Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
November 9, 1998

Tennessee 1998
Special installment by Jeff Nielsen.

Well, another great flying week in the beautiful Sequatchie valley of the lower Appalachian Mountains of Southeast Tennessee.

We were uncertain about going because of the dominant high pressure system over Tennessee. The high was centered over the area and this often brings light winds and poor thermal formation. As a possible alternate place to fly, I had called a pilot buddy from Michigan to see if the winds in that area might be better - but that forecast looked worse. After hours of frustration and unable to make a decision Pam finally said, "Jeff, get off your butt, we are going to Tennessee - at least the weather is warm, and the colors should be great." Van loaded, we were off for an uncertain adventure. As it turns out, my wife was right once again. Of course, I AM NOT complaining!

After staying the night with some friends from Nashville, the next morning we arrive at beautiful Henson's Gap ready to fly. As predicted it was sunny and warm (80 degrees) but the wind was light and thermals formation was nil.

The next day, Tuesday, we awoke to unexpected brisk southwest winds. Perfect for the "other" side of the gap, the infamous southwest launch. The locals don't usually fly from this launch because of it's rugged terrain and somewhat difficult launch. The launch is a true cliff launch with a sheer rock face with poor footing for pilot and launch crew. The launch causes considerable rotor leading to launch suck, not to mention that tree tops reach within 30 feet of the launch altitude. This is not a place to stall coming off launch.

During the launch, the three of us were all thinking the same thing, if I didn't launch immediately, all three of us were going to get pulled right off the cliff. Of course with a hangglider on my back, that didn't bother me too much! With the relatively smooth, straight in wind at 10:23am, my launch was perfect, and I was soaring.

Immediately after launch, I knew something was wrong. A familiarity was lacking. Geeze, it seems very quiet. What is wrong here - were is that beep, beep, beeping . . . . . I forgot my vario! Oh well, not a big deal, I had flown the Michigan dunes a few time without a vario, and it added a little challenge to the flight.

Two hours later, the thermals were obviously turning on. I didn't need a vario to detect these but did realize that some of my orientation while thermalling is from the instrument confirming what I felt. Somehow, I felt a little out of place with out that added information. Never the less, I and others estimated that I was able to climb to 3000 feet over launch. Four hours later with the thermals gone (only ridge lift remaining) I had enough and landed. I was the only pilot to fly this day, and what a day.

Two days later, the southwest site was cooking again. This time we were all better prepared. I had food and water in my harness and a vario on the glider. The launch crew used the clubs ropes and harnesses to "tie" themselves off - preventing any chance of falling. Of course, what happens when you are that prepared? That's right, you don't get up. Ten minutes later, I was on the ground! After packing it all back up, I made it back to launch about 90 minutes later. Now, the wind was stronger but a significant right cross had been added.

Fortunately, my wire crew did an excellent job and I was off for another great adventure. The sky was filled with streeting cumulus, the mountain was filled with fall colored trees, and the rising air between the two was 600, 700, 800, even 1000 feet up! After getting in a street, I was able to climb to 5200 feet and move over half way out in the valley. This was Tennessee at its best. Man, this was hanggliding at its best! After in flight refreshments and 4.5 hours later, I had enough.

Unfortunately, it was during the end of this flight when I learned about a serious accident suffered by one our new pilots launching from Henson's Gap launch. In a bit of a tricky cross wind situation with an inexperience wire crew, one of our inexperienced pilots launched. Immediately after takeoff, he found himself in a severe left hand turn heading back at the rock face. He impacted the mountain and was lucky enough to hit just above a ledge preventing a 60 foot fall. Fortunately, the glider absorbed most of the energy and the pilot walked away with a scrapes, bruises, and a fracture rib. A very tough lesson, indeed.

The last day, Saturday, found classic Hensons Gap launch soaring conditions. Straight in, 15- 20mph winds, with thermals everywhere. At least 30 pilots poured off the mountain in delightful conditions. Sunny, 75 degrees, and easy flying to 2000 over in big fat thermals.

Pam (wife) chose not to fly this trip. With the spendid weather and our wonderfull, little Alex (now three years old), she had a great time. Alex is quite the socialite on the ramp. He talks to all the pilots and visitors and gladly points out daddy's glider to everyone. He made friends with a couple of girls from Florida, ages 6 and 9. Alex will attach to any warm body, but it's pretty obvious that girls about this age are his favorite. Girls this age seem to tolerate his constant demand to play along with his endless energy. Every morning, Alex actually ask to hanggliding. Truly a "daddy's" boy !

The summary: three flying days out of five with 11 logged hours, great fun, great weather, great family, good friends, tons of smiles. It just doesn't get much better.


ps. Digest Flyers - I had written this note for family and friends and a couple of them suggested that I post it in hopes that others might enjoy it. With that, please enjoy. If you want, I would be happy to send you the 5 pictures and 1 tracing that was with the original post. Just drop me an email at jpnielsen@ibm.net . . . . .