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Wed September 26, 2012
Back-to-Basics Flying Over The North Country
To some powered-parachutes are the purest way of flying, short of being hatched.
And a group of power-parachute pilots gathered recently in the North Country for some of that back-to-basics flying.
People have probably wanted to fly forever.
Sound of military jet zooming by…
And for many flying faster and faster has always been part of that goal.
Not so the Granite State Sky Riders whose members fly powered parachutes and para-gliders. Their motto is “Slow and Low.”
Sound of man saying prop clear and then an engine starting…
The leisurely pace is a feeling that one of the club’s founders, instructor Perry Dickau, of Hollis, loves.
“It is all about very casual flying low to the ground so you can actually see things. It is not like you are in an airplane when you are so high you can’t make out any of the details.”
And unlike an airplane powered-parachute pilots are literally hanging it all out there in one of the purest forms of flying.
There’s no fuselage around them.
The floor is called the earth.
The pilot has a seat at the very front with a tubular metal frame just behind him.
In the middle of that frame – behind and just above the pilot - is a snowmobile engine.
Behind that is a propeller.
And when flying above and behind is a parachute.
The club – which has 40 or so members - recently got together at the Mount Washington Regional Airport in Whitefield for a three-day fly-in.
Maxy Olcott of Rumney is putting gas in her plane.
She’s eager to get airborne. But then she says she has been eager to be airborne since she was young.
“I’ve wanted to do this since I was two-years-old, jumping off my Dad’s roof.”
Having survived that arguably imperfect understanding of aeronautics, Olcott now has a two-seater with a huge parachute decorated with a picture of a bald eagle.
“The best thing about it is when you get up in the air and you just see the whole world from a completely different perspective. The mountains look great from the ground. But the mountains look a whole lot different when you are up in the sky and the lakes look phenomenal.”
New powered parachutes generally range in price from about $12,000 to about $20,000.
And flying a two-seater requires a license from the FAA.
Not so for a single seater.
Sound of engine starting….
There are two basic ways to get airborne.
One is to strap everything on your back, turn on the engine and run down the field.
It is the approach favored by Mike Sherwood of Arundel, Maine.
It sounds ridiculous and to be completely fair to Sherwood it also looks ridiculous.
“It feels a little awkward. You’ve got that 75 pounds or so bouncing around on your back. That run-out is not entirely pleasant.”
Typically Sherwood says he has to run about 15 yards.
Then there is what Sherwood sees as an amazing transformation. The stuff of action movies – or comic books.
“It feels like being a superhero. Flying like Superman. You run along the ground and your feet leave and you fly away.”
But most pilots prefer that self-indulgent, clever invention called the wheel.
Power up the engine, taxi along the grass and the parachute quickly begins to fill with air, says Brian Thompson, one of the club’s founders.
“Once you hit approximately 14 miles per hour it has enough lift to pick you up off the ground.”
Work the engine harder and you climb.
Throttle back and you descend.
Foot pedals are used to change direction, using lines that tug on either side of the parachute.
By late morning there are a dozen or so planes flying 1,000 feet or so over the airport or sometimes little dots tickling the horizon.
They keep in touch by radio.
“Ah, I don’t know where I am. There’s a big, yellow hotel complex. With a windmill. And a water tower. And a pool. I don’t know where I am.”
“Mountain View Grand Hotel.”
No flying is entirely safe, the laws of physics and gravity being fairly relentless.
Carroll Werren of Concord is an instructor and he says there are accidents, typically related to pilot error not mechanical failures.
“When I am flying somebody around and they say “What if something happens?’ I say look above your head. What do you see up there? A 500-square foot parachute. Okay, if something happens we’re at least coming down on a parachute. We’re not coming down without a parachute. So, that’s the safety factor.”
The trick is having a field on which to land. Not trees. Not water.
But as he gets ready to take off Werren says there’s some risk to everything.