"You can go up and see the world like the birds see it," says Erik Graper, owner of Fly This, a fledgling business offering air trike discovery tours and student pilot instruction over Nickajack Lake.
A hybrid between an ultralight and a hang glider, an air trike is controlled by weight-shift and has a wing like a hang glider, but offers upright seating and an engine. With the help of the engine, the trike can travel farther and is more versatile than a conventional hang glider, in addition to being amphibious.
Graper, a hang-gliding instructor for 10 years, began the business in July with the hope of bringing something new to Chattanooga thrill-seekers.
"People always say, 'I wish I had done this 10 years ago,'" he says. "It is just one of those bucket list things where 99 percent of people say it's the best thing they've ever done."
Graper 's wife, Claire Vassort, a former pilot on the U.S. Hang Gliding Team, says that flying is like magic. "You break away from everything that's down there," says Vassort, a native of France and 27-year hang-gliding veteran. "It gives you a new, peaceful perspective and an opportunity to step away and look at life from a different angle."
On a vacation at her aunt's home in the Alps at the ripe age of 13, Vassort fell in love with hang gliding. "It was love at first flight," she says. "It was my passion for many years."
At 18, the age required by law in France before prospective pilots can get their license, Vassort took lessons and learned to fly. She competed for 15 years on the U.S. Hang Gliding Team before deciding to retire from the hectic world of competitive sports and pursue her art of creating silk paintings.
Although Vassort hung up her competitive hat, she still flies regularly with her husband. "Hang gliding has determined a lot of things in my life-where I live, who I'm with," she says. "It's nice to look back and see how it's evolved. It has brought a lot to my life and it still does."
A $150 Discovery Flight features a 30-minute morning or evening tour of Nickajack Lake and the changing fall leaves with a view of the spectacular Tennessee River Gorge, also known as the "Grand Canyon of the South."
An ultra discovery flight lasting one hour is a $250 option for those who want more time in the air. For more information about Fly This, visit www.flythis.biz. To schedule a flight, call 423-582-1929 or email Erik Graper at firstname.lastname@example.org.