Chattanooga is one of the premier locations for hang gliding in the world! Not only is the city esteemed for its incredible beauty, but it also geographically rests in sustained wind and heat thermals. This is the perfect duo to sustain powerless flight. It’s easy to see that hang gliding is just one more reason why we at Chattanooga Web Design love our epic city, and are excited to feature hang gliding in this week’s Local Chattanooga post!
Chattanooga is located roughly 500 miles east of Kitty Hawk, N.C., the birthplace of aviation. It’s a surprise Orville and Wilbur didn’t set up shop here. One can only speculate, but it probably had to do with the fact that there is no soft sand to crash into while they ironed out the details of how to battle gravity, and win. However, It didn’t take long for people to quickly catch on. They began flocking (pun intended) to Chattanooga to enjoy the newly discovered synergy of machine and nature to enjoy the thrills of powerless flight.
In the early days of hang gliding (70’s and 80’s), Dunlap, TN was the hang gliding capital of the world. Geography played a major part because the low mountain plateaus yielded ready access to numerous hang gliding sites. Additionally, Chattanooga enjoys among the most flyable days per year because of its temperate climate and (fairly) consistent trade winds that blow from the Northwest. If you look at the map, you can see that the mountains and ridges run Southwest/Northeast. This creates a Northwest site that faces directly into the draft of polar trade winds.
The Lookout Mountain Flight Park (LMFP) claims that “more pilots get their wings” at LMFP than any other school in the U.S. Most of its yearly ‘wing-earners’ are through taking thousands of casual ‘bucket-listers’ on their first flight. One could claim that LMFP is among the best places in the world to learn to hang glide. While we are still not sure about the oldest school, one thing is for sure, it’s definitely up there in the largest and oldest clubs.
The best thing about hang gliding is realizing the dream of human flight by using nature to power lift, just like a bird. Powered aviation may be fun, and even utilitarian, but even the most seasoned pilots would agree that a quiet calm flight without a motor is by far the best. On a typical day of hang gliding, it’s common to get to the site, set up your glider, and wait for the right moment when you know that a thermal is passing by the area.
There is a real sense of community sitting around to watch other pilots mark thermals. More often than not, pilots will learn from the real masters of powerless flight and view the soaring birds that have also been sitting around all morning waiting for the first signs of lifting air. This can take them to several thousand feet over the mountain in their constant search for food. Birds have an innate sense of thermals, as their survival depends on it. A savvy hang glider pilot simply waits for a soaring bird to mark the thermal that could potentially take them more than a mile over launch (the top of the mountain), as the start of a potential 80-mile cross-country flight. Dustin Blewett, a local Chattanooga hang gliding enthusiast and owner of Blewett Tree Service, has often flown from the outskirts of Chattanooga to Huntsville, Tullahoma and Nashville. He likes to describe hang gliding as ‘meditation in motion’. “Hang gliding commands a very high level of attention and discipline…”, he reverently admits, “…and I tend to focus on nothing else but the task at hand while I’m flying”.
If someone is interested in learning to hang glide, they can either learn with a tandem instructor, or sign up for lessons on the training hills. While on the training hills, students learn the nuances of safely launching and landing a hang glider off the side of a mountain, in a gradual process.
For the most extreme thrill seeker (as if hang-gliding wasn’t thrilling enough), you can do long distance cross-country flying. This means that you don’t intend on landing at the designated landing zone (LZ). The goal can be to fly as far as possible before landing in an obscure field 80+ miles away, or setting a goal for yourself such as flying from LMFP to Sequatchie Valley and back. Hang gliding is truly an electrifying sport. Even though it is less publicized, we are proud to say that Chattanooga, TN is among the best places to enjoy one of the raddest sports of all time.