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Published: Sunday, 8/10/2003

They get their motors running - and then fly as free as birds

BY KARIN KOWALSKI
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Wally Shilts of New Paris, Ohio, prepares to land at Ohio's annual Motorized Paragliding Gathering in Perrysburg. Wally Shilts of New Paris, Ohio, prepares to land at Ohio's annual Motorized Paragliding Gathering in Perrysburg.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

They look a little crazy running along the field with arms outstretched, three-foot propellers strapped to their backs, and Technicolor parachutes trailing behind.

Crazy - as in a love of flying on a beautiful day.

“It's a very liberating feeling,” says Bruce Brown of Perrysburg. “You're running out there, and to be lifted off the ground is just an incredible feeling.”

Dave Parker of Maumee, who's been doing powered paraglides for about a year, said he now understands “why birds sing.”

The two men and at least 65 other male and female powered-paragliding enthusiasts have converged on a field near Roachton and Hull Prairie roads in Perrysburg Township this weekend for the fifth annual Motorized Paragliding Gathering.

Mr. Brown, who operates Ohio Powered Paragliding in Perrysburg, leases the field and hosts the fly-in. There are about 2,000 paragliders in the United States, and this weekend participants came from all over the country as well as Canada and Mexico to participate.

Among them were Jeff Goin of Naperville, Ill., a pilot for Southwest Airlines who is president of the U.S. Powered Paragliding Association.

“This is a lot more fun,” he says of his hobby. “But that,” he says, referring to flying big commercial airliners, “pays a lot more bills.”

When a friend invited him to try the sport in 1999, he said he thought: “What are you, nuts?” But after one flight, he was hooked. In the summer, he paraglides three or four times a week.

Yesterday, he won the efficiency competition by spending 46 minutes in the air using two liters of fuel.

John Phillips of Reading, Pa., does a low-level flyover as he videotapes his flight with a helmet-mounted camera. John Phillips of Reading, Pa., does a low-level flyover as he videotapes his flight with a helmet-mounted camera.
ALLAN DETRICH Enlarge

From the ground, the parachutes, formed into colorful half circles, are an enticing sight. So much so that the small, makeshift parking lot at the field was nearly full, and passing motorists slowed to catch a glimpse of the spectacle.

Hollis and Mary Merrick of Perrysburg decided to get an up-close view after seeing them fly near their home in years past.

“I find it fascinating,” Mr. Merrick said.

“They're beautiful,” Mrs. Merrick added.

Powered paragliders are small strap-on engines with propellers, seats, and elliptical parachutes. Pilots put them on their backs and run to start flying. The setup looks like a fan with a half cage to protect the pilot. Occasionally, the paragliders are set up on wheels to accommodate a second rider. The equipment weighs between 45 and 90 pounds, depending on the size of the engine and the amount of fuel.

Air filling the parachute takes the paraglider up, and the motor propels him forward. The pilot turns by pulling on the parachute and shifting his weight, said Rick Grimm, who lives near Bowling Green and has been flying for about a year.

Paragliders fly at about 15 to 20 mph. Ideal conditions are light winds and clouds. As it gets warmer, thermals make flying rough.

The record altitude is 1,800 feet, but the flyers this weekend are not allowed to exceed 1,000 feet because of their proximity to Toledo Express Airport.

Mr. Brown started paragliding in 1996 and has been teaching it since 1998 at his training and outfitting company. He trains about 30 to 40 people a year.

The fly-in, which started in 1998 with just eight paragliders and continues today, includes competitions such as a slalom, targeted landing, bombing a target with rubber chickens, and seeing how long pilots can stay aloft with limited fuel.

Powered paragliding originated in Europe in the mid 1980s. It costs about $8,000 for the gear and training, Mr. Grimm said.

Injuries are few - usually only a sprained ankle on landing. There was none yesterday.



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