Central Oregon has a DIY streak as strong as any that you'll find in the West. From making our own backcountry snowboards to wiring our kitchen remodels, we'd prefer to figure it out ourselves than call in an expert. But of all the do-it-yourself tasks that Central Oregonians take on, perhaps none is as brazen or breathtaking as the DIY-pilot phenomenon, which manifests itself in the form of fan-powered parachutes that can be seen slowly trolling across the early morning skies during the summer months.
No need to run for cover or call an FAA hotline. Powered parachutes are totally legit and amazingly safe. (Think about it: the parachute is already deployed before taking flight.) Best of all, there's no pesky flight training or pilot's license required to take to the skies with a powered parachute. If you haven't seen a powered parachute in action, the pilot sits in a lightweight, three-wheeled cart with a small motor and a fan-like prop that provides the needed thrust for takeoff and in-flight acceleration.
Retired Redmond inventor Jim Anderson started flying powered parachutes in the late '90s after he bought his first cart and parachute for $2,500. Within a few years, Anderson was working as a powered parachute instructor at Madras Airport, teaching others how to pilot their fan-powered chutes. Anderson quit teaching after the FAA stiffened its rules regarding who can teach classes. Parachute pilot student now have to pay a certified pilot to teach them at a premium or go it totally alone. If you're willing to make the leap of faith, the machines are easy to pilot, said Anderson.
All you need is a rudimentary landing strip, or at least a large, level area with enough room for the cart to get up to the 30 mph takeoff speed. Powered parachutes have a limited range, given that the machines can carry only five gallons of fuel. They can, however provide great access to hard-to-reach terrain and spectacular panoramic views. They can also reach surprising heights. Anderson said he knows of pilots that have reached 14,000 feet.
"The key word for powered parachutes is low and slow. They only go about 30 miles per hour, and we say low because that's the best way to see things," Anderson said.