deposited me right over the ridge where more trees shakin' indicated better thermal accumulation. We were later joined by Bill Colvin and Kathy Lee as it all evened out to a smooth wonder. Clark Harlow introduced a tandem passenger to the magic.

Saturday morning looked promising but velocity dropped by early afternoon again. Dave Teuscher crossed the gap and found a slow one over HWY 111. Next in the launch order, I floundered in sink and insubstantial lift, finding the ground before the bottom of Dave's thermal. John Lawton and Kathy Lee watched the drift, timed their launch, and caught it for a cool ride to cloudbase while I baked in the LZ. Sunday looked like a repeat day. Steve Lee reported climbing to 2000 over in early afternoon. It looked all done when Ned Stelzel flew to the field without hitting a bump, until he found a slow one over the LZ which eventually took him to cloudbase at 3500 over. Rick Jacob, who had probably skirted the sink of that lift in an attempt to make the road cut, came over to demonstrate heroic effort working the bottom of Ned's thermal. Dale McCartney got in higher on the same lift, but Ned pulled up the string and they both went to the field.

The forecast calls for NW 5-10 Tuesday with the approach of a front slung between two lows. A 27 degree temp difference and postfrontal dry air suggest good convection Wednesday. Wind returning to SW by Thursday with the best chance of afternoon thunderstorms, but we could be dry through the end of the week behind this front.

See you in the sky,

Dan Shell