When the air is dry it heats and cools more rapidly. When the ground is also somewhat dry its heating heats the air above it, creating and increasing a temperature difference between lower, warmer air and higher, cooler air. Viva la difference! It's the tendency of the less dense warm air to bubble up through the cooler layers that bears us skyward, perhaps even to the thermals ultimate apparition at the bottom of a cumulus.
Several pilots took advantage of the dry and consistently soarable conditions this week. I had agreed to setup and fly for a photographer Tuesday and was concerned about beating the catabatic tailwind late in the afternoon. I managed to get off in nothing and took the inevitable sled run. After the photog had gone and the shutter was silent, I returned to the top of the mountain to find a wonder wind. Mark Furst and Susan Murdoch returned the next day with better timing. Susan said they flew for a good while, watched the sunset from a few hundred feet over the mountain, and landed in the gloaming. A pretty nice way to end a day.
Friday was the beginning of the real action. Steve Lee landed on Sand Mountain near New Home and contacted a ride at Lookout. However, during the confusion of locating a field, setting up an approach, and communicating position, he misdirected his retrieval to Thrasher Pike (about 20 miles away in Soddy-Daisy). He eventually caught a cab to the Lookout LZ where Kenn Pollari picked him up about 10:30 PM and they went after Kathy. She had landed at a party just north of Fort Payne, Alabama, where she'd been entertained and entertainment ever since. Kenn took them back to his place on Lookout, put them up for the night, fed them breakfast in the morning, and drove them back to Henson's. Now that's hang gliding hospitality!
Saturday was the day. There was a northerly breeze early and all over the valley, which usually means strong velocities eventually. There were reports, however, of pilots waiting for cycles on launch. John Lawton reported punchy cores early, gradually fattening into strong lift, but also accompanied by strong sink. He, Clark Harlow, Katie Dunn, and Chris Fields (Knoxville, TN) stayed in the neighborhood working to between 3000 and 4000 over easily. It was at about that altitude that John saw a bald eagle. He said it would alternately climb in the thermal with him then dive on Katie who was thermalling below them, pulling out a hundred feet or so above her glider to return to his thermal. Chris Fields had his first high altitude thermalling flight reaching a max altitude of 3600 over. John reported a max altitude gain of 4600 over. Greg Wojnowski turned downwind and crossed the first gap to land at Dale McCartney's. An as yet unknown pilot landed at Big Daddy's on the river near I-24. If it was you, let me know. Tom Prouhet landed on Sand Mountain at New Home, near where Steve had landed the day before. Steve, Kathy, and Jeff Laughrey made it to Lookout. Dave Giles of Huntsville, Alabama had the flight of the day to past Fort Payne and submits this report:
I landed in Jamestown, Alabama at the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church. About 15 people were standing outside (getting ready for their Saturday night pot-luck dinner) waving at me as I came in to land. After I landed, they made my 2 hour wait for retrieval almost as much fun as the flight itself. Reverend Chris Hearn took me into his home and gave me a big drink, and let me use the bathroom and phone (my cellphone couldn't get a signal). While I was breaking down my glider, they kept inviting me to come in and have dinner with them. I was trying to wait so I could have dinner with Rachel, Tucker, and Jamie, but they finally twisted my arm enough and I took them up on their offer. I had the most wonderful home-cooked pinto beans, squash relish, jalapeno cornbread and coleslaw, topped off with a piece of chocolate cake. Man, I wish every XC flight ended that way! They made me promise to try to fly back there again during Vacation Bible School and land so the kids could watch. For hospitality like theirs, you better believe I'll try! At 68 miles, it's rumored this is a record holder. Congratulations Dave and thanks for the report!
Two big XC days in a row are rare, and this is the second set of three I remember this year. Steve and Kathy Lee launched at Henson's (NW site) on a south day and flew north to Crossville. There've been a few flights to this area before, but most of them originate at Whitwell. Greg Wojnowski made it to Crab Orchard about 1/4 mile from I-40. John Lawton arrived in time to give him wind direction and see him land. They'd retrieved Steve and Kathy before they finished breaking down. Congratulations, Lee Team, on six big XC's in three days!
The forecast calls for southerly winds and a chance of afternoon thundershowers through Thursday. We may get enough rain from the remains of the hurricane to break the drought. Lows in the mid 60s. Highs in the mid 80s. Clearing Friday with W to N winds. Saturday lighter and N to NE. E to S or L&V Sunday. See you in the sky!