Back in the Cockpit and First Test Flight of New Parachute 5-20-17

Finally! After a 15-month hiatus I am back in the air again and hoping to finally get my sport pilot license for Powered Parachute all wrapped up. I started training way back in July of 2015 and never quite did get to taking my sport pilot check ride due to a whole lot of life getting in the way. I ended up moving and sinking a whole lot of time and money into remodeling my parents’ old house before moving into it after my father passed away. Due to the house remodel, I couldn’t really justify spending money on a new parachute after my old one failed an inspection and deemed not airworthy during the spring of 2016. So I was effectively grounded until the remodel was complete. We finally got most of the house remodel finished in the last couple of months, so in mid April I purchased a brand new Apco Cruiser 500 parachute which is a pretty good upgrade from the Apco Hybrid Power Wing 500 I was flying before. After installing the parachute and a month of going through FAA paperwork and waiting for flyable weather I finally got the chance to test fly the new chute on May 8, 2017.

Initial installation:

Configuring initial steering line length settings:

Up until May 8 of this year, the last time I flew was on February 6, 2016, which seems like forever ago. So my first flight in 15 months was going to be a test flight with a brand new parachute I had never flown before—-no pressure at all there. For those who are interested I fly a 1999 Buckeye Dream Machine (N729MP) powered parachute with a Rotax 582 65hp engine with a cruise speed of around 35 mph. The Dream Machine is a 2 seat aircraft that weights approximately 375 pounds empty with a maximum take off weight of 880lbs with the Cruiser parachute. I have a 10 gallon gas tank and I burn around 3.5-4.0 gallons per hour. For those of you not familiar with powered parachutes, you steer with your feet and the throttle controls your altitude. So having your hands relatively free is where this whole endeavor blends over into photography; the powered parachute is a great platform for aerial photography. By steering with my feet, that leaves two hands available to hold a camera and shoot photos. The slow speed gives me more time to shoot a subject and the wide-open cockpit means I am not shooting through nasty dirty windows or having to avoid airplane wings and struts.

For a good sampling of photos, see my post from November 2015, which was the first time I took my DSLR on a flight. That post also has great views downtown Indianapolis (from a distance), my old neighborhood and house, my old parachute and an awesome bonus sunset shot behind downtown Indy at the end of the flight. In fact, the very last photo shows Indianapolis International Airport control tower directly in front of the setting sun.

According to the new operating limitations I received from the FAA when I upgraded my parachute, I am restricted to test flying in a specific area for at least 5 hours while I put the new parachute through its phase I testing (getting it trimmed properly and ensuring it performs properly in various flight scenarios and aircraft weights). My test area is located just to the northeast of Indianapolis Regional Airport (MQJ) just east of Indianapolis, Indiana. For most of my flights now I use an iPhone app called Motion-X GPS to record the flight path and also record video using a GoPro Hero 4 with audio fed into it from my flight intercom and radio so I can narrate as I fly.

Flight test area:

First Impressions of the Apco Cruiser
Even though it has been a long time since I flew the old Apco Hybrid 500 parachute, I can still tell a big difference between it and the new Cruiser. First of all it is much more responsive to engine input and flare than the Hybrid. Watch the last part of the flight video below where I performed many touch and go landings and you can hear my comments in this regard. Just from the few engine-at-idle steep approaches I performed, I feel much more confident in being able to successfully perform an engine out landing with this chute than with the Hybrid. Once I get some more hours flying this chute, maybe someday I will get the nerve to try a few engine out landings just so my first time isn’t in an actual emergency. The first flight was conducted with no extra weight other than me and a full load of fuel. Total takeoff weight was around 610 pounds. For later flights, I will add some weight to the back seat

Turns with the Cruiser also seem a bit more snappy than the Hybrid. The Hybrid chute always seemed a bit mushy and took a while to respond. Pulling some extra steering line in by hand during a turn really pops the machine into a tight turn quite quickly. Since I have short legs, I seem to always find myself pulling some extra line in by hand to speed up a turn and got quite used to this when flying the Hybrid. There was one instance during the flight with the Cruiser where I did the same thing….I pulled in quite a bit of extra steering line the the machine really snapped into a turn so quickly it really startled me and I immediately let go of the steering line.

As you can see in the video, I did have a bit of an issue during kite-up during takeoff. The end cells on the right side of the chute took quite a while to fully inflate and I had to pump the steering bar to help them along. This may have been due to the steering line on that side being set a bit tight. The takeoff was not a thing of beauty, but not too bad for the first one in quite a while. I held back on the throttle initially since I wasn’t sure how the chute was going to act and if I was going to get pulled strongly to one side or another and I didn’t want to be too far off the ground should something happen right on take-off. Also during the flight, the aircraft had a very strong tendency to turn to the left, indicating the chute is not yet trimmed properly. To remedy this I plan on adjusting the CG tubes so that the left CG tube is set longer than the right one to see how much of the left turn tendency is removed. If that doesn’t work then I will likely need to add a couple of quick links to the left riser.

It is still very early to tell if my fuel burn rate will be lower than before and by how much, but calculations so far show a burn rate of about 3.3 gal/hr, which is slightly better than I was getting with the old Hybrid chute. More flights will help gather more burn rate data and give a much better value.

During the first flight I did not make any attempts to specifically measure my airspeed, but the GPS track log did show an average speed of 27.8 mph and a max speed of 40.2 mph. Total distance flown on the flight was 45.7 miles.

Overall I am very happy with the chute after the first flight, despite my trim issues (which will be worked out). I’m looking forward to the higher speeds, (hopefully) lower fuel burn and increased range resulting from both of those.

Here is a photo from right before the first flight with the Cruiser:

Here is the GPS track from the first test flight along with the (edited) video from the 1.5 hour flight. As you can see from my “wild” flight path, I was a bit giddy being back up in the air for the first time in quite a while. I am surprised how easily it all came back to me….just like riding a bike, but with a bit more altitude!

Flight video:

Happy and relieved pilot after successful flight:

I’d also like to say thanks to my CFI, Paul Whybrew and also to Bill Wallace who sold me the Cruiser parachute. Both of these men have given me great help and a lot of good advice to get the new parachute installed and flying and I am very grateful to both.

Stay tuned for more adventures as I continue to test out the chute and work my way towards my sport pilot check ride.

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