Motorized parachute crafts take to the air at Fly-In at Pelican Rapids airport
By Louis Hoglund
Precarious and dangerous as it may appear from ground, parachute aviation is as easy and harmless as riding a bicycle.
True. Sort of.
“It’s the safest form of aviation,” said Jeff Schoenack, a Lake Lida seasonal resident since 1971–full-time for the past few years. When he’s not on land or out on the water, he takes to the air in motorized parachutes.
“We’re just a bunch of knuckleheads who like to fly,” laughed Schoenack, as about a dozen of his similarly-inclined friends unraveled immense sheets of parachute fabric at the Pelican Rapids Airport July 19-20. It was the first annual “Fly-In” event for those who pilot parachute jalopies classified by the Federal Aviation Administration as “experimental aircraft.”
Despite off and on rain and overcast skies, Schoenack was pleased with the turnout of more than 15 pilots, and he plans to host a second Pelican “Para-Fly-In” next year.
Even for a land-lubber like myself, the appeal of the hobby is obvious–when you glide over the beauty of the Pelican Rapids area. Tamarac Lake to the northeast; the Scambler Cemetery below, rows of July corn everywhere; Grove Lake to the west–all from a bird’s eye view.
“When you’re up there, it just seems like the only place to be,” said Schoenack. “Peaceful, relaxing…It’s like a drug.”
Grinning cheekbone-to-cheekbone, like a Doolittle Raider returning safely after striking airborne blows against the Japanese empire during World War II; Greg Lynnes understands the narcotic comparison.
“I can see how it is addicting,” said Lynnes, Pelican Rapids, who flew a fixed-wing aircraft about 30 hours as a younger man, before he decided flying was a more expensive hobby than he could justify.
“When I got the offer to go up with them, I said ‘heck yeah,’” exclaimed Lynnes, one of several local curiosity-seekers who came out to the Fly-In.
“Awesome!” said Lynnes, smiling deliriously as he unboarded from his air cruise. “Way too much fun!”
Another “local” visiting the event was Kevin Johnson, Tonseth Township east of Erhard, who has flown since 1976, and bases out of the Barnesville airport. He flew in on a gyro-copter, which unlike the parachute craft, requires a pilot’s license.
From Duluth came Whitney Horky, who with her husband James are among the very few married-couple para-flyers around. She flew in about 10 different states during one vacation, spanning 12 states.
From St. Cloud, Leon Wacker, who turned a hobby into a business, manufacturing two-stroke and four stroke parachute craft.
From Leonard, North Dakota, Wade Stine–who owns a pyro-technical and audio-visual production company–also loves the adventure of flying
From Little Falls, the hometown of famous American pilot Charles Lindberg, was Adam Roering. He also transformed his passion into a small business: Paramotor Central.
It was Roering who trained Pelican’s Schoenack.
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” That’s Roering, whose high-flying adventures started at about age 15–when he jumped off a railroad bridge into the Mississipi. “People live their lives wishing they did this or that…”
Schoenack himself recalls dreams, ever since he was a kid, of “flapping his wings” to try and make an exit from a peculiar or frightening dream. He’d wake up in a sweat from all the mental exertion.
“Funny–but ever since I started para flying, those dreams ended,” said Schoenack. He served six years in the U.S. Marine Corps, attached to the Navy. No shortage of adventure there
And that’s what all these flyers have in common: a sense of adventure. Along with flying parachutes around the countryside, they variously: ride motorcycles; sky-dive, cliff-dive, scuba dive, pedal bicycles across the nation and travel whenever possible.
“It really comes down to finances at this point–life isn’t limiting–only the checkbook is,” said Roering.
Also–flying is just plain addicting.
I was up there with them, a couple hundred feet in the air–with a Crow’s-Eye view of Lake Olaf in Norwegian Grove Township.
…Hoping I would never return to earth.