Log

Oshkosh & Paramotor

2013-Aug-2 Paramotor Finally Back At The World's Largest Airshow

I've been coming to Oshkosh since I was probably 18 years old, first flying here in a rented Cessna 150. That was 1980.

Thankfully I didn't know squat about ultralights, I was too busy building time that would count towards my desired goal of flying for a living and ultralights weren't on my radar even though they looked cool. The reason I say thankfully is that I fear i may have abandoned my career path and missed out on what has turned into an amazing gig. Flying 737's is good.

I'm lucky that I'm not one of those grizzly old airline guys who now hates the job. Old maybe, but still basically enjoying the job. Had I discovered paramotoring, though, I wonder if I would have been like the lab rat that chooses cocaine over food until it starves to death. Paramotoring being the cocaine, of course -- providing immense enjoyment with much less reward. Who knows. And of course there are paramotor instructors who actually do pretty good so it's not necessarily completely lacking in nourishment.

Paramotors didn't exist then so I would have been alright.

When I finally did get into paramotoring in 1999, I remember going to Oshkosh, again flying there, and seeing a few different venders. It was a good time for ultralights in general.  I kept coming to Oshkosh each year, doing a presentation on powered paragliding, but soon there were no more paramotors. Individuals would come and fly but no manufacturers.

This year was different. And judging from the enormous interest, and accounts from the sellers, it was worth their while. Of course the real proof will be next year to see who comes back.

Blackhawk & MacPara

Mike Robinson cornered the end of a row with a huge presence of both his motors and wings. Among the many new goodies, he had an electric there that, unfortunately, did not have the battery. Too bad, I was hoping to try it. Batteries will be the bugaboo, as they always have so far, and are still expensive. He says the machine will retail for about $10,500 and around $5000 of that is for the battery. Some of the cost is development and I applaud the effort. Yuneec sunk a mint into electric paramotor and deemed it untenable.

I tried the new Kestrel frame. Very nice. This is the future in my opinion: lightweight, comfortable, and with good weight shift. Not that weight shift is a big deal, but its advantages seem to outweigh the slight drawback in a bit more training and a less stable-feeling ride. It's not even about aggressive flying which I don't really do that often, but it's nice to rest your hands on the bars and steer with them on cross countries. Plus, it does allow turning with less chance of spinning. Lead the turn with weight shift and it takes less brake input.

The Kestrel felt at least as comfortable as my Miniplane with equally good weight shift and within a couple pounds of the same weight. He says its 45 pounds and mine is 46 pounds so they're essentially the same. The motor was an HE 90 and was extraordinarily smooth, smoother than my Top 80. I have no idea why or whether it's the engine or mount. Power felt about the same as a Top 80 with slightly slower response time. from idle to full -- about 2 seconds. It was difficult to really get a good feel for things because flying here is so restrictive and conditions sucked, to boot.

I tried a 22 sq meter Velocity Elektra which performed well. Right afterwards I tried the MacPara Eden 5 of the same size so I got to compare. The Elektra is a bit heavier and has slightly higher brake pressures but seems to have good efficiency. The Eden has very thin risers and the Elektra has unsheathed upper lines. Trimmers and brakes were standard (not reflex). Both wings would seem to be happy on a soaring hill.

Gin Vantage

I flew the 22 meter version of the Gin Vantage back at our Illinois fly-in and wanted to mention it since I really liked it. Size is so important and I really liked this 22 meter version quite a bit more -- crisp handling and easy inflation. Like the Velocity and Eden mentioned above, it had the monofilament reinforced leading edge which ostensibly makes for better performance through keeping a better airfoil shape, especially during inflation.

Parajet

I've now gotten to fly Parajet's Zenith frame with a bunch of motors and really like it a lot. It has the best, easiest weight shift of any machine I've flown, including my Miniplane. Plus its assembly/disassembly is fantastic. In fact, as much as the machine is comfy to fly, it's more impressive on how it breaks down. I can see where you might have to much with the netting but the parts commonality and general design makes it probably the most portable machine you can buy. And it flies like a dream.

When I flew it at Kankakee the harness mount came out of the top holder on landing which, I'm told, had never happened on any Zenith model but they're still going to make sure can't happen in the future. It happened when I did a foot drag landing and popped quickly to upright.

Since all the pieces attach to a compact frame chassis only slightly bigger than the engine, you could have this machine with different motors mounted to the frame chassis and take whichever one fits your flying that day. Of course I'm far too lazy for all that but I can see it for traveling pilots who don't have a lot of room.

The Thor 200 Engine rocks. Powerful, very smooth, and easy to start with the flash starter. I could start it in flight. I flew the 200 and was impressed. Torque management was average -- I was unable to weight shift against the torque steer at full power which, given my 136 pounds, is not terribly surprising. The 200 had great throttle response above cruise power but was a bit variable below that.

Both Parajet and Blackhawk have a bevy of new gear including water cooled machines. Unfortunately, it's tough to try stuff here since our windows are generally pretty short. The morning window is 7AM to 9AM, though, but we share it with powered parachutes so wake can be an issue. From what I saw, though, paragliders outnumbered chutes 5 to 1.

Overall Oshkosh

It's not done yet but I've been thrilled to have so much paramotor here. And the EAA volunteers have been great. They're under the gun from air traffic folks to keep us all in our respective patterns but I think they've gone out of their way to make it as friendly as possible given the extremely, and I do mean EXTREMELY high traffic that's going on around us. It actually doesn't look that crowded when you're flying but they have to juggle all these different patterns that may only be a quarter mile away and 200 feet above. And they delivered it in a friendly, approachable manner. Nice job.

 

This was from 2011 and you can see how empty the place is. This year there was a lot more going on in the ultralight area, mostly because it was combined with some Light Sport Aircraft stuff as well.

I've taken some video and may get some extracts from that. If all goes well I may do more tonight or tomorrow morning.


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