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Aluminum

Another way to fly

By Russ Olexa

October 2009- Because parachutes are used to bring people down from high altitudes, they could be considered the safest way to fly.

But they have one major drawback: They lack power to stay airborne. To solve this problem, companies have developed powered parachutes that offer a large measure of safety and a great flying experience.

These devices use a parachute and a "vehicle" attached to it, which is something like a large three- or four-wheeled go-kart with a small two- or four-cycle engine driving a propeller mounted to the rear. Thrust is produced by the engine to propel it on the ground and in the air, and the cart offers a place for the pilot and even a passenger to sit.

These powered parachutes are commonplace and an inexpensive way to experience the thrill of flying without the high cost of a conventional airplane and the expensive flight lessons they demand.

Sum of its parts
"It's typically constructed from 6061 T6 round-aluminum aircraft tubing," says Ralph Howard, creator of the Buckeye Powered Parachute. "We bring in the raw material and do all the cutting, milling, drilling, deburring and prep wash. Then the parts are powder coated in a variety of air frame colors."

For the main structural tubular frame of the flying machine, tubes are used with outside diameters that range from 7/8 in. with a wall thickness of 0.049 in. up to 1 3/4 OD tubing with a 0.049 in. wall thickness. Howard also uses 1 5/8 in. OD tubing with a wall thickness of 0.125 in. Tubes are bent into the various shapes needed using a non-CNC bender.

Howard mentions that both TIG and MIG welding are done on the frames using a Lincoln Electric 350 push/pull welder with pulse technology.

"[There's] very little welding on these frames," he says. "They're formed and partially bolted together after powder coating."

Single-seat aircraft must weigh less than 254 lbs. to meet the Federal Aviation Administration regulations to fly them without a license. The two-seat unit has no weight limit because a sport pilot's license is needed for its operation.

Howard says powered parachutes are labeled as the world's safest and easiest way to fly. Someone who has never flown anything before can be flying after two to four hours of training.

"You always have a deployed parachute above you, so in the event that you run out of gas or something else happens, you would parachute back to the ground," says Howard. "You fly at about 30 mph all the time with the engine on."

Depending on the aircraft, either one or two people ride in chairs in the cart. The parachute is unpacked and laid out behind the cart. The pilot and passenger are buckled in the cart's chairs, and the engine is started and throttled up. As the engine creates thrust, the cart moves forward, the parachute pops up overhead and its cells inflate. When it's fully inflated and stable, more thrust is added and within feet its flying.

Acting like an airplane wing, the parachute provides lift as the cart moves forward. Climbing is achieved by adding throttle. To stay at the same level, the throttle is reduced, and to descend the throttle is cut. Turns are made by pushing the steering bar right or left to go in that direction.

If the engine quits the powered parachute will glide under full steering control and even a semi-experienced pilot can land gently. It will glide to the ground with a downward speed of only about 6 mph, which is equivalent to being dropped 1.5 feet.

Playing it safe
If taking to the sky is a source of interest, be sure to put safety first. Many organizations provide safety tips, including the Experimental Aircraft Association, Oshkosh, Wis. FFJ

Sources

  • Experimental Aircraft Association
    Oshkosh, Wis.
    phone: 920/426-4800
    fax: 920/426-6761
    www.eaa.org

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