Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
February 16, 1998

The windsock teased us with indications of soarable conditions Saturday morning as we attended to the club's business in the monthly meeting. By the time we finished the velocity had dropped off some, but the pronounced difference in temperature between launch and the valley gave us hopes for good convection. As I finished my preparations I couldn't help recall that this Valentine's Day was the tenth anniversary of my crash at Walker's Gap in Alabama. Scratching too low and slow on the downwind leg of a south day, the last thing I saw after the downwind stall and before impacting the launch ramp was scattering spectators, immediately followed by scattering aluminum, dacron, and various hillside material. I hoped for better fortune today.

Steve Lee, from whom I'd only recently purchased the Comet II 165 at the time of its demise last decade, launched first on this penultimate Valentine's Day of the millenium. The Comet II was state of the art in its day, pioneering the production of "double surface" (enclosed wing) gliders. In fact, Steve's brother Jim had won the national championship on that very wing. Steve and his wife Kathy still fly state of the art aircraft. They're dealers for the Laminar, a new topless model which eliminates the drag induced by the upper rigging. Steve turned his Laminar up the north face and it was no time before we could see him climbing in the gap. Kathy followed shortly after and reported finding a good thermal to altitude right off launch. Curly and Katie Dunn deal for Moyes, an Australian hang glider manufacturer that's been around from the early days, so Curly has his own new ship to play with. However, a bad shoulder relegated him to launch crew so Jeff Laughrey got to test fly the demo. He skied in no time. Katie launched after and was thermalling around the north corner with a couple of hundred by the time Curly and Eric Serre wired me off.

As I rounded the corner, Katie encouraged me to get in closer to find the lift she was working. Whether from superstition, prudence, memory, or fear, I was reluctant to fly within reach of unforgiving rocks and trees and it was too early in the flight to gauge the turbulence this low. I finally blundered into a thermal over the escarpment after giving up on the ridge and heading out to the LZ. It wasn't strong, but it did yield good position about 200 over to work the light stuff that continued to dribble up the face. Meanwhile, Katie and everybody else had found some boomer somewhere to get them above a thousand over as Jeff Dodgen started setting up his glider at launch. I struggled between 100 and 300 over for over a half hour before it struck me to work the concentrated lift with tighter turns. The cost in efficiency meant more time in stronger lift, a net improvement that gave me a grand in a few minutes. Once at a thousand over, it was relatively easy to work the light, sparse, but consistent lift between there and 3000. As the sun approached the horizon, Steve and Kathy headed out across the valley high, I thermalled tight with Jeff Dodgen drifting south down East Valley Road, and Katie and Jeff set up their approaches to the LZ. Jeff Dodgen left the lift for the field but Steve and Kathy came back low and landed ahead of him. I came in last. Everybody reported max altitude gains a little above 3000 over and not just a little fun.

The forecast calls for slight chance of rain through midweek. Rain ending by Wednesday but cloudy skies and a temp spread only around ten degrees will likely suppress convection. Lows in the mid 40s and highs in the mid 50s through Thursday. Rain Thursday associated with fast moving front. Postfrontal, northerly, cooler, and strong Friday. Possibility of a soarable window after velocity drops before direction veers to southerly in advance of the next closely following front. Late February usually brings an early hint of spring. Keep your eye on conditions and we'll... See you in the sky!