It was an epic day. One that would live around campfires on mountains across the region for years to come. Likely the telling wouldn't even be much embellished. When you're hang gliding, you don't have to tell fish stories. The conditions looked promising, but we'd all seen promising days where the ambitious talk on launch ended pretty promptly in the LZ.
Everyone was set up by noon with the forecast of NW 10 to 15. John Lawton had been by flying his (RC) Zaggy but was convinced that the day would be blown out for hang gliders. Velocity dropped by midafternoon, however, and he was set up in time to get off with the gaggle. I was last to launch and considered bagging it as velocity increased steadily for an abridged eternity. The wind eventually quieted for a few seconds, though, so Katie Dunn and Ryan Harlow assisted me off.
It was immediately apparent that we were working a strong north cross. This confined workable ridge lift to the north face and made for a wild ride low. It also drifted the thermals closer to parallel with the valley allowing us to work the lift higher within reach of the valley. By the time I'd found something to get me off the ridge John Lawton reported reaching the powerlines at Centerpoint. Steve Lee was crossing the first gap south. Curly Dunn was working another core just to my south as we climbed to around 2000 over. When that topped out he turned upwind toward launch. I followed but, with my inferior glide, stood still and sank in that direction. Downwind worked much better.
It sounded like Mark Furst was out front with Steve Lee not far behind. John was climbing somewhere in the vicinity of the first gap. I was behind at Cordell's but running downwind. Crossing the powerlines with less than 500 feet, I began to measure the glide to Dale's in this tailwind. It looked just possible. It was about then that I was surprised to hear Steve report setting up approach at Dale's. It was comforting and disheartening at once, as I knew he'd be there if I made it, but it must have been some hefty sink up ahead to put him on the ground. Slowing down seemed prudent. A good thermal in the middle of the gap eased my dilemma all the way to 3000 over and across the gap.
From here I could see Kathy working low but far downrange. I asked her if what she had was worth running for and assumed she was too busy climbing to answer. When my lift slowed I dove for her thermal. In no time we were both on the trees near Suck Creek. We were trolling the ridge in the negligible ridge lift when Kathy made the first turn. I flew through the same area and we were soon looking across that thermal eye to eye and spinning fast into the sky.
At this point Kenny Sandifer and John Lawton were somewhere above us between Suck Creek and Inman Point, where Mark Furst was struggling valiantly on the ridge. Mark eventually landed there with Bill Colvin. Steve was being retrieved at Dale's by hang driver extroadinaire, Ryan Harlow. As I climbed to cloudbase at about 4200 over I was astonished to see Bruce Hibbard fly by waving within a few dozen feet. When we saw him make a sinky dash for The Point (Lookout) across Raccoon Mountain, Kathy, Kenny, and I decided to try the Big Daddy's Sand Mountain route. Nevertheless, as we got farther south and The Point got closer, Kathy too was sure she had it on a glide and went for it. Kenny and I continued across the river toward Big Daddy's, zero sinking or losing slowly.
With Big Daddy's in reach, Kenny advised flying more southerly toward some fields on top of Sand Mountain. When we arrived there I only had 1800 feet left and announced I would be landing on top of Sand Mountain. John replied, "What? Are you on final approach from 1800 feet? Keep going!" I was persuaded to drift over a couple of more fields. The second one had the thermal that really didn't get us back out, but allowed a drift within reach and then a run for fields in the Lookout Valley.
Kenny was now higher and out front. Somehow John was behind us but very high. Steve was already in the Lookout Valley looking for Kathy. She and Bruce Hibbard had landed up the valley near Wildwood, GA. As I told Steve I wouldn't be landing on top, a flash from the interstate caught my eye. He was hitting me with a signal mirror from his van window as they drove under me. He told me I had the Lookout Mountain Flight Park LZ made. He said "Keep going!" but I couldn't even see it. I knew it was there because launch was visible beyond and this was obviously New England (GA, near Trenton) in which I was about to land among large hay bales. The LZ, my ten year XC goal, was just beyond the tops of the foothills.
I prayed for one thermal to get over those hills. God is good. It wasn't strong. Not fast. Just enough. I gained less than 200 feet and crossed the tops of the hills within counting distance of the leaves. There was even enough room for a downwind, base, and final, but absolutely no altitude burning was necessary. Kenny arrived high enough to soar Lookout while I kissed the ground, but he eventually landed there too. John Lawton arrived shortly thereafter and climbed out again, continuing on course. I told him he shouldn't be having this much fun seeing how it was "blown out!" He eventually landed near Fox Mountain about 15 miles north of Fort Payne. Congratulations John!
John had another great day Saturday and brings us this report: Saturday was east and we all went to Whitwell. I was next to last off and nearly sunk out over the Church LZ but caught one at about 300' and rode it to cloudbase. Steve, Greg Wojnowski, Terry Presley, Jeff D., Jeff L., and Curley were all out in front of me. I passed Terry and Jeff Dodgen before Star Gap. I passed Steve at the north side of Star Gap. I passed all others but Greg and Curley by Dunlap. Caught and passed Curley at Smith mountain, then caught up with Greg at the Vo-Tech school, thermalled with him a while and passed him.
Everybody decked it by the time Greg and I got to Pikeville and since I had a chase crew below me, it was getting late, the beverages were cold and I had a significant head wind out of the east, I decided to make a run for Henson's LZ and made it!! It was really easy coming back too, only working 3 thermals from Pikeville and never getting more than 2300' over. I figure it was about 58 miles total.
Steve landed 10 mi. short of Pikeville, Greg landed at the chicken plant at the south end of Pikeville. Curley, Jeff Laughrey and Jeff Dodgen landed at Henson's LZ (without the detour to Pikeville). Kathy landed at Stonecave after an hour of squirl chasing. Terry Presley landed about 5 miles short of Pikeville. Tom Prouhet was also flying but launched behind me and I'm not sure where he landed. Thanks John!
The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with a chance of showers and thunderstorms Wednesday through Saturday. Best chance of rain Saturday. Lows in the 60s. Highs in the 80s. Southerly winds through the period. Northerly Sunday if it pushes through. Southerly and wet if it doesn't. See you in the sky!
Lookout Mountain Flight Park News Page (http://www.hanglide.com/)
June 17, 1999: It Was An Epic Day by Lori Allen
Dan Shell couldn't have expressed it better. He should know. For the first time in his flying career, and flying his Sport, Dan made his first ever cross country flight from Henson's Gap in Dunlap, Tennessee to the landing field of Lookout Mountain Flight Park, approximately 35 miles more or less. Kenny Sandifer flying a Sensor, also can finally put a Henson's to Lookout notch on his belt.
Johnny Lawton, demonstrating the awesome glide of a topless, flew his Airwave Xtreme even further for approximately 53 miles total.
Greg Westberry, also flying an Airwave Xtreme, flew from Lookout Mountain Flight Park's launch and made the 50 plus mile trek to Weiss Lake, Alabama. Daniel Perrone made what may be his first XC flight at LMFP by flying his Airwave Klassic approximately 11 miles and landing not too far from Menlo, Georgia.
However, not to be outdone, young-in-airtime mountain pilot,
Tanya Mathur, enjoyed a beautiful launch and experienced for the
first time the breathtaking wonder of her first soaring flight in her
brand new Airwave Pulse -- looking down on launch for a full 30
minutes -- what an excellent first soaring flight.