first time hang gliding
by Cheri Sicard
BORDER, USA -- The words to the song from Disney's Peter Pan kept
running through my head. And truly, I was flying. Breezing along just
like I did during countless flying dreams I've experienced ever since
childhood. I glided, I swooped, I took in the breathtaking scenery 2000
feet below -- lush golf-course green rolling meadows butted against a
sheer Smokey mountain cliff that rose to the peak of Lookout Mountain.
But this time it wasn't
a dream. No alarm clock waited at the end of this flight to jangle me
back to the reality that people can't fly. I was really flying. I
pinched myself to be sure. Granted, I had some help. A certified
instructor from Lookout Mountain Flight Park was right
beside me the whole time, both of us suspended, prone, from our hang
glider -- a contraption resembling a huge kite. And while I don't recall
ever having a handsome, buff guy beside me in my childhood dreams of
flying -- who I am to complain?
Just Jump On In!
When we arrived that
morning at the Flight Park office, we encountered what looked like a
large cement launching pad that gave way to the sheer rock cliff of
Lookout Mountain. Our guide explained that "in the old days" the method
for a hang gliding launch was to literally run and jump off the cliff.
The pros had no problem with the leap, but the average first time hang
glider's inclination was to plant both feet on the ground and stop.
Needless to say, this made for some hairy take-offs.
Today, those looking for
a first time hang gliding experience don't have to jump off a cliff to
get it. They have the luxury of being gracefully towed aloft by an
ultra-light plane. This method makes the launch easy and stress-free. It
also allows you go higher than the Lookout Mountain peak that formerly
served as a takeoff point.
After some brief general
instructions, we were fitted into our harnesses, then manoeuvred into
place on the hang glider. By the way, it's called that for a reason --
participants literally hang prone from the overheard frame. Attached to
the front of the frame was a rope -- not a huge cable but an ordinary
looking rope. As I contemplated the rope's lack of girth, it suddenly
sprung to life right before my eyes and began to move. The slack quickly
disappeared and the little rope proved its strength by smoothly pulling
us forward across the meadow and aloft into the pristine blue Tennessee
We climber higher and
higher, until the gauge on my left read 2000 feet! Then the plane let us
loose and took off back towards the field below, the gentle chugging of
its engine fading away, replaced by the sound of wind rushing around our
ears as we soared through the open sky.
My trusty guide
explained how to steer -- a slight shift of the weight is all that's
needed to change direction. To speed up simply pull the bar towards your
body, to slow down push it away. I nervously took the reins and tried it
myself. It wasn't difficult, but I was still happy to turn the control
back over -- after all, I was only here for a single ride and wanted to
enjoy the scenery.
We flew for about 15
minutes, slowly circling the valley below us. The people we had left
behind just tiny specks from this vantage point. As we descended and got
ever closer to the ground, the ride got less hypnotic and a bit more
exhilarating. That green grass was coming at us pretty darn quickly. I
didn't need to worry though. The landing was as smooth as the takeoff--
the hanglider's wheels taking us for a high speed ride across the meadow
floor before gently coasting to a stop. All that was left was to stand
up and detach the harness.
A Hang Gliding Plan for Everyone
When I tell friends
about the experience, they seem most surprised that it was so easy. An
introductory hang gliding flight is an adrenaline rush that one needn't
be athletic to accomplish. In fact, the gentleman who went up after me
was 74 years old. Age is no object, as the Flight Park has introduced
those from 6 - 86 to hang gliding.
Of course, you might be
after more than just an introductory flight. You might even want to
conquer the infamous "jumping off the cliff" takeoff. You've still come
to the right place. Lookout Mountain Flight Park is the nation's
largest and most successful full-time hang gliding school and resort,
offering a comprehensive training facility on a 44-acre mountain resort.
Camping and lodging are conveniently located near the landing zone.
The Flight Park has a
training program that's right for you, regardless of your level of
experience -- or complete lack thereof. In fact, the school has
certified one in every six novice rated hang gliding pilots in the
United States. Students achieve the skills necessary for their pilot
rating and have the opportunity to train exclusively on thee grassy
slopes training hills or combine training hill lessons with
state-of-the-art tandem flight training for the best integrated approach
to learning how to fly hang gliders.
So, whether you want to
try it once just for the experience and to impress your friends and
family, or if you truly want to delve into the sport of hang gliding,
Lookout Mountain Flight Park is an excellent place to start.