Would you fly in one of these things? Randy Long powerchuting on a sunset flight over the Sonoran Desert in Peoria, Arizona (AP photos)
Would you fly in one of these things?
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The enormous fan-like propeller behind the passenger whirs, then begins to howl as the pilot hits the accelerator.

The wheels bump along the desert and a small jolt tugs on the safety belts as the chute billows into the sky. A few seconds later, the strange-looking machine lifts off the ground, floating away like a dandelion spore catching the wind.

So what's a powerchute?

"It's the closest thing to being a bird that you can imagine," said Randy Long of Arizona Powerchutes.

Powerchutes are a fantastic way to view wildlife from above, though the coyotes don't like the engine noise too much. Law enforcement agencies also have used powerchutes in search-and-rescue efforts because the machines move slower and get to more places than regular aircraft.

Picture a dune buggy with a massive parachute attached to the back. The front end looks a little like a three-wheeled stroller. The two back wheels splay out for support under the engine. The massive propeller looks a little like an oversize house fan positioned behind the passenger.

Turning is controlled by foot levers that pull on the tension cords attached to the chute.

Yes, it's a little odd-looking. And it provides a flying experience unlike any other. The takeoff is quick and exhilarating but the actual flight is even better.

Powerchutes short for powered parachutes are similar to powergliders in that both are small-engine flying machines. Powerchutes have a range of about 50 miles and top out at around 28 mph. The machines can fly as high as 10,000 feet and, unlike most aircraft, are allowed under FAA rules to fly down to the surface in uninhabited areas.

Powerchutes allow passengers and require a sport pilot license to operate. Powergliders either have a motor that attaches as a backpack or has a small buggy that goes with it, while powerchutes are larger with more powerful engines and bigger chutes.

They're also considered one of the safest aircraft around because of their stability. As Long puts it, the safety equipment (the chute) is already deployed before it leaves the ground.

The range of altitude and the relatively slow speeds of powerchutes provide an exhilarating flying experience, from soaring up high for spectacular views to darting along riverbeds from just above the treetops.

And because the machines don't need much space to get airborne, pilots can take off from backyard strips, small airports or even open fields.

Powerchutes are flown all over the country but tend to be more popular in places with warmer climates.

Critical thinking challenge: Why might powerchutes be safer than other aircraft?

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COMMENTS (74)
  • shannons-Koc
    10/13/2014 - 12:18 a.m.

    Powerchutes are a reinvented way of sky diving. Being able to soar through the air, and yet still feel as safe as you do in a car. Having the parachute connected to the machine gives the parachuter more power to control. If anything were to go wrong, falling in the machine will keep you safer then free falling alone. I would love to have an opportunity to ride in the powerchute and enjoy the view from the sky!

  • jonahh-Koc
    10/13/2014 - 12:46 a.m.

    Powerchutes could be considered safer than regular aircraft. A reason why would be that they are so stable. They fly with ease at 28 mph and glide through the air. They are normally flown low to the ground so there is another reason they could be safer. The powerchute is propelled by a big propeller and gets lift through the parachute attached.

  • AveriA456
    10/13/2014 - 12:58 p.m.

    Would you ride in one of these? - Yes! - The best thing about this contraption is that you can fly, i love flying. However, if your harness comes loose, your likely to fall out. I find the concept of the parachute car plane combination is really cool. i would love to have the chance to ride in one of those things, even if there was the slightest chance that the harness would come loose.

  • basketballstar7
    10/13/2014 - 01:07 p.m.

    I have always wanted to ride in one of these things. It looks like so much fun. I bet the view is amazing.

  • kristianp-Koc
    10/13/2014 - 02:18 p.m.

    Power-chutes could be safer then an aircraft. With power-chutes you don't need a lot of landing or starting space. You have more control of what you're doing while in the air or trying to land. And to use a power-chute you have to have a sport pilot license to operate with passengers.

  • MikaylaStazewski-Ste
    10/14/2014 - 12:31 p.m.

    I would definitely ride in the fan-like propeller. In life I feel that people need to learn to be adventurous and take risks. If not, you'd be living one boring life.

  • Damikus123
    10/14/2014 - 01:08 p.m.

    My question to myself would be would you ride this air craft? Well if you ask me it a no no because what if you dont know how to control the way the craft functions? How would you control the landing? Well these questions would probaby make you want to think twice.

  • TaylorHartman-Ste
    10/14/2014 - 01:17 p.m.

    The new invention of a "powerchute" seems pretty fascinating. Although, I would never trust it, it is still a genius idea and congrats to the inventors.

  • TaylorSeifert-Ste
    10/14/2014 - 01:54 p.m.

    I really want to ride one of these powerchutes now. I have never been in an airplane or anything up in the air before, but if I had the chance to I would take it. It would be so cool to walk outside and look up at the sky and be like look it's a bird, no it's a plane, noooooo it's a powerchute.

  • daynaf-Koc
    10/14/2014 - 03:37 p.m.

    I would love to ride this, but when it get's down to it i would just chicken out. On the other hand, powered parachutes might be a lot safer than any other aircraft because, the chute is already deployed and their stability.

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