Dry air associated with high pressure building in behind a rare summer frontal passage, in combination with longer days and excellent heating near the solstice, has yielded several soarable days. Hang-gliding hearts raced early last week at the forecast that this front would likely push all the way to the coastal plains.
Tuesday was postfrontal, NW, and ridge soarable as expected. Thermal tops were only about 1200 feet, but Nick Berry, Bryan Burnside, Curly Dunn, Clark Harlow, John Lawton, Kathy Lee, Steve Lee, Kenny Sandifer, and I enjoyed boating around in the consistent lift.
Wednesday was NE. Clark Harlow, Dale McCartney, Bob Shattleroe, and Dave Wollstien launched with buzzards circling out front. They climbed to about a 1000 over while I finished launch preparations. Making it to the bottom of their thermal was questionable by the time I got to the ramp. Clark Harlow buzzed by, commenting he was cold, and headed out to land. When he began circling low over the LZ foothill I knew there was one within reach. Entering the thermal above him, I was able to work the stronger lift at height while watching Clark eventually commit to setting up approach. After many turns and drifting down the valley out of reach of the LZ, lift began to wander at ridge level. Unable to find anything else substantial, Mr. Ledford's airstrip (with windsock and big ol' American flag) between the river and Ridge Road was a welcome sight. I enjoyed Mr. Ledford's air-conditioned hospitality and generally jawin' about flying until Clark made retrieve, reporting that Dale had last been heard getting low near Powell's Crossroads.
But low ain't landed and Dale's not done 'til he's down. He scratched, boated, and thermalled his way down the valley and over Nickajack to the I-24 pass. Getting high there once, he wasn't content with the drift, returned with some net gain, thermalled up again, and with about 3800 over took that one over the back to Lookout. He said he couldn't really make out the Lookout launch for the haze, but could approximate its position relative to Covenant College and Cloudland Canyon. His navigation was good as he flew the right line to arrive over the LZ about a hundred feet below launch.
He displayed the same persistence Thursday when we went to Whitwell. I launched first, marked a thermal just SW of the church, then was chased from it by a helicopter passing within 200 feet and upwind. The pilot never deviated from the straight line to his destination in Whitwell, suggesting he never saw me. It'd be nice if the powered pilots, whose wake turbulence could put us in a bad way, would take note of the "hang-gliding activities" designations on their FAA sectionals for this area and keep their eyes open. Dale was able to find the reorganized lift and work it from a few hundred feet over the LZ to a couple of grand for about another hour while I was just grateful for the ground.
I set up, launched, and flew directly to the bottom alone Friday. Thanks to John Lawton for the ride from halfway up the mountain. Saturday was apparently great at Lookout, but nobody flew here. Sunday was forecast SW but wound up blowing in at Henson's. Katie Dunn launched early and worked hard to get to around 5000 over. Improving conditions brought reliable ridge lift and respectable altitude gains for Bernie Cohen, Lincoln Michaud, and the regular local gaggle. Bryan Burnside, Curly Dunn, Mark Furst, and Dale McCartney worked the wonder 'til it turned off.
The forecast calls for W winds Tuesday ahead of a frontal passage, with which there will be associated isolated thunderstorms Wednesday. Postfrontal, clear, NW, and a little cooler Thursday, July 4th. Soarable afternoon following the parade and festivities in Dunlap. Watch for the TTT float. Partying associated with the onset of darkness, fireworks, and conclusion of a great flying day continuing until the early morning hours. See you in the sky, Dan Shell