Taking Your Seat in the Sky

The powered parachute has been called the closest thing to bird-like flying that a human being can achieve. Beyond that it is perhaps the safest, easiest, and most affordable means of flying, bar none. On first glance the rig resembles a wheeled frame that looks a little like a go-cart. It has two seats, front and back, and an outsize fan at the rear, like those that push boats around in the Everglades. A rectangular parachute is attached to the frame by cables, and is laid out on the ground at the rear. You simply take your seat, strap yourself in, fire up the lawn-mower engine that drives the fan – and the most remarkable thing happens.

ppara pilotYou start rolling forward. The fan inflates and raises the parachute. A joy-stick control is provided, and when you attain sufficient speed, if you will pull back on the stick, you will lift gently off the ground.

Foot pedals tug on the cables to provide steering right and left. The joy stick delivers the up and down control, by way of tilting the fan. The powered parachute has only one speed, 26 miles per hour. It can go no faster or slower. But it can lift you many thousands of feet into the sky.ppara western

The official altitude record is 20,287 feet, set in 2001. Ten to fifteen thousand feet is the recommended limit. But you are out there essentially open and exposed to the winds and the scenery. You are seated in the sky. It’s just you and whoever is seated behind you, and the music in your head-phones. The hobby of powered parachuting is merely the dream of the centuries, that’s all. Why on earth anybody is putzing around with anything else is the great unanswered question.

One powered parachutist reported an excursion that began on an overcast day. Such days are not recommended for going up, but he just “felt like flying.” He lifted off and began his ascent, buffeted by strong, wet, winds. Visibility was zero as he penetrated the cloud cover. So it remained for several minutes. Then, all at once, he broke through into what he described as a “Grand Canyon of clouds.”

He was rising upward from the floor of – a Grand Canyon of clouds. He began an uncontrollable fit of screaming, being the only human who would ever see this sight. Towering Matterhorns of radiant white clouds surrounded him, at vast distances. A perfect sunrise illuminated a scene straight out of Maxfield Parrish. On and on he climbed into this Valhalla, until it was time to return to the real world.

ppara1Looking down at mountain peaks is a regular part of the powered parachute pastime. Surveying immense expanses of territory is involved with it, too. And the hobby is part of the working life of many ranchers, who need to track their herds across extensive acreage. Occasionally beach towns will offer a powered parachute ride for tourists, to see the ocean from the sky, but by and large this hobby is unknown.

Why that should be is the mystery. No license is required to operate a powered parachute. The cost of acquiring one is on par with a used car. A few hours of classes is all you need to learn the ropes, (or cables). And the thrill of it is unparalleled.

The PPC requires a long, flat strip of land for take-off and landing. A tank of gas will get you about two hours of flying. Safety is on your side if you follow some basic rules. After all, you never get off the ground unless your parachute is deployed. And if your engine fails, (unlikely with such a simple engine) you simply float down with your open parachute. It might be a jolting landing, but you’ll survive it. The reality of the PPC is that few problems ever materialize. It really is the safest means of flying. (Occasional tales of aggressive bald eagles have been reported!)

Chances are you would not use this as transportation to work. Maybe that would be in the realm of possibility, but the PPC is slow, and it needs a landing strip. Apart from some ranching applications, the PPC is a hobby. Even if you have no inkling of ever trying this, even as a passenger, you should visit www.powerchutes.com/ This site has the lowdown on the powered parachute hobby, down to the last strap.

Powered parachuting only began in the 1980s, and was not perfected until many years later. That may be why it is not more widely known. The James Bond movie “The World is Not Enough” features a powered parachute scene, slightly unrealistic with all kinds of structures and fenders around the frames of the PPCs. But at least you can see the craft in flight in that film.

Visit the Powerchutes site above and find places where you can “kiss the sky.”

ppara high

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