My Flying Machine – Powered Parachute N729MP – 12-23-17

I get quite a few questions about what type of aircraft I fly so I thought I’d post some information along with a few photos here. I fly a 1999 Buckeye Dream Machine powered parachute with FAA registration N729MP. I purchased it in July 2015 and am the third owner. It is categorized by the FAA as an experimental light sport aircraft (E-LSA) and requires a minimum of a sport pilot certificate to fly. It has 2 seats, weighs 375 pounds empty and has a liquid-cooled Rotax 582 65HP engine to power it. It has a 10 gallon fuel tank which gives me about a 3 hour endurance when flying by myself and about 2 hours when I have a passenger on board. I use regular automobile 91-octane alcohol-free fuel (CountryMark) since alcohol in gas tends to attract water. This is not a huge deal for a car, but having water in your fuel and causing your aircraft engine to die in the middle of a flight is not a good thing. The Rotax engine can also use 100LL AVGAS as well.

The parachute is a new (as of May 2017, see this post for info on the parachute’s maiden flight) Apco Cruiser 500 which is manufactured in Israel and supports a maximum gross takeoff weight of 400 kg (880 lbs). After subtracting my weight and the weight of the fuel, this leaves a maximum weight for the passenger of around 265 lbs, although I would likely stay much lower than that since I don’t like to operate right at the aircraft limits. The airspeed of this powered parachute is right around a constant 32 mph. I can increase the airspeed by going into a tight spiral dive, but in normal flight it stays constant, whether climbing or descending.

Instruments on this powered parachute are fairly minimal and consists of a Taskem Electronic Flight Instrument display which gives the following information:

Engine RPM
Fuel (I never use this since it isn’t very accurate. I use my calculated fuel burn rate and time of flight to compute how much fuel I have left).
EGT (exhaust gas temperature for both engine cylinders)
Coolant temperature
Altitude
Climb/descent rate
Flight time

For my aircraft configuration, the normal single-person level flight engine setting is around 4600 RPM. With two people on board it is around 5200-5300 RPM, which is why the fuel burn rate is 5 gallons per hour vs. 3.3 gallons per hour for just me alone.

Steering in flight is accomplished by pushing either the left or right foot bar. Each foot bar has a steering line attached to it that is connected to the trailing edge of the parachute. Pushing on the foot bar pulls the trailing edge of that side of the parachute, creating more drag on that side of the chute which causes it to slow down and turn in that direction. So pushing on the right foot bar causes the aircraft to run right and pushing on the left foot bar turns the aircraft to the left. Altitude is controlled via the throttle, higher throttle settings result in a climb and lower settings cause the aircraft to descend. This “hands-free” flying is one of the things that make the powered parachute such a great platform for aerial photography. Once I get the throttle set for level flight, I can then use both hands for the camera since I steer with my feet. Additionally, I am not enclosed in a cockpit and have no windows through which to shoot which results in very clear photos and the slow speed makes it easier to get a lot of photos of a given subject since I’m not flying past it at great speed.

Ground steering is controlled via the left-hand stick in front of the pilot. Pushing forward turns the nose wheel to the right and pulling back turns left. I do not have any brakes on this machine so I have to be careful when taxiing. To help slow me down I will sometimes taxi with one wheel off the taxiway in the grass and if that doesn’t slow me down enough I will also put the nose wheel in the grass as well (you can see this in my videos).

Taking off in a powered parachute is fairly quick, but there is a LOT happening in the few seconds is takes me to lift off. Takeoff is always into the wind and I fly in winds of 10 mph or less (this is a personal limit and not based on aircraft limits). Once the pre-flight checklist is complete, the takeoff sequence consists of powering up to around 75% throttle to get the cart moving and get the parachute inflated and off the ground. Once the chute is off the ground, I then throttle back to allow the chute to stabilize prior to takeoff. During the takeoff roll I must look overhead at the parachute to ensure that all cells are inflated, ensure there are no “line-overs” or tangles, watch where I am steering on the runway and wait for the chute to settle directly overhead. When I am flying by myself all of this happens in about 10-12 seconds and I can be off the ground in a hundred feet or less (a slight headwind shortens the takeoff distance). With a passenger on board it takes a few more seconds to build up enough speed to lift off, but everything still happens very fast.

Landing the powered parachute is straightforward and is mostly like a “regular” aircraft. Since the normal flying speed is so low, the landing distance is also correspondingly short as well. After touching down I can keep the throttle low enough to keep the parachute inflated and overhead, but not high enough that I leave the ground which enables me to taxi with the parachute overhead. Prior to stopping, I always kill the engine to ensure it is stopped before the parachute starts to drop. This is done to ensure that the propeller is completely stopped in case a parachute line were to come down into it. There is a prop-guard, but sometimes the wind can blow the lines across the engine and propeller. After landing the parachute must be bagged and secured on to the aircraft before taxiing back to the hangar.

Prior to moving back to Shelby County in 2016, I had my powered parachute hangared up at Indianapolis Regional Airport (Mount Comfort). Once I was able to secure hangar space at Shelbyville Airport (thanks Brent!!!!), I relocated my base and flew it from Indy Regional down to Shelbyville on July 25, 2017 (flight video).

I have a portable ICOM aircraft radio that I use for airport pattern communication on the local CTAF (common traffic advisory frequency) and also to listen to the local airport weather conditions (ASOS). The radio is wired in to an on-board intercom that allows the pilot and passenger to talk and hear each other. For my videos, I route the audio from this intercom to the GoPro to give a more interesting “soundtrack” (see this article for details).

As you already know from this web site, I love photography and am very excited to combine two of my passions (flying and photography) to get photographs that are unique. In addition to the still photos, I have MANY flight videos on my YouTube channel as well, so please check those out and subscribe to my channel if you find them interesting. By subscribing you will be notified each time I upload a new video.

I hope this article was informative and if you have any questions you can contact me in several ways:

– leave a comment here with your question
– email me at scott@scottrichardsonphotography.com
– contact me via twitter at @SRPhotog
– leave a comment to any of my YouTube videos

Thanks again for your interest and if you live in the Shelby County, Indiana area you likely have seen my flying overhead and, if not, you will no doubt see me at some point in the future.

Initial installation of the new Apco Cruiser parachute up at Indy Regional Airport.

Shortly after landing, the line socks are on the lines and the chute is folded and ready to be bagged up:

Parachute all laid out prior to flight. That’s one of the things about flying a powered parachute; the chute must be laid out prior to each flight and then bagged up after the flight, so there is a lot of “manual labor” involved in flying. It normally takes me 10-15 minutes to lay out the chute prior to flight and about 15-20 minutes to bag it up after the flight.

Just after landing:

In flight photos courtesy of my friend, Mark Tomlin, owner of Black Rocket Photography. Check him out for portraits and sports photos.

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