Paramotor Michigan

An impromptu PPG trip up the glove

We set out to soar but thanked God we had motors. There was to be no soaring although we sure tried.

Tim Kaiser and I set out from Naperville for 5 days of flightly frolic up Michigan's west coast, starting with Warren Dunes, a popular site for hang gliding's early pioneers. After paying the requisite $11 each, we parked and headed up the dune. I donned my mountain climbing harness and kited up. There was just barely enough wind and boy was I thankful--walking up that sand is taxing! Much easier to let the wing and wind do the work.

Tim had his Silex and I'm using a demo Spice 25, an efficient ride that almost let me soar the weak conditions present (6 mph at the bottom and 10 at the top).

Holland, MI

Then up to Holland, MI, where we met tinker Terry, who is building a 4-stroke trike using a lawn mower motor. It's a promising development, given the low cost and opportunity for reliability. Plus, being efficient will help make flying more affordable in the long run. Unfortunately, I didn't get to fly it, but it climbed nearly as good as I on the Miniplane which is about 300 fpm.

The Holland airport manager, Brian, is quite a hoot himself. First, we appreciate his welcome. It may be because he's a guy that likes to have fun himself and takes some interesting turns in pursuit of it. When we left the next morning, Brian was working on a cardboard boat that will be entered in the local cardboard boat race. His real passion, though, is high powered rocketry. And I do mean HIGH powered! The rocket show he's attending will have a waiver for airspace up to 50,000 feet.

The original plan was for Tim and I to make Traverse city by day two in search of the great soaring there. But with winds blowing out of the East, that wasn't to be so we decided to save the 8 hours of drive time and head back down south at a leisurely pace. Plus, we wanted to meet up with Doug Fetters to test out some communications. More on that later.

South Haven

After Holland, we headed for South Haven and started looking for launch. Google Earth over my cell modem card took us to a house with enough room for a circling climb out. It wasn't big, but it would do. Amazingly, the owner, Lloyd, was a former PPC pilot who quit when Sport Pilot came out. He offered us his yard with only one caveat: he wanted to be there when we flew. I'd seen another larger area and asked about it. He told us of Mark Sneller only a mile away. And even more amazing was that Mark was a paramotor pilot. What are the odds of that!?!

So we headed over to Mark's and, sure enough, he had a larger launch area and was actually happy to see us. He gathered his family and extended family to check it out. Soon we were off. I was practicing constricted spot landings while Tim prepared then, after Tim launched, we headed out. It wasn't to be long for Tim. While cruising along, part of a repaired prop gave way and became unbalanced so Tim landed. I cruised around for a while then came back.

Tim put on another prop but that didn't have enough thrust to get him airborne. I relaunched for some more practice and flying around. It was an absolute hoot to fly around the yard, doing foot drags between the trees, up the driveway and around. Man I love this sport! Mark and his wife were excellent hosts. Mark is recovering from health issues and now looks forward to getting back in the air. It will be good to have him back, too.

After sunset I made one last strober flight since Lloyd showed up and wanted to check it out. I've gotten the hang of the low hook-in, too, so every launch is working nicely. The Spice 25 is less squirrelly than the 22 and comes up straighter. On the 22, if she goes crooked, she goes quick.

Saugatuck/Benton Harbor

The next day we checked out Saugatuck, MI for a spell then headed for the airport at Benton Harbor. We found another welcoming soul there, Dan. It was sad, though. Dan's 70 year old dad had just passed. They ran the crop dusting business together. Dan welcomed us to fly and then to camp there for the night, including a plug-in.

He showed us around the spray planes and we had a great time chatting about various common themes. I also enjoyed talking with his pilot friend who was helping out. Talk about colorful stories! He's done some pretty wild flying down in central America. It sounds like he's used up at least 8 of his allotted lives.

That evening saw the weather sour. I got in one flight to test a prop that Tim repaired (the one that lost its tip). Worked great. Rains came and continued all the next day. It was actually quite relaxing, though. I worked on my project du-jour, we saw a movie and sorted out our plans with Doug of Sport Link Communications.

New Buffalo: The Comm Test

Communications has always been marginal while flying. We've had good setups for a while but, for various reasons, they don't last. The FRS radios have proven marginal. Sometimes they work great, at other times they don't. And one that works with one helmet won't work with another, even when the plugs fit.

Then I flew an entire 8 day trip with Jeff Hamann and Phil Russman who had been experimenting with different combinations. I could always hear them perfectly. Always. Finally I tried out Jeff's setup, a portable arrangement that can be moved from helmet to helmet. That settled it. We could talk completely clearly. It was awesome. And I vowed to figure out that setup and use it. The single biggest element of success is the M101A microphone. It's 1960's technology that's simple but PERFECT for our application. Many headsets use electric mics and indeed they may be "better" but require electronics to filter out noise. The M101A doesn't.

Enter Doug Fetters, Sport Link Communications. He's a pilot and Engineer who is now making his living selling this kind of gear to a variety of users--mostly in high noise environments.

So I asked Doug to build us a portable system that we can wire tie to our existing helmets. I plug the helmets earphones into the radio and Doug's system into the mic. It has a coiled Push-To-Talk (PTT) that runs out to my hand.

We met in New Buffalo, MI to try it out. He worked out permission to fly from their beach (a very nice beach, I might add!)

Conditions weren't ideal, with a an angling off shore wind, so Tim decided against flying. I went up with the comm setup and it was awesome. Absolutely awesome. Tim could hear me completely clearly even at full power. Then he strapped his motor on, ran it up to full power and we talked. I could barely hear his motor run and his voice was crystal clear.

We were using 2-meter radios but I'm gonna find at least one model FRS radio that this setup works with (requires 2-prong system) and then sell the whole thing here on FootFlyer. I get lots of inquires about good comm and want something that doesn't involve buying a new helmet.

I'll also share how to make it for those who would like to do it on their own.

Finally, we have strong, reliable communications. The beauty is that there is no electronics and few connections. Plus, given that the mic system is separate from the helmet, it's easy to sort out problems.


New Buffalo: Familiar Face

It happened again.

After finishing our test, it turns out that paramotor pilot Fred Rafilson lives right there! He saw me flying and came out to meet us with his wife and kids. We had a great little BS session then went over to check out their very nice yacht. Life of the rich and famous!

After lunch with Doug at a local restaurant, we finally headed home.

What a community. Again this proves how the people of PPG make the sport great.


1. On the one non-flyable day of our trip, there was still a lot to do. I'm sanding my "sacrificial" prop back to shape with my favorite tool of all times: the belt sander.

2. One of Mark's PPC friends came by to check us out.

3. This was a test flight of Tim's motor. Just had to get one of these turns in.

2015 Jeff Goin   Remember: If there's air there, it should be flown in!