Gracefully-soaring parachute aircraft again take to the skies
By Brenda Brand
It was a beautiful Friday evening on July 10, my husband and I were enjoying sitting outside when we heard a sound like the largest mosquito in the world. We looked out over Sand Lake and there was a parachute flying around. This wasn’t just the normal type of parachute, it was a powered paraglider. We spotted more and more of them, just gliding around the sky enjoying the evening.
To be able to see better, we went down on our dock to watch. We saw one flyer go so high up we could barely see him. The next thing we knew, he was somersaulting down from the sky. We thought he was crashing, so we jumped in our pickup and drove toward where we had spotted him, thinking he needed help.
As we were driving west towards Highway #9, we spotted more and more of these beautiful machines flying around from Lyon Field. We stopped by a field to take pictures and watch. A few of the machines even buzzed our pickup!
We decided to go over to the airport and check things out. There we met Byron, from Rochester, MN, who told us about the group. We found out that he was the pilot that we thought was crashing. Instead, he was performing a trick with a special competition “wing” from Germany, which had been used on the Polish national team one year and allows him to “cut” really hard. Byron has been involved with the sport since 2012.
I asked if they were a club, he replied that they are a community of people that show up to these events and fly the same kind of aircraft. They come from all across the US and Canada, going to events in several states including Florida, Utah, and California, Minnesota, and many other states.
He explained the several kinds of aircraft that were being used, from wheeled carts that can hold two people and launch like an airplane, to strap on your back and foot launch, which can also have a tandem passenger.
One of the largest events in the US is in Indiana, where the city even allows them to have fireworks. An event organizer arranges all of the specifics and puts the info online so that pilots can access and choose their event.
Powered paragliding is a relatively safe sport as you always have a parachute on. Because you are always in a pendulum, you can do a lot more than a fixed-wing aircraft. The number one cause of death in the sport is drowning, from landing in the water and becoming entangled in the parachute lines. To prevent this, an inflatable system can be added that will activate when you hit the water.
Para-motoring, (as it is called in Europe) is more popular in Europe than the US, but it is gaining popularity here. It is a relatively inexpensive sport to get into. You train with a pilot and decide what type of wing and launch system you want, then purchase your equipment and you are a pilot! The system Byron was using would cost about $4,900 brand new. It comes apart and you can throw it in your trunk and go. Another wing that Byron owns was used in the Dubai Air Games, which is a group of professionals that fly and compete for prizes by doing tricks and races.
Photos by Brenda Brand
Websites on para-flight
USPPA US powered paragliding association
Midwest Powered Paragliding Association
Flight Junkies – lessons