Soaring with the birds

© 2005 Gordon Alexander

Posted 02.06.06

DERBY, VT | Gilles Grenier, 51, of Derby likes to fly with the birds high over meighboring Newport in his two-seater, fan-driven 47 HP flying machine called a power parachute.

Grenier's flying parachute is equipped with skies that he uses to take off and land on any frozen, snow-covered surface -- Derby Pond his landing strip of choice.

In the summer his flights start and usually finish at the Newport Airport -- if he doesn't make an impromptu landing in a farmers field. Grenier flies at bird speed just above the treetops but can go higher if he wants to.

GrenierGrenier confesses he has never jumped from a plane with a parachute.

"I am afraid of heights" he says with a sly smile.

Power parachutists like Grenier can glide at speeds up to 25 MPH and at altitudes up to 1000 feet. According to him, piloting one of these can be done without the FAA-regulated pilots license he would need if he flew a winged aircraft. Genier adds that he still must comply with a certain set of rules and guidelines when aloft, which among other things prohibits throwing anything from his power parachute.

The powered parachute (PPC), was invented in the early 80s.

Crude at first, it has evolved into the ultimate personal flying machine. Able to fly slowly just above the tree tops, or ascend to over 10,000 feet, safely, affordably, and comfortably.

Thanks to technology, almost anyone can live their flying dreams with a PPC. The basics of flying a PPC can be learned in as little as one afternoon and buying one will cost less than the family car, around $8000, with no license requirements. It can be stored in the garage, and towed to the airstrip on an inexpensive trailer. Most maintenance can be performed by the owner.

Gilles' winter landing ( a take off) strip is Derby pond if there is enough ice and snow. In summer, the skies come of and the wheels go on, as he moves up to the Newport Airport.

Gilles learned the sport from fellow powered parachutist Harve Gregoire of Irasburg. Also an avid power chutist is Tim Hamblett, owner of the Pick " n Shovel store in Newport. According to his son Greg, his dad just flies his in the summer since he does not have skies on his craft. Hamlin says that his dad has already flown over Jay Peak, a feat that is the goal of Grenier.

Technically, a powered parachute is a flexible winged aerial recreational vehicle. It combines an engine with a flexible parachute wing technology similar to that used by sport parachutists.

The parachute, unlike the rigid structures of airplanes or ultralights, is built of nylon fabric with Spectra suspension lines. The forward motion of the vehicle forces air into the multiple 'cells' along the wing's leading edge, pressurizing it and holding its precisely calculated airfoil shape.

The airframe is suspended below the wing by multiple Spectra lines. The airframe supports the pilot, the engine, the propeller, and the controls. It rides on its three wheels when on the ground -- in winter skies are used if the landings and take-offs are on ice or snow.

You begin your flight on flat ground with your canopy spread out behind your machine. As you drive into the wind the parachute wing kites up and begins to take the shape of an airfoil. Once your wing is fully inflated, you begin to add even more throttle and up you go.

Grenier normally spends 2 1/2 hours in the air carrying a ten gallon tank of gas, which keeps the snow mobile-size engine purring and the fan propeller blades spinning. He steers his parachute with foot pedals and/or his arms.


"Once and a while I'll fly over the chimney of a house that has a fire. That warm up-draft of air is like hitting speed bump" he says. "This summer I am going to get one of those new digital cameras and take some beautiful pictures of Newport and the lake."

Copyright © 2006 Gordon Alexander/Log Cabin Chronicles/02.06