Photo: John O'Hagan
Your Mode of Transit: A Sailplane
This must be how a bird feels when it takes flight–that is, if a bird could fly 100 m.p.h. while sitting down. Fall-tinged forests cover Tennessee's Southern Appalachian region like a colorful quilt spread out 2,000 feet below you. Suddenly the Hiwassee River comes into view, a dark gray streak cutting through the forest. A rush of wind against the high-tech glider, known as a sailplane, and the nervous exhale of your own breath are the only sounds until Sarah Kelly Arnold speaks. "It's really pretty this time of year," she says from the pilot's seat a few inches behind you. "I think the spring and fall are the best times to fly, although around here it's always beautiful."
As owner of the Chilhowee Gliderport (423/338-2000), Sarah soars above eastern Tennessee through all the seasons. She's an experienced pilot, but even she can't fly two aircraft at once. So Sarah enlists help from retired airline pilots to fly the towplanes that pull her sailplanes up into the air. Once the sailplane releases from the towplane, Sarah and her passenger slice through the sky 2,000 to 5,000 feet above the ground at speeds up to 100 m.p.h. "Look, there's Lake Ocoee!" she calls as a glittering puddle passes beneath the wing. "On a clear day you can see almost all the way to Chattanooga."
More Local Color
Check out Sarah's sailplanes, hear local bands, and enjoy a home-cooked meal inside the Gliderport's barn during Oktoberfest.
The Chilhowee Gliderport is located in Benton, Tennessee, off U.S. 411 about 45 miles northeast of Chattanooga. Sailplane rides are offered Friday–Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., or weekdays by appointment.