Shortly after discovering hang gliding in 1981, Rick applied his natural leadership skills to help develop and improve access to flying in the emerging hang gliding hotspot – Eastern Tennessee’s Sequatchie Valley. When the 1980’s arrived, the 2 flying sites in the Sequatchie Valley (Henson’s Gap and Whitwell) were primitively accessible and had rotor inducing ramps that overhung the sheer rock cliffs. Rick joined the Tennessee Tree Toppers hang gliding club and worked tirelessly with others to improve access to and the safety of the sites. Rick was instrumental in helping put together the cooperative land deal that allowed the club to purchase and own the landing field below launch at Henson’s Gap. Because of his volunteer work with the club, Rick was voted ’Treetopper of the Year’ 4 times.
In 1988, Rick co-founded Sequatchie Valley Soaring Supply – a hang gliding school – which brought instruction in the form of hill lessons, footlaunched tandems, aerotowed tandems and boat launched tandems. The business opened a pro-shop across the street from launch and built condominiums for visiting pilots.
In the late 80’s and early 90’s, Rick lent his time to the USHPA – becoming Regional Director for Region 10. In 1988, Rick was a Meet Director for the National Hang Gliding Championships that was run in the Sequatchie and Lookout Valleys. 1989 saw Rick organizing the first East Coast Championships. In the early 90’s Rick co-founded the Team Challenge which was the first competition series to focus on experienced competition pilots mentoring up-and-coming competition pilots. In 1993, Rick relocated for a year to Costa Rica to open a hang gliding school.
Over the years, Rick personally invested in real estate including properties adjacent to the Henson’s Gap and Whitwell hang gliding launches, which not uncharacteristicly; would turn out to benefit the sports. In 2011, even as hang gliding continued to see a decline in numbers, Rick was introduced to paragliding as a Sequatchie Valley option. Rick worked with paragliding instructors and pilots to utilize the properties that he owned to begin opening up the Sequatchie Valley to paragliding, which was not – at the time – allowed at Tennessee Tree Toppers sites. Through Rick’s efforts, the efforts of the local paragliding school and community as well as Rick’s properties, paragliding has once again filled the skies of the Sequatchie Valley with colorful wings. Rick was instrumental in this foot launched aviation renaissance and is affectionately referred to as ’The King’ by the local paragliding community.
Rick continues to expand the footprint of paragliding’s influence in the valley and is currently working on a launch-side small home community as well as RV park and bunkhouse near the Whitwell launch. At 74 years of age, while working tirelessly to improve the paragliding experience and fly his paraglider from his Whitwell property as well as the Henson’s Launch beside his house, Rick travels routinely to Costa Rica and India on yearly trips paragliding trips. The free-flight community has and will continue to benefit from the tireless efforts and selfless service of Rick Jacob.