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Paragliders take a bird’s-eye view of West Lincoln

Jeff Pearson of Long Shoals flies in a quad cart utilizing a power parachute in Vale on Sunday.

Staff Writer

It’s been said that if man were meant to fly he’d have been born with wings. Jeff Pearson of Long Shoals wasn’t born with wings but he and anywhere from six to 10 friends meet off Houser Farm Road in Vale and spend several hours getting a bird’s eye view of western Lincoln County utilizing ripstop polyester or nylon fabric “wings” and motors that look like giant fans either strapped to their backs or on small carts.

Powered paragliding is different from paragliding, which is done without a motor. In powered paragliding, the pilot wears a motor strapped to his or her back called a “paramotor” that provides enough thrust to take off using an adapted paraglider or paramotor wing similar to those used by parachutists. The pilot runs to launch himself into the air aided by the thrust of the engine.

“I started this a year ago for the freedom of flight,” Boe Pfenning of Lincolnton, who uses a paramotor strapped to his back to fly, said. “There’s nothing better. I’ve jumped out of airplanes so this was next.”

A powered parachute is a flexible-winged, light sport aircraft combining a three- or four-wheeled cart structure, called trikes or quads, which holds the pilot and the motor with a large wing. These carts are for for those who prefer not to, or are unable to, foot launch.

With both forms of flight, the thrust from the engine pushes the human or the cart forward and forces air into the wing causing it to inflate and pressurize, thereby keeping the shape designed to fly.

Pearson started paragliding in 2003 and he had to teach himself which he did through trial, error and a lot of guts. He started out with a powered paraglider and then switched to a powered parachute.

“There was a guy who dated my sister who put a fan on his back (a powered paraglider) and flew,” he said. “I liked the premise of getting into the air but I like having wheels for landing gear.”

It can be difficult to stop when landing on wet grass on foot in the evening with a 40- to 70-pound fan pushing the glider. Pearson said he always wanted to fly and power paragliding or parachuting is the cheapest, safest way you can get in the air and stay lawless. If the cart weighs more than 253 pounds, carries more than five gallons of fuel or carries a passenger, the pilot needs a sport pilot license.

Like with any activity, there are some casualties with power paragliding but if the pilot acts like he has some sense its quite safe.

“Most injuries happen with people flying outside their skill level,” he said. “It used to be through drowning in water but now it’s really stupidity that kills more than water. If you think about it though, they’re putting parachutes on airplanes now because they’re so safe. When you’re already starting with one (parachute) what can go wrong?”

There will be a fly-in at the field on Houser Farm Road Aug. 11-13 and Pearson is expecting anywhere from 100 to 150 pilots. They’ll fly at around 5:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. in the morning and the again after 7 p.m., weather permitting. There are people coming from all over the United States to take part in the fly-in, according to Pearson.

“It’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Pearson said. “Where are you going to have that much fun on a gallon of gas an hour?”

Image courtesy of Michelle T. Bernard

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