Would you fly in one of these things?
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. It floats 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. The machines move slower and get to more places than regular aircraft.
They look something like a dune buggy with a massive parachute attached to the back. The front end resembles a a three-wheeled stroller. The two back wheels splay out for support under the engine. The massive propeller that looks a little like an oversize house fan is 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 up to 10,000 feet.
Unlike most aircraft, powechutes 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. 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. Operators can soar up high for spectacular views or dart 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?