One innovative designer offers an alternative to foot-controlled powered parachute flight.
For those of you that don’t know, most powered parachutes are steered around the sky using your legs. Pushing with your right leg exerts downward force on a steering line routed to the right trailing edge of the canopy/wing, producing drag on that side and initiating a turn in that direction.
The motion isn’t hard-though some designers have added mechanical advantage to make it easier-and the turn is more responsive that you might imagine. But what if you don’t have good use of your legs? How might you fly a powered parachute?
Canadian powered parachute manufacturer Para-Ski offers a handlebar arrangement, and other companies have experimented with similar ideas. But nearly every other supplier of these flying machines uses a foot-steering arrangement of one kind or another. James Leon of Kankakee, Illinois, has another alternative.
Call It Power Steering
While Para-Ski has its handlebars, a measure of physical effort is still involved. Leon’s system involves a couple of air cylinders that move the lines as commanded by hand movement of levers placed adjacent to the single joystick. According to Leon, such hand controls can be taught to persons without full use of their legs.
“This system was designed for the paraplegic pilot who must release the throttle lever to operate their steering via hand controls,” Leon said. “Our system allows you to steer, flare and set trim with one hand while operating the throttle with the other hand.”
According to Leon, his system uses “the best cylinders, control valves and certified air tank that we could find.” The system has a pressure relief valve, air regulator, gauge and onboard compressor, which he says “draws very little amperage.”
A beginner could easily learn the hand controls from the aft seat while an instructor overrides the system, if necessary, from the front. It shouldn’t take long as the controls are obvious-pull right to go right, pull left to go left and pull both to flare.
The air steering system costs $1500 installed including all hardware items.
Other Unique Products
Leon owns The Ultralight Place and operates the company from the Greater Kankakee Airport. At the time of this writing, the company just received word that it had earned the designation as the first ultralight operation to acquire an FBO status at the airport. Leon is quite an inventive fellow, and his company features several other interesting products in his catalog. In fact, another of his inventions serves to allow the hand steering controls to work more efficiently.
Since 1996-a relative eternity in the young powered parachute industry-The Ultralight Place has been selling its single stick control. “With this feature,” Leon says, “the throttle, or pitch control, is changed by moving the stick forward and back. The ground steering is controlled by moving the stick from left to right.” Not only is this intuitive from a steering standpoint, but, he states, “it’s very handy as pitch and ground control are performed with the right hand,” leaving the left hand for lateral steering via the air system. Other aircraft fitted with hand controls force the pilot to release one control (throttle or ground steering) to alter the other.
Leon says he can rig the throttle either way. Buckeye Aviation uses the joystick throttle as a regular joystick; you pull aft to add power and climb and push the joystick forward to slow the engine and descend. Some pilots, myself included, find this counterintuitive to our conventional training (throttle forward means more power, not less) but beginners reportedly adapt quickly. Since Leon will link the throttle whichever way you wish, pilots used to advancing the throttle by pushing forward on the joystick may feel more comfortable.
Another product dating to 1996 is Leon’s louver system, which incrementally closes airflow through the coolant radiator. Pilots in colder climates can help their engines warm up faster, though Rotax representatives say the coolant flow through the engine is adequately regulated in flight. As with all his other products, Leon’s electrically powered louver system is beautifully executed. A kit for the system runs $40 plus the actuating cables needed to move the vanes.
In addition to products for powered parachutes, Leon’s company offers specialty products for fixed-wing aircraft. The company offers a cabin heating system that supplies 70-80° F forced air for $300, a welcome addition for any pilot who flies in colder climates. Leon also makes a complete fuel filler system including flip-up filler cap, mounting bracket, hoses and connections; it sells for $125. Other fabricated components include battery covers, custom-built instrument panels, brakes, fuel tank covers and custom-made wheelpants, which start at $100 each.
One interesting factory product on Leon’s beautiful Buckeye Breeze is the underwing-a surface that he is enthusiastic about, saying that it can noticeably improve a powered parachute’s overall glide performance.
Many developers are not heavy users of the products they develop; engineering and piloting are different skills with different activities. But Leon is a builder and a user. His flight jacket has a large sewn-on emblem from the National Association of Flight Instructors (NAFI) recognizing him as one of their Master Instructors. He uses his specially built Buckeye, among other powered parachutes, to give lessons.
In addition to training, The Ultralight Place also offers ceramic and powder coating, TIG and MIG welding, and a Level-Four Rotax Repair Station.
But Leon isn’t just a powered parachute fellow-he represents fixed-wing aircraft like Flightstar and the WeTTrike weight-shift amphibian.
The Ultralight Place has a wide product and services line, but the company’s surprisingly thorough web site will walk you through it all. In addition, the site provides general flying advice on a variety of topics, and most pilots will probably find something informative to read.
An affable fellow, Leon’s polished-to-perfection custom Buckeye Breeze was fitting evidence of his remarkable workmanship. It made me want to buy hardware from him-and I don’t even own a powered parachute! Hmmm|maybe that ought to change?
FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact The Ultralight Place at 815/529-3000 or visit www.theultralightplace.com.
To review all “Light Stuff” columns that have appeared in KITPLANES®, visit www.ByDanJohnson.com, which links to the KITPLANES® web site with articles of interest.