Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Flying Like A Bird On A Wing


First, we tried feathers and wax.

Then Leonardo specified linen and wood.

No matter the mythology, method, or machinery, the dream has always been the same.

We’re flying.

Floating over fields and streams, unstuck, untroubled, and cut loose from the dust beneath our feet.

For Jim and Brett Ross, the methodology is a dichotomous mix of canvas and prop, a combination of the wind furling through a parachute canvas while a 100-horsepower machine propels them through the air, soaring through space.

Icarus, meet Buck Rogers.

The father and son were on hand at the Ponca City Aviation Foundation’s first Fly-In Breakfast of the New Year at the Ponca City Municipal Airport, sharing their enthusiasm and displaying their flying machines.
Jim, retired from Conoco and now 72 years old, led the way into the sport after first taking up paragliding while working in Norway some 20 years ago.

“I was over there for a project with Conoco, and it was a stressful time. And I saw guys paragliding and thought I needed to do that and took some lessons,” he says.

Upon returning to the Ponca City area the following year, a certain element of that sport went missing — the elevation provided by mountainous terrain.

“Since this is flat ground land, and because they hadn’t really started building para-motors yet at that time, I was kind of grounded for a while,” Jim says. “Then I saw an article in a magazine about a para-motor, and I ordered one, waited for months and months for it to arrive, and then spent about a year or so trying to build up a frame around it.”

Those initial efforts were less than successful. Jim likened the results to the infamous massive wooden airplane once build by Howard Hughes.

“It was like the Spruce Goose. I could just not get it off the ground, it was too heavy and not powerful enough,” he says. “So about 2000 or so, I took a trip back to Norway and there was a club over there that was selling these units that were built in Poland. So I bought one and brought it back with me as excess baggage on a commercial plane! I don’t think they’d allow that today.”

Powered parachutes are a niche alternative to conventional flying. No government license required, with a relatively short training period and an affordable cost paling in attraction compared to the unfettered freedom of flying and not falling beneath a nylon canvas umbrella.

Sometimes called paraplanes, the conveyance is essentially a type of ultralight aircraft that consists of a parachute with a motor — wheels optional — but with a parachute instead of fixed wings supplying the lift.

The aircraft airspeed is typically about 25–35 mph. PPCs operate safely at heights ranging from a few feet off the ground (while ground skimming, a popular use of the aircraft) to altitudes as high as 10,000-plus feet.
More typical operating heights are between 500 and 1500 feet (150–500 meters). Equipped with the standard 5 or 10 gallon fuel tank, PPCs can typically be flown for about three hours.

Brett Ross, Jim’s son, explains that their propulsion comes via 210 cubic centimeter 2-stroke engines that put out just over 20 horsepower apiece. One uses a 42-inch propeller the other a 48-inch prop. The flyers build their own propellers.

Brett took a few more years before first following his father into the air. Now 48, he first tried the sport for himself a decade ago in 2005.

“I started out by helping dad, and one day I decided I wanted to do it myself — and I’ve been hooked on it ever since,” Brett says.

“The first time he flew, he just went right over my head and shouted down ‘how do you land this thing?’ and I just kind of laughed and yelled back up ‘you’re doing good, just keep on going!’,” Jim smiles. “And he did, and he still is.”

And just as it started out as a form of stress relief for the father, so it remains for the son.

“I get home from a rough day, and I’ll go flying and it makes everything all good. My wife knows I’m going, and she knows I’ll be in a better mood when I get back,” Brett says.

“You go off and fly, and you just feel good,” says Jim.

“It’s probably the closest form of true free flight that you can get... to what people probably originally envisioned when they first dreamed of flying,” enthuses Brett.

“Flying like a bird,” says Jim.

FLYING HIGH over the fields of Oklahoma -- though certainly a safe distance below the jet stream in the background -- is Ponca City's Brett Ross, one-half of a father and son who are proponents of Powered Parachute flying. Brett and his father Jim displayed their machines, chutes, and other equipment at a presentation at last Saturday's Ponca City Aviation Foundation Fly-In Breakfast fundraiser at the Ponca City Municipal Airport.

FLYING BY parachute, say Jim and Brett Ross, is as close to flying like a bird as we can get.

WITH THE machine shown above left, the pilot sits on a small seat and takes off and lands with the original equipment landing gear known as your own two feet, as practiced by Brett Ross. His father Jim used to fly this type of craft, but has more recently switched to a trike chassis as shown above right. The wheeled frame was fabricated entirely by Jim and Brett. "Brett still flies off his feet, but I've converted to wheels. Wheels are wonderful," Jim jokes. "I can see now why they invented them!"

BRETT ROSS demonstrates how he "assembles the wing on the runway" at the Fly-In Breakfast. Ross explained that the various lines attached to the parachute are color coded and coordinate specific flight controls, controlling brakes and directional changes along with ascents, descents, and other aerial maneuvers. 

AS PART of his demonstration, Brett Ross lets 4-year-old Hayden Driver and brother 7-year-old Rylan Driver "take the controls" of his parachute under the watchful eye of grandfather Mark Wilson. 

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