Extreme Locals: by Peter Desopo
Jim, Powered Paragliding
Over the past few months, if you’ve been driving down Park rd 22 between North Padre Island and Port Aransas, you may have noticed some low flying unidentified objects. They appear to be individuals attached to a parachute but they seem to be moving back and forth at will. It happened to me one day and the following was the conversation I had with myself in my car.
“What is that strapped to their back, is that a propeller? It can’t be. Oh my God it is a propeller” What the hell are they doing!”
Just as quickly as I uttered the words I recalled months earlier watching one of my favorite shows on The Discovery Channel “Man vs. Wild”, where the star of the show (Bear Grylls) and a friend decide that they were going to attempt a motorized paraglide flight above the summit of Mt. Everest. I thought to myself, “well that’s it, there goes one of my favorite shows; cancelled due to a tragic accident”. Fortunately I was wrong. They flew above the summit, on top of the world, despite the danger of cold and foul weather they returned safely to the base camp, unscathed.
The name of the sport is Powered Paragliding. The equipment consists of a fixed wing ram-air parasail, a harness, a vario-altimeter, a radio and GPS as well as the powered paraglide engine and frame. The engine of the craft drives a propeller with the power of the engine ranging in size from less than 100cc’s of power to over 200cc’s of power. What determines the size of the engine is the weight of the pilot and the distance that pilot wants to fly.
It’s been rumored that powered paragliding entered the US somewhere around 1990 and was developed from the sport of paragliding. Paragliding originated in Europe when mountain climbers searched for an easier way down the mountain after an ascent. Now what drives a person to strap a hot engine on their back under a parachute with a rapidly spinning propeller pushing them through the sky is beyond me, but I have never been one to judge another person’s idea of fun. There are adrenaline junkies all over the world with crazier agendas so I just accept this as a normal evolution of possibilities.
I’ve done some research into training and flight schools and there are four flight schools I can locate. A person can strap a propelled engine and chute on their body and learn to fly in Fort Worth, Dallas, Allen and also in the Hill Country. Each has different web sites but can easily be found in a Google search. As far as pricing goes, the average seems to be about $200 for an eight hour lesson that is all inclusive. As far a purchasing your own equipment, again, you can go online and find virtually anything you need. All inclusive packaging can range from a beginners package of $4500 to just under $10,000 for top of the line equipment pro flight equipment. Either way it does not appear to be a sport for airborne amateurs or individuals shy with cash.
The next time you’re on Mustang Island, look to the sky for a couple of local daredevils who love the view from above. Usually you will find them flying above the Packery Channel, gliding ever so gracefully back and forth from JP Luby to Zahn Road. The only thing I have left to say is, I can’t wait to try it myself.