|FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF A PARASKI
By; Martin D. Ignazito
On December 21, 1999 Joe Albanese of ParaSki International brought a ParaSki to my local airport near my Home in Charleston Illinois specifically for me to examine and test fly. Our local airport is Coles County Airport (MTO). The weather precluded any flying being rainy, cold and very windy (drat), but the following are my impressions of this machine from the example I saw that day.
SUSPENSION & WHEELS: all 4 wheels are 8" aluminum with 16-650X8 ribbed, flat profile tires. These tires are much larger than those used by most in the industry. The wheels are fitted with ¾ inch ID "standard" (wheelbarrow type) bearings. The vertical steering spindles (kingpins) use tapered roller bearings instead of metal to metal "bearings" like other PPCs. Steering linkages use Heim fittings with grease zerks at both ends. Suspension at all 4 wheels is via rubber in shear torsion springs on a trailing link axle mounting system.
STEERING, FLIGHT CONTROLS & COCKPIT: The ground steering mechanism is a snowmobile or motorcycle type handlebar affair with the steering shaft mounted on split nylon bushings. The ground steering is coupled with the magnificent rudder in the propwash. The chute steering line pedals are adjustable in 8 steps of about 2" increments to accommodate varying pilot leg lengths. The steering foot levers or pedals are arranged with a series of three pulleys to give a 4/1 motion amplification of foot travel to the steering lines instead of the "traditional" long steering lever like most PPCs. Hand grip rings attached to the "home" end of the steering lines are used to "reel in" the steering lines for chute collapse or extreme final approach "braking" and touch down. The controls are well thought out and ergonomically laid out. The interior of the cockpit or fuselage is painted with "Zolotone" enamel. This is a speckled finish paint used to paint the interior of car trunks and such. It looks quite good in this application, covering the "business" of the exposed interior structure. The semi enclosed cockpit is well finished and comfortable. The instrument panel is just that, a true instrument panel located right where it needs to be for good pilot viewing.
CHUTE STORAGE COMPARTMENT & GLOVE BOX: The chute is stored in a compartment beneath the rear seat. The rear seat is hinged at it's front edge to act as a door for this compartment. This space could be used for baggage during flight or at other times if the chute is stowed outside the compartment e.g. on top of the rear seat. Buckeye, Six Chuter and other traditional style PPC pilots might be hard pressed to pack the chute tight enough for this compartment. Para-Ski people are chute riggers and find this to be duck soup I'm sure. Others not accustomed to chute rigging and packing might stow the chute on top of the seat and store their lunch or other condiments in the ample compartment below electing not to attempt to "stuff the noodle up the wildcat" using the small chute bag. There is an ample front glove box at the front of the pilot's seat with a door to secure the contents.
ENGINE MOUNTS: The engine is mounted on 4 smaller versions of rubber and steel automotive type engine mounts. These are motor mounts used in snowmobile applications for the same engine used here. The engine in the machine I saw was a 75 hp Rotax 618. Rotax twin radiators are were used on this example. These are being replaced on later production models with the newer and larger single radiator configuration. There have been numerous reports of "hot running" with the older Rotax twin radiator setup.
GEARBOX & PROP: This unit is fitted with a Rotax "E" gearbox at a 3.00/1 ratio and a six bladed 66" diameter Ivo prop. This is the largest prop that Para-Ski prop cages will accommodate. An impressive bundle of sticks indeed. It looked like a giant Vegimatic or baloney slicer.
FUEL & OIL TANKS: Fuel and oil tanks are of welded aluminum construction with external sight gauges. The fuel tank is streamlined for reduced drag and prop inlet flow restriction. A nice touch and typical of many things on this machine. The oil reservoir is fabricated from the same square aluminum tubing used to make the front and rear suspension "axles". A pipe nipple with schedule 40 plastic pipe cap is used for filling on both fuel and oil tanks. There is a clear plastic tube sight gauge along each tank.
SIX POINT FLYING CABLE ATTACHMENT: The airframe is suspended from the chute flying cables via a single rapide link with 6 cables going to points on the airframe. Front axle, prop cage just above engine level and rear axle. The pivot point is higher above the CG than on other PPCs giving a more stable nose attitude and less propensity for "rocking" in the nose up, nose down direction. It is also claimed that CG location has less effect on nose up attitude with this arrangement.
AIRFRAME CONSTRUCTION: The entire airframe is of welded 6061 aluminum tubing both square and round. The all welded frame is rigid as a bridge girder. The prop cage and indeed all frame parts feel rock solid when grasped by hand and wiggled in comparison to bolted tube frame construction as used by others in the industry. Of course welding 6061 aluminum to make repairs is not for the timid, but this is not as much of a problem as it was years ago. In our area I know several farmers who can do this work as well as several welding shops. In fact I believe I could do it with a bit of refresher training having done some inert gas welding years ago.
OVERALL QUALITY: Overall quality of construction, fit and finish is absolutely first rate throughout.
RUDDER & CROSS CONTROL LANDINGS: The magnificent torque compensated propwash rudder stretches vertically the entire diameter of the prop cage (about 72" or so) just behind the propeller. It is indeed a work of art with torque compensating offsets top and bottom and a smooth transition section in the middle between the two halves. It is of all aluminum construction and is linked to the ground steering controls via a single push/pull cable arrangement. Water rudders are linked to this rudder for water operations when floats are fitted. The beautifully designed and fabricated rudder should allow for crosswind landing capabilities well beyond the means of the rest of the PPC community. I have yet to try this feature, but look forward to it. With steering foot controls the wing can be canted into the wind while opposite rudder is used to line up the cart with the runway setting up a "side slipping" approach similar to that used in fixed wing aircraft. Crossed controls are held till touchdown at which time rudder is released before the steering wheels touch down and then a chute collapse is initiated. This is all conjecture on my part of course, since weather conditions precluded a flight test. Joe confirmed that this is the crosswind technique for this machine using the wonderful rudder. I can hardly wait to try it out. In my opinion, every PPC should have this feature. Crosswind landing safety would be much improved. Of course this would require some training for those not familiar with the technique, but the benefits are worth the effort. Joe could not quote a demonstrated crosswind component limit since this uncoupled rudder is a new feature. Prior to about 2 months ago, the rudder was coupled to the foot steering with limited override capability. This uncoupled arrangement is far superior in my estimation. Of course my GA background in three axis control airplanes makes me a bit prejudice. Para-Ski needs to take this light out from under the bushel and talk about it more. It is clearly a significant control advantage that is lost on the PPC market place from lack of discussion. I also suspect it is not well understood by most PPC pilots who have little or no exposure to rudder use.
Para-Skis promotional video shows a crosswind landing being made which would test the limits of most PPCs. When the chute is collapsed after this landing, the entire canopy falls in a neat accordion like pile on one side of the machine with the entire chute off to one side outside of the rear wheels. A neat trick indeed and this was with the old limited override rudder.
COST JUSTIFICATION: The magnificent and well engineered rudder alone almost makes the higher cost of the Para-Ski worth the added bucks when compared to other PPCs on the market (in my humble opinion of course). When you add to that the neat glove box, chute/baggage compartment, 4th wheel, 4 wheel independent suspension, all welded extremely rigid airframe, semi-enclosed cockpit, fully adjustable foot controls, well placed instrument panel, tapered roller bearing front spindles and the fact that no assembly is required, the added cost seems to be well justified. True, the bottom line ticket price is high, but good stuff costs money. I'm hooked, I THINK I GOTTA HAVE ONE.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Due to the bad weather at the time, I did not get to fly this machine. My overall impression however, is that this is a first rate piece of work. Although I had seen a number of pictures, the machine is more striking in the flesh than the pictures reveal. The big 66" prop with its 6 blades and the wonderful rubber are striking when first seen. Engineering details are first rate. The quality of it and finish is also first rate. A magnificent flying machine indeed. Joe has promised me a turn at the controls when we meet at Sun-N-Fun in April. I will not sleep well till then. I'll follow up with some flight impressions after that. Meantime, this looks like a hot prospect for those seeking something out of the ordinary in a PPC.
Martin D. Ignazito lives in Charleston Illinois. He is a registered mechanical engineer in Illinois and a licensed private pilot with single engine rating. He received his BFI for powered parachutes last fall and began instructing then. He will continue instructing with a Buckeye dealer in central Illinois next spring.