| The adrenaline started to flow the minute I hung up the
phone after clearing the extra time off with my boss. I will now be able
to join the other powered parachute pilots on the best flying opportunity
in a powerchute I may ever have. Q Myers, web guru and creator of www.powerchutes.com,
one of the most informative places on the web called one evening. He wanted
to let me know he had been working with Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB)
and put together a flight to Smith Rock State Park. OPB wanted to
film us for a segment of Oregon Field Guide, a 30 minute TV magazine
I was very excited to be able to share the sport I love with so many people via a television show. However I must admit I was even more excited at the thought of flying across sparsely timbered foothills to the Crooked River National Grasslands then following the river to one of Oregons most scenic state parks. The journey would be 13 miles each way. Smith Rock State Park is internationally renowned for rock climbing. Smith Rock would offer some interesting and challenging flying opportunities. The State Parks Department had authorized the flight as long as we stayed clear from some nesting eagles. Oregon has many excellent places I would like to fly but I have found out you can get in a bit of trouble flying in the wrong place without first getting permission. Having a green light to fly in a state park was a bonus for sure.
After a 3-hour drive towing my plane over Mt. Hood from the western side of the Cascade Mountain Range to the eastern foothills, I was the second person to arrive at the Prineville Airport. By the end of the day, 8 pilots were ready to fly. We met the OPB crew at the Prineville Airport at 3PM to plan the filming, then we were to fly the next morning at 5:30 am. I unloaded my old 91 single seat Six Chuter/Parascender mix and performed an extra good preflight. I was hoping to fly a little that evening but just as Q warned, the winds in this area did not calm down until long after dark. I decided to still run up the 503 Rotax till the gauges indicated normal temperatures. It started easy and it purred like a kitten. I topped off my gas and packed my helmet and radio on the front seat to be ready for the morning flight.
The cool evening air was refreshing and instead of pitching a tent I just tilted my little flat bed trailer to the proper angle and rolled out my sleeping bag. The airport is located on a plateau about 1500 feet above and 4 miles away from town so the stars in the crystal clear night sky were extra bright not dimmed by any city lights. Between the anticipation of the morning flight, the star filled skies and the coyotes sounding off in the distance I dont think I slept more than a few hours.
I woke up at 4AM, a full 30 minutes before my alarm clock was set to go off. I stayed in my warm bag and watched the dark night fade into an early morning yellow glow and got up when there was enough light to safely preflight. A few of the other campers were starting to stir now. The air was perfectly still just as Q promised and I could hardly wait to get in the air. It was decided that I should go next to last since I had the least amount of gas, only 5 gallons.
Finally it was my turn to go and the fear that I would feel pressured to fly in marginal conditions was gone since I couldnt have asked for a better morning to fly. The cameraman was about 20 yards in front of me and down low close to the runway as I eased the throttle open. The powerchute jumped forward until I started to feel the drag of my old Sky Walker chute, which is twice the weight of the current generation chutes. As I started to roll again I felt a sudden jerk that I have never felt before and when I looked back I saw the OPB cameraman running for all he was worth after me. I shut down the throttle and quickly came to a stop as the cameraman ran up to my chute. He removed his $90,000 camera from my chute as I climbed out of my seat and went back to check out the situation.
This is the point in time when I made my biggest mistake. The same mistake a lot of pilots have made before me. I was thinking, I have to get there, I have to do this, and I will get there no matter what. I straightened out my chute, which was completely twisted. I looked up everyone circling, waiting on me and the cameras were rolling. So I didnt think twice about it and jumped in my plane, pulled the lap belt tight and applied power. This time the plane rolled forward and the chute came up straight overhead and as I gained speed I watched each end cell pop open, then I hit full throttle. The nose lifted a foot off the ground then when the back wheels left the ground I felt a super sharp turn to the left for no reason. I pulled back on the power and was upside down and back up right before I knew what happened.
It is funny how time seems to stands still when you are totally out of control. During the two seconds I was rolling over, I thought about how I wasnt going to get to fly and how mad my wife was going to be and what kind of fool I was going to look like on the video tape. I quickly shut down the engine and jumped out to survey the damage. For an insane moment I thought to myself there is only 3 or 4 inches missing off the prop. Then reality struck and I knew I would not be flying this machine for a quite a while. Out of instinct I held my left hand out when I rolled over and now although numb, I started feeling the runway rash and had a fair amount of blood flowing from my thumb and the palm of my hand.
With the help of some bystanders, I pushed the plane back to my trailer and waited for everyone to return from Smith Rock. When all the pilots returned there were many tales of exciting flights in perfect flight conditions. Three of the pilots confided to me they had also rolled a power parachute before. This did seem to help the ego a little bit. They say hindsight is 20/20 and in this case I must agree. I should have never attempted to take off after dragging the camera down the runway in my chute. Though the camera still worked I did take the paint off one side pretty good. Three days later after replaying the whole thing in my mind countless times, a cold chill ran down my back. I realized then for the first time, if I had taken off successfully I would have looked up to see my chute had tears in it and would have freaked out thinking it might split in half. I know the chute is made of rip stop nylon but I still would have made an emergency landing and things could have turned out much worse. I hope another pilot some day when feeling pressured to fly remembers this story and follows my new motto. When in doubt dont!