About twenty miles south of Chattanooga along the edge of Lookout Mountain is a concrete ramp. Sloping downward, fifteen feet in length, the ramp juts out into space, and no one can see it without imagining what it might feel like to be standing there at the moment of truth, about to step off the edge. Mothers hold their children back, fearful they might suddenly disappear into the void. Hang glider pilots, their mothers havng long since given up on them, line up to do just that.
For many years a part of my brain was always watching the direction of the wind and wondering if it would be a good day for flying. When friends called and wanted to go hiking, or caving, or mountain biking, I would stall awkwardly while I pulled up a forecast or studied the sky. Nowadays I've given up on ever becoming a really great pilot, and spend most of my time just trying not to be a poor one. I've soared a mile above the launch ramp at the very base of the clouds, peered down at the waterfalls at Cloudland Canyon, banked into glorious turns above Point Park with all of Chattanooga spread out below me, but I typically don't go very long without reminding myself that I'm not as good a pilot as I would like to think.
In this endeavor, one faces a constant risk of public embarassment. I don't know of another sport where total strangers--other pilots who don't like to see broken gliders littering the hillside--will come up to you and bluntly tell you that your last launch or landing sucked--not that you don't typically know that already.
They say there are three types of hang glider pilots: Those who have been in the trees, those who haven't been in the trees yet, and those that will be in the trees again. I'm currently in the second category, and hoping to stay there for as long as possible.
Hang Gliding LinksLookout Mountain Flight Park
Tennessee Tree Toppers (Dunlap, TN)
United States Hang Gliding Association
Usenet - rec.aviation.hang-gliding
Title Photo: The author and his former mistress, a Pac Air Mark IV, on the ramp at Lookout.
Second Photo: Launching my UltraSport from Lookout Mountain. The LZ is just out of the picture, below the line of cabins at the lower right.
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