Sequatchie Badge & Record Camp

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The Sequatchie Valley has the unusual form of a long, straight, generally flat valley about 4 to 5 miles wide at an elevation of 650 to 950’, bordered on either side by plateaus at elevations of 2000 to 2400’. This makes for two ridges about 60 miles long and often over 1000’ high. Of these, the one that forms the valley’s eastern edge is some what higher and less broken; as it is also the one that faces prevailing westerly & northwesterly winds, it is an excellent and popular route for motorless aircraft.

The Sequatchie has in the past been cited as an example of a rift valley, implying that it was created by a fault that split the Cumberland Plateau. But the current view of geologists is that it actually resulted from erosion rather than faulting. Whatever its precise geology, it is an unusual and scenic feature of particular interest to glider pilots.

It’s worth noting that the name Sequatchie is commonly applied to the section of the valley that lies in Tennessee. But the geological feature – and its potential usefulness to glider pilots – extends well south into Alabama. Also note that although the orientation of the valley is NNE/SSW (actually about 033o/213o), it’s common to speak of it as if it were aligned north-south.


The Sequatchie Valley has plenty of land under cultivation and is generally friendly to glider pilots.  But few of the agricultural fields are “no brainers” – all depend on the state of crops (which in March tends to be favorable), few are perfectly flat, most require evaluation of slope, surface, wires, water, etc.  Wise glider pilots will do some driving to become familiar with the current state of fields and crops.

Near home, there are fields that may offer options to deal with a problem soon after takeoff. In past years a field just right of the normal Runway 22 departure route has looked useful, along with a field almost in line with the Runway 04 departure path.  These will require scouting for a good chance of success.

A couple of valley fields demand special attention.  One is Matthews Field, formerly home to a glider operation but now, through a strange and unfortunate metamorphosis, a place at which a glider landing would be unwelcome.  All pilots should take note of its location, and also that of the private airfield known as Dr. Dale, less than a mile away, which is a good choice.  Another is known as Mad Farmer – this is owned by a woman who deeply resents all intrusions, most especially from the air.  Unfortunately, this is the best field in the area – but it must be considered off limits. Note that there are fields just to the north that in most years have looked suitable. You must not fly without full knowledge of these problem fields, and with a firm plan not to land in them.  This more or less requires that some sort of GPS receiver be on board, with coordinates programmed.

The valley has a few private airfields.  The most useful to glider pilots is the one mentioned above, known as Dr. Dale; it is not especially easy to spot from the air, but all pilots should know how to find it. Fields near the town of Dunlap include Galloway, Ledfords and Kelly, which have been useful in past years.  But these are not “official” airfields, so none should be relied on without inspection. Note that near each are agricultural areas that look reasonable.

Near the north end of the valley is Austin airfield.  It looks like a good option, but is not especially easy to spot, and is a couple of miles from the east side of the valley (where a ridge pilot is likely to be when he decides he needs a place to land).

Pilots who choose to explore Lookout Mountain must take note of the Lookout Mountain Flight Park (which principally caters to hang gliders), located at the base of this ridge about 10 miles from its northern end: this is the only decent landing option in that area.

On many days the high ground east of the valley produces good thermal lift.  When attempting to use this, you should note that the landing options on this high ground are generally unattractive, especially in the south.  You do well to ensure that you always have a safe glide out to the valley, which offers better landing choices and much lower ground (and thus more time to find that thermal you need).  The plateau to the west of the valley is just a bit friendlier, and even offers a few airfields.  But it still deserves respect, and the principle of preserving a glide to lower terrain remains sensible.

An attractive route on thermal days heads northwest toward Monteagle, generally following Interstate 24. Good fields along that highway make this route much friendlier than it appears at first glance.