The proliferation of oddly adorned vehicles with plates from other states in afternoon pursuits of gliders strewn about the valley signals prime flying season in The Hang Gliding Capital of the East. The Tennessee Tree Toppers Team Challenge ended last week, but the exceptional conditions this season have continued to draw pilots from as far as Toronto and Miami.
Tuesday was postfrontal and NW with good cumulus development. Paul Voigt from Wisconsin reported max altitude gains around 2000 over around midafternoon. It had settled to a smooth wonder wind by the time I got to the mountain. We were getting no higher than 500 over by late afternoon, but the smooth, easy lift and the best sunset view in the valley combined for an absolutely magical experience. Jane Indyck enjoyed a tandem flight with Clark Harlow. As darkness approached the lift became general enough to suggest the possibility of a valley crossing. I started for the high school but got no farther than the river, landing by the old humpback bridge on Cherry Street East.
Wednesday was very similar with generally lower climbs and lighter velocities. Kenny Sandifer took advantage of the consistent but light lift to practice some aerobatics and close quarter flying. The quest was fulfilled for Gino Ciano of Ontario, boating around a few hundred over in as much of the smooth ridge lift as he could stand.
The wind swung south with prefrontal conditions just as the Miami Hang Gliding contingent pulled into town. With most of their students insufficiently rated for the SE facing Whitwell launch, they opted to stay at Henson's and pick their cycles. These pilots have trained on tow before visiting the Sequatchie Valley, but many have never foot launched before. Most take to it with only a little trepidation but Juan Arraiz insisted on the prone launch to which he was accustomed (ala Starbuck), so his instructors rolled him down the ramp all weekend. He wasn't the only one. He got the idea from fourteen year old Jamie Lunn who, while exhibiting fine pilot skills, just isn't quite tall enough yet to hold the glider in launch position on the ramp. It won't be long though, if another of his company is any indication. Sixteen year old Eric Pirie was running off the earth into the sky like an old pro.
South to southeast winds were forecast for Saturday, so the rest of us headed for Whitwell. Steve Lee launched about 12:30, climbed to 1400 over before crossing Star Gap, and was very quickly out of radio range on an XC course north. John Lawton launched shortly thereafter, was stopped at Fish Creek Point on the south side of Star Gap, and went to the First Baptist Church LZ in the next flush cycle. Kenny Sandifer and Mark Furst successfully crossed the gap.
I launched, worked light lift at the ridge, lost it, and headed out to land at the church. A buzzard indicated a thermal north of my course, so I deviated to intercept, eventually climbing to a gaggle of hang gliders and sailplanes. Continuing to drift north with the sailplanes as the hang gliders turned back south, the thermal eventually reached 1000 feet per minute climbs before I lost it around 2000 over Star Gap. Mark recommended searching in the valley rather than on the ridge and that made all the difference, as the lift became sporadic and broken over the plateau. I eventually heard him getting low and calling a landing farther north, then offering landing advice to Kenny coming into the same field. After much more circling and drifting, I flew over them at Stone Cave Road.
Flying over the school complex and the north end of Dunlap, I was just in time to see Bill Colvin land in the field next to the Ewton Funeral Home. I announced to what I hoped would be my retrieval crew that I was leaving a thermal for the Henson's LZ. I could see the Miami crowd flying there and it seemed so close. Landing there would simplify retrieval considerably. However, I left the thermal too low, didn't consider the sink over the foothills, and ultimately landed a few fields short at the corner of Cherry Street East and East Valley Road. Thanks to Larry Phillips for the ride on in to goal and to Mark and Kenny for retrieving Scratch and the Injun Engine from Whitwell.
Meanwhile, Steve Lee was still in the air and still headed north. Reporting max altitude gains around 3000 over, he said it was slow going but the lift was relatively consistent. He had a low save near North Valley Medical Plaza in Dunlap before getting high over Cagle and continuing along course. He eventually flew past Pikeville and out of the valley, landing just beyond Big Lick for an impressive 60 mile XC. Congratulations Steve!
The forecast calls for winds from the N to E Wednesday with a low in the mid
40s and a high in the upper 60s. E to SE Thursday with increasing
cloudiness. S to SW and prefrontal late Thursday into Friday. Frontal
passage Friday or Saturday. Postfrontal, clear, cold, northerly, and strong
Saturday. Good convection with a temp difference approaching 30 degrees.
Lows in the 20s, highs in the 50s. See you in the sky!