Rare Air

Rare Air

April 30th, 2012 by Jennifer Bardoner in Getout Bestmonth

"Ready? Run!" yelled Clark Harlow, whom I'd hired to run off a cliff with me.

He is a local independent hang-gliding instructor who often performs tandem flights from the Tennessee Tree Toppers' above-the-clouds launch site in Dunlap.

Just being that high - even with my feet still planted on the ground - was enough to give me a little shortness of breath.

"What keeps me in it now more than anything is the fact that I love sharing it," says Harlow, who has traveled the country to ride the wind, having given up flying small planes once he found out what true flight was like. "I get to see it from the first-timer's perspective again. They are jumping up and down, hooting and hollering, and talking about every little detail I remember from 1981."

Whether a first-timer or an experienced enthusiast, the Chattanooga Valley provides the perfect jumping-off point for the sport due to the relatively calm air here and the many nearby ridges.

"That easy ridge air ... people who are new can use that and just fly for hours, people who are experienced can do all sorts of things," says Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding flight instructor Dan Zink. "You can fly down almost to Birmingham on this ridge. That amount of easy air time is just rare."

Many people have at some point wished to be able to fly like a bird. Zink estimates approximately 3,000 people from all over the globe experience that through his facility - the largest training facility in the world based on the number of pilots it trains - either through tandem flights or the field school, which prepares people to fly solo.

"Most people are a lot less scared than they thought they would be," says Zink, who's taken a 92-year-old as well as a 4-year-old on a tandem flight. "They're trying to control their excitement usually, they're just so thrilled. Grinning from ear to ear is what I see every day."

For the more experienced, those grins come from the sense of accomplishment found in their chess game with Mother Nature.

"Just like a surfer says every wave is different, that's the way it is with hang gliding - every thermal is different," Harlow says of the warm air pockets that carry birds - and hang gliders - up, up and away. "That, I think, is ultimately why people stay in it long-term; the never-ending challenge. It really is a game or sport where you can never get good enough."

LAUNCH PADS

Going on Glide

423-463-6389 ' goingonglide.com Tandem Flight $150

Launches from Henson's Gap, which is 1,450 feet above the valley floor. This allows for a 5- to 7-minute flight with no lift present. Includes a 1- to 3-hour session on how to set up and break down a glider, pre-flight and a small ground school on hang gliding.

Lookout Mountain Hang Gliding

706-398-3433 ' hanglide.com

Introductory Experience $199

First five flights are done from the slopes of small hills, about 5 to 10 feet off the ground, with step-by-step instruction from a certified instructor. Afterward, both pilot and instructor are aero-towed up to an altitude of 2,000 feet where they fly tandem. Mild exertion required. Ages 12 and up.

Discovery Tandem $149

All tandem flights are towed to an altitude of 2,000 feet for 12 to 20 minutes of flying time with a certified instructor pilot. Same person can do two flights for $219.00 total. No experience necessary.

Double High Discovery Tandem Flight $219

Fly twice as high as the standard to an altitude of 4,000 feet for 20 to 25 minutes of flying time.

In-flight photos available with all options.

Thrill a Minute Sports

423-949-3396 ' hangglidetennessee.com

Tandem Flight $149

Launches from Henson's Gap, which is 1,450 feet above the valley floor. This allows for a 5- to 7-minute flight with no lift present.

Hang Gliding Odyssey (conditions permitting) $249 (up to one hour)

Depending on weather conditions, this option provides up to one hour of flight time.

Photos and video available with both options