My wonderful stepfather Don is a journalist (and classical music announcer) for the local NPR station in the town where I grew up (Macomb, Illinois, pop. ~19k), which means he often gets to attend interesting events for work. Macomb’s pretty small, but it has a municipal airport and sometimes hosts fly-ins of various kinds.
Recently, there was a powered parachute meet there. A powered parachute is an open metal frame with two seats (maybe some of them have just one; I’m not sure) with a motor and push propeller on the back, rigged to a big ol’ square parachute. You start the engine, and the frame moves along the ground with the chute behind it. The chute fills with air and billows out, and starts acting as an airfoil. Eventually, it develops enough lift to raise the whole thing off the ground, and you’re flying. Running out of gas is not a problem; you just drift gently to the ground as a parachute. Powered parachutes only get up to about 30mph, and usually stay within about 500 to 1000 feet of the ground, although at this particular event one pilot (Ed Neff of Hamilton, IL) broke the powered parachute height record by taking his above 20,000 feet.
So Don went to this event and got to ride in one! He said it was an amazing experience — noisy, but very restful. He had a certain something in his voice when he was telling me about it that made it clear that it was really something. They guy who took him up, Dave Krause of Red Bud, IL, took the picture below of Don in the back seat. (Don said Krause had taken his ’chute down to Texas to help look for Columbia parts after the disaster — since powered parachutes fly so low and so slowly, they’re good for search operations.) I think he said they range in cost from about $10k-$30k (expensive, but cheaper than an ultralight).
Anyway, here’s the picture:
Don Johnson in the back seat of a powered parachute above Smith Airport, Macomb, IL. Photo taken early August 2003 by pilot Dave Krause, partly visible at left.
(By the way, I wanted to find out where the quote “Slipped the surly bonds of Earth” that Don used as the subject line when he sent me the picture was from, and I found a mildly amusing page with the original poem “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr., and a bunch of parodies of it, including the FAA supplement. Probably not of interest unless you’re into flying.)