Brian Brown enjoys the view from his powered parachute above St. John.
In a hectic world, finding a place of solitude is essential for peace of mind.
When Brian Brown of St. John needs a break from the stress of the world, he climbs into his powered parachute, straps on his helmet, puts on his seat belt and goes for a ride where he finds solitude at 2,000 feet in the air.
Brown, who works for NAPA in St. John, spends the day helping customers and answering the phone. When the weather is just right, he takes advantage of his new toy and heads out over the fields and pastures of Stafford County.
“It’s stress management 101. That’s the biggest benefit, the solitude and the view,” Brown said. “I highly recommend everyone should have one.”
One of the unique benefits of a powered parachute is the ability to shut the engine off and keep flying. It gets very quiet as the wind slips past the aircraft. He doesn’t need the engine to land and the higher he flies, the more options he has when choosing a landing site.
This ultra light aircraft is certified up to 10,000 feet but Brown chooses to fly at 2,000 feet and that’s just fine with him. He enjoys the view just fine from there.
“I haven’t been anywhere near 10,000 feet,” Brown said. “You can see a long ways at 2,000 feet. If I want to go higher, I’ll get in an airplane.”
His top speed is just 30 mph and that suits Brown just fine. He decided low and slow would be a fun way to get out and get above the ground.
The fuel tank has a 10 gallon capacity and uses regular gas. He has a maximum of 3.5 hours of flight time but he sticks to just a couple of hours in the air to give himself a fuel reserve in case he needs it. He can travel from 20 to 30 miles in that amount of time.
Brown has had his powered parachute for about two months and had to get a sports pilots license.
This self confessed thrill seeker who has always liked motors and has raced cars and motorcycles and owns a couple of gyrocopters. He has also had a desire to fly.
When he reached a “mid-life crisis” he heard some guys from Dodge City and Hutchinson talking about powered parachutes and decided that was what he needed. He found one for sale in Maryland for $10,000. So, he traded in one of the gyrocopters and flew off into the next chapter of his life.
While the powered parachute provides solitude, it is rather limited when it can fly. Wind speed is critical with a maximum of 15 mph. Anything above that and Brown doesn’t fly. Flying is also limited to daylight hours only. No night flying is allowed, Brown said.
Thermal updrafts can cause a rather bumpy ride so flights have to be taken early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the temperature is the lowest of the day. Corn fields produce thermal updrafts and its hard to fly anywhere in Stafford County without flying over a corn field at this time of year.
“The weather window is kind of narrow this time of year,” said Brown who only has 16 hours of flying time so far.
Once the corn crop is harvested and temperatures cool down, Brown will be able to get more hours of flight time.
A powered parachute has an gas engine with a propeller attached to a frame that includes a place for a pilot and a passenger. He has taken his son and one of his daughters up for a flight.
A parachute with a 500 square foot wing is attached to the back. It takes about 30 minutes to prepare for takeoff. He checks his engine and makes sure the parachute lines are not tangled. Then he opens the motor about halfway until the parachute fills and is fully extended then he gets up to 30 mph and takes off. He can take off in about 50 feet but he gives himself 100 feet for safety, Brown said.
He hits 30 mph to take off, he flies at 30 mph and he lands at 30 mph. In the air, 30 mph seems slow but it makes for a great view, Brown said.
One thing he doesn’t need to go flying is an airport or a runway. He can take off on about any surface that is 100 feet long. Whether its a road or back yard or pasture or field, just give him 100 feet and he can get airborne.
Safety is always a top concern for Brown. He carefully checks the equipment and the weather report. A change in wind speed and direction can have serious consequences. His aircraft isn’t like a big plane with a big engine that can power its way through the air. If there is a change in the wind he could end up in Nebraska, Brown said.
He always makes sure he stays clear of power lines and trees. If he finds himself questioning if its safe to fly, he doesn’t fly. Its better to error on the side of caution.
“You have to use your common sense. Common sense helps take the danger out of flying,” Brown said. “You need to make the important flying decisions on the ground.”
Flying is not inherently dangerous but if a pilot gets complacent, flying can be extremely unforgiving. There is no room for complacency, stupidity, ignorance or incompetence.