According to the new Ultralight Flying! “Ultralight and Microlight Buyer’s Guide,” 24 companies are building powered parachutes in 2003. That figure doesn’t include recently announced foreign competitors and doesn’t count all that may follow. How does a new company stand out in such a crowd?
Gemini Industries boss Randy Snead is a well-known personality among powered parachute enthusiasts. He was the main technical person with Buckeye Industries, working with FAA personnel for months in pursuit of Primary Category certification. In blazing that new trail, Snead earned a reputation as being serious and knowledgeable.
His business enterprise is new to the scene, but given Snead’s long experience in this segment of light aviation, Gemini Industries should prosper. I see the company surviving any industry shakeout as the Indiana company keeps its overhead low and offers reliable products at low prices with reasonable delivery times. Gemini Industries isn’t flamboyant like some powered parachute producers and that’s exactly why Gemini’s formula should work.
In a lot of segments of aviation, family operations are common and represent success stories due to the strong teamwork families can generate. Snead’s wife, Fern, and their son, Jeremiah, all tend to the affairs of Gemini Industries.
New On the Scene
Gemini Industries’ first offering is named the Gemini Twin. According to company personnel, other models will be coming.
Again, Snead cut his teeth in the powered parachute (PPC) business as the head tech for Buckeye Industries. This company, also based in Indiana, fell prey to the economic slowdown and other factors, and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. When you see a Buckeye powered parachute displayed at airshows in 2003, Buckeye Aviation will be the name of the company doing the exhibiting.
Snead departed Buckeye, taking his considerable knowledge with him. He’s one of the true veterans of this segment of the aviation family. When he set out to design the Gemini Twin, he had the advantage of a clean CAD screen. He says, “I took a little of everybody else’s best and then I added my own ideas.” For example, he made the rear suspension beefier, replacing
fiberglass landing gear legs with chromoly ones. He also used heavier wall steel tubing on the two main front-to-rear rails under the seats.
In addition, Gemini Industries worked to assure more creature comforts by using supportive velour-covered seats. Separate seats for each occupant seem superior to old-fashioned powered parachute seats that have the back of the pilot touching his rear-seat occupant. Some other new powered parachute designs have embraced this idea and I think that most pilots will prefer them. Shoulder belts at each seat should secure the Gemini Twin occupants well.
“Older eyes need a little help,” Snead indicated, reflecting the age of many air sport pilots, “so we moved the instrument panel a bit closer.” Like other producers, Gemini prefers the electronic instruments that have lots of information but which some feel can be harder to read at a glance than analog needle gauges. In fact, Snead moved all the controls closer, saying that he “wants the student to be able to reach everything while securely belted in.”
The instrument panel and some controls can be located closer to the pilot, thanks to the Upper Fuselage Bars, those large-diameter tubes that run in front of and above the occupants. Powrachute first popularized these and they are making an appearance on many newer powered parachutes. Sometimes called “roll-over bars,” the beefy tubing certainly offers a measure of protection on landings and while flying near ground obstacles. In my experience at flying with this tubing framework, I could easily sense their protective value, although they do minimally block visibility and erode that hugely open feel of flying a powered parachute.
A single strobe light comes standard on the Gemini Twin to help keep you more visible to other aircraft. Those who want option choices can select electric starting, dual controls, dual strobes, a 4-blade IvoProp propeller, choice of canopy brands, and a choice of airframe colors. Gemini can also set you up with a trailer to haul it all.
Gemini Twin Distinctions
Another way the Gemini Twin differs from older Buckeye designs, as well as most powered parachutes, is the single stick. I want to call it a “joystick” because that’s what it looks like but it isn’t exactly how it works. The single stick in front of the front seat serves as both the throttle and taxi steering control. Linked to the nosewheel by conventional pushrods, the Gemini features push-right, go-right steering. Fore and aft movements add or decrease power respectively.
Despite the use of this stick for power settings, Snead prefers not to refer to the stick as a throttle. He’s aware that I’ve struggled with this in the past. My very first experience in a Buckeye powered parachute with a “joystick throttle” threw me a curve. As a throttle it works backwards from all other aircraft. You pull aft to add power and go up (most throttles pull to the idle position, of course). We old dogs, ahem, “experienced aviators,” will have to learn new tricks. Better you should call it a “pitch control” or simply a “stick,” Snead advises. You move this stick aft to increase power, which will produce a climb – which is why some folks think of it as a joystick. His “pitch control” logic reflects 3-axis aircraft joysticks, which generally are moved aft to produce a positive angle of attack and therefore climb (assuming adequate power has been set).
On the ground, you steer by moving the stick in the direction of desired turn. This powered parachute has “right-way” steering, which most pilots will find more intuitive. In actual practice, you don’t end up steering powered parachutes too much. On takeoff, you’ll orient as much into the wind as possible so your steering control will be only to offset a sideways pull of the canopy in a crosswind. In my experience, this is very little.
More likely you’ll use the stick on landing, such as to steer the Gemini Twin off the runway to make room for someone else, or to park closer to your trailer. Maneuvering this way means you must keep up the power – to keep the canopy overhead – when right-way steering is appreciated.
The Gemini Twin’s landing gear legs are made of steel, replacing an older fiberglass rod structure. The steel legs brought a satisfyingly firm ride that absorbs lots of energy if you land harder than you planned.
When I flew with Snead, our flight was cut short due to a fast-approaching rain shower. As usual, the airshow pattern was full of powered parachutes at the end of the day. We all raced to get on the ground before we got soaked.
Our approach to landing seemed quite low by my normal standards, but I was forced to remember the canopy was operating 20 feet above us. This detached quality is the main challenge I have in adapting to powered parachutes. Yet this design also allows powered parachutes their unique feel. You can fly within 10 to 20 feet of the ground, yet your “wing” is 30 to 40 feet up in the air. Slipping alongside trees and over fences is lots of fun in these slow-flying ultralights.
With everyone trying get down quickly, the landing area became crowded despite the typically short powered parachute ground roll. Our canopy started to collapse earlier than optimal because of others directly in front of us. Snead said that he “lost the sail” but he could’ve kept it aloft had the field remained open. On a more normal landing rollout your taxi speed can be quite slow, yet the canopy will remain inflated above you. This allows you to position the aircraft off the runway before deflating the canopy.
A Kick in the Air
Aloft in the air with Snead, I reinforced my impression that a powered parachute, even with a conventional square canopy wing design, can still be encouraged to turn quite briskly. You can actually produce a significant bank angle by bearing hard on the footbar on the side of the desired turn, and then adding additional steering-line tension by hand.
In my experimentation, this combined technique made it possible to produce a reasonably steep turn and also to reverse those turns with relative ease.
It was difficult to measure bank angles considering the canopy flew 20 feet or so above my head and somewhat out of my peripheral vision. However, Snead informed me that pilots were limited to a 30° bank in the pattern and yet there had been concern that some pilots were exceeding this bank.
Powered parachute flight response shouldn’t really surprise anyone who has seen an airshow where skydivers perform, often the show’s opening act. These hotshots “crank and bank” their skydiving rigs in wild maneuvers nearly all the way to the ground. Of course, these are tiny and highly loaded canopies, a sharp contrast to big powered parachute canopies that are highly stable and rather lightly loaded. Such differences notwithstanding, it’s just a wrong-headed impression that makes people believe, as I did, that powered parachutes are not very responsive.
Still, to create the sharpest turns you must exert considerable muscular effort. And you must maintain that tension in the turn or the wing wants to right itself. For beginners this tendency is beneficial. Indeed, it may be a virtual industry requisite as most powered parachute manufacturers report a majority of their sales go to people who have never piloted anything.
Stable as powered parachutes like the Gemini Twin are, piloting smoothness remains the virtue it is anywhere in aviation. When you add power or exert footbar control, the trike carriage tends to increase its swing. If you are uneven in your control application, you’ll have the same jerky flight you would in any flying machine. Advisedly, power is added or removed slowly and footbar motions are gradual until you gain currency with the powered parachute.
Like most powered parachute producers, Gemini Industries is focused on the carriage, flight characteristics, engines, and instruments plus the overall packaging and performance of the ultralight. I’m unaware of any powered parachute builder who creates his own canopy. Since development of powered parachute canopies is a specialty of canopy manufacturers, they are the ones driving technology changes.
Snead indicated that the canopy on our evaluation Gemini Twin offered a greater speed range, though it appeared control over speed is limited to the result of a full push-out, or full release of both footbars simultaneously. Changes in speed, or glide performance, or sink rate come from the shape of the canopy just as it is with fixed-wings. Otherwise, speed is primarily set by the hang-point rigging of canopy to chassis.
In the last half-dozen years, recalls Snead, powered parachute canopies have evolved from rectangular to elliptical, though he says the rectangular canopies are still the most common. For new powered parachute pilots these “square” ram-air canopies remain the right choice. In our Gemini Twin test ultralight, engine-idle sink rate was about 600 fpm. Gemini Industries says the glide is 4:1. All fixed-wings and trikes exceed the glide and most have slower sink rates.
In other evolutionary canopy developments, powered parachute producers have upped sizes from 450-square-foot sizes to 550 or more. “One company is even offering a 610-square-foot size,” observes Snead.
Despite the introduction of elliptical canopies – which boast more speed range and more responsive handling – the original square canopy has improved.
Snead referred to the new Skybolt canopy from High Energy Sports that he says can do a 360° turn in three seconds. Larger pilots with powered parachute experience may want faster speeds of their ultralight. For them, Snead recommends an elliptical, not a smaller square canopy.
Gemini Industries has selected two primary canopy suppliers: Apco of Israel or High Energy Sports of California. I’ve known High Energy since their beginning days, long before they started building powered parachute canopies. The West Coast company is respected for their work in the parachute community. Apco has also enjoyed many years of success in light aviation.
In flight, as I was trying to assess the performance of the canopy by observing it, I became aware of what was clearly a back-up steering line. As Snead explained, this safety line serves a stabilizing purpose.
This extra cord has a greater length than the primary steering lines yet it is also attached to the common suspension point. Its purpose is to help the pilot maintain control should one of the main steering lines fail.
Powered parachutes always fly with the trailing edge pulled down somewhat. If a steering line broke, releasing the tension on the trailing edge of one side, the ultralight would tend to have a turn away from the broken line side. If both lines went loose simultaneously, the problem is lessened, but it would still be a problem. Snead indicated that some tension is necessary to create a down trailing edge. A pilot missing one steering line could not control the powered parachute’s direction giving the back-up steering line a genuine purpose. If a single steering line broke, you would find yourself in a turn toward the side with the unbroken line. Added tension of the safety line keeps the turn from becoming too steep while you make an emergency landing.
Do You Want a Twin?
Some pilots may gravitate toward the 130-mph “little airplanes” proposed in FAA’s Light-Sport Aircraft rule, but not everyone wants higher speed or fully enclosed cabins. Some people enjoy low and slow. If
you are among them, a Gemini Twin may be for you.
Even so, with FAA’s newest regulation on the near horizon, Snead is serving on an American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) committee creating the certification standards for powered parachutes. He’ll use his experience with Buckeye Industries, who tried certifying one of their models to FAA’s Primary Aircraft category. The job was never completed due to FAA bureaucratic inertia, but Snead learned a great deal from the effort. His knowledge may now help lead powered parachute producers through the thicket of creating FAA certification rules for the proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule.
If you act today, you can get what Snead calls “middle of the road pricing.” Gemini Industries’ base 65-hp Rotax 582 well-equipped Gemini Twin model sells for just under $14,000; an electric start E-box version goes for $14,500. If you often fly solo or with smaller students, a 50-hp Rotax 503 model can be had for $12,710.
Once an important figure in the market-leading Buckeye Industries company, Snead was known to many as the man who worked on the technical side and performed flight testing for Buckeye. Now he’s following his own dream assisted by family members. If powered parachutes have caught your eye, you might consider your very own Gemini Twin.
|Seating||2, tandem/raised aft seat|
|Empty weight||375 pounds|
|Gross weight||935 pounds|
|Canopy Span||38 feet 1|
|Canopy Area||500 square feet|
|Canopy Loading||1.9pounds per square foot|
|Kit type||Fully Assembled|
|Notes:||1 Assuming standard Apco Dovetail canopy|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power||64 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||14.6 pounds per hp|
|Max Speed||34 mph|
|Cruise speed||34 mph|
|Never exceed speed||70 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||600-800 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||150-500 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||100-200 feet|
|Range (powered)||85 miles|
|Standard Features||65-hp Rotax 582 with oil injection, E-drive with electric start and battery, single stick control, independent seating, shoulder harness seat belts, 64-inch IvoProp propeller, chromoly main rails and upper fuselage bars, shock absorber suspension, steerable nosewheel, ready-to-fly canopy, single strobe light.|
|Options||Choice of 50-hp Rotax 503 engine (for reduced cost), electronic instruments, dual strobe lights, side storage bags, chrome prop spinner, 4-blade prop.|
|Construction||Aluminum 6061-T6 airframe, 4130 chromoly steel parts, and all AN hardware. Made in the USA by U.S.-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Using the best ideas in the powered parachute industry, designer Randy Snead has incorporated many features: protective upper fuselage bars, single control stick, electronic instruments, strategically placed canopy attach points, and individual seats with proper seat restraint. Sturdy, proven design using standard aircraft hardware throughout.
Cons – While using the best of other companies’ ideas, the Gemini Twin shows no earth-shattering innovations (though such new ideas don’t always work out; Snead’s design may be more likely to survive). New company with as-yet undefined longevity in the marketplace.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – “Joystick” combines both throttle and nosewheel steering, the latter is quite intuitive. Standard 10-gallon fuel tank; cleaner fueling via a filler neck extending to left side of chassis. Pull starter position in open cockpit gives enough space for a hearty yank. Full access to all parts for repairs.
Cons – Of course, no flaps or trim to aid flight control. Determining when remaining fuel is low is not easy without optional instrumentation. No brakes (though needed less than on other ultralights).
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Comfort much improved with separate seats. Gemini uses an electronic info system to compactly provide data. Electric start can also be located on this panel with a kill switch (or other switches as owner prefers). Huge visibility from Gemini Twin. Instrument panel is mounted closer for “older eyes.”
Cons – Electric start is optional (about $700). Upper fuselage bars, while a welcome safety addition, slightly obstruct visibility. Little convenient space for additional instruments or a radio. Separate seats mean rear entry is slightly harder; seats do not adjust or move.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Moving a Gemini Twin around the airport by hand is easy if you have the canopy in its carry bag. Huge visibility to check for traffic. Excellent suspension on the main gear. Solid stance on ground; helps maintain control until canopy is ready to lift. Steering stick is also power control making for an interesting “joystick.”
Cons – Lacks ground tow bar. Ground steering of a powered parachute with the canopy overhead is very limited and you must plan where you want to end up if others are using the landing area; you must also maintain enough speed to keep canopy inflated. No brakes, should you require them.
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Once canopy is properly inflated, Gemini Twin takeoff is simple in the extreme. Visibility is massive on both takeoff and landing. Turning response is faster than most non-powered parachute pilots believe. Crosswinds are less the impediment than thought due to very short landing rolls; just land cross-runway. Approaching into small fields less challenging than most fixed-wing ultralights.
Cons – Power is the primary way to control approach descents; lose that power and you’ll rely only on the ability to modestly slow or flare the canopy. Little energy retention; smooth landings depend on power. No convex mirrors to help examine canopy inflation. Gas tank hangs rather low for landing in unimproved fields.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Turning control is reasonably responsive; if you combine footbar control with line pulls by hand, you can effect a fairly quick turn. Your legs are much stronger than your arms; you simply must learn foot coordination. Turns are intuitive; push the way you want to go. No adverse yaw.
Cons – You must learn to use the throttle and footbar slowly or swinging of the chassis occurs. Turning by foot is odd to most ultralight pilots and, indeed, it takes some familiarization.
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Gemini says the 65-hp Rotax 582 Twin climbs at 600 to 800 fpm. Speeds are always around 30 mph unless you select an elliptical canopy that Gemini Industries offers. If “performance” means doing superbly at flying low over the fields, the Gemini Twin is one of the best ultralight choices you can make.
Cons – Speeds are hardly controllable; small range of difference by power or dual footbar use. You aren’t going anywhere fast in a Gemini Twin with a 30-mph cruise. Performance in powered parachutes is so similar – they can all buy the canopies of other companies – that comparison is challenging. Glide is only about 4:1. Fuel mileage is lousy (that’s not why you fly a powered parachute).
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Latest version of seatbelts neatly emerge from the seat and are now 4-point for best security (model tested had single shoulder belt). Strobe light included in base price, as are sturdy upper fuselage bars offering some protection against rollover or collision. Virtually stall-proof.
Cons – All powered parachutes can reportedly enter something the industry calls “meta-stable stall,” meaning a descending, hard-to-exit condition. Fortunately the Gemini Twin is built so tough that such a touchdown would be largely absorbed by the chassis. Chassis swings in response to power changes; you must make them slowly.
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – New company from an industry veteran; should survive an inevitable shakeout. Boss Randy Snead has experience with FAA certification, which should help if proposed Light-Sport Aircraft rule passes into law. Offers the best of many company ideas in a conventional package that buyers can trust. Several dealers already established around USA. Priced as a rather complete package.
Cons – Gemini Industries must work to set itself apart from others; by offering only mainstream features it could become lost in the crowd. New business, relying on name familiarity of Randy Snead. Company offers no Part 103 aircraft (yet).
Jimmy Rollins says
I’m trying to find out how much a Gemini Industries model 1 serial # 005 manufactured date May 2002 is worth.
Dan Johnson says
I do not have an answer for you, but I’d send a letter to the editor of Powered Sport Flying. This is right in publisher Roy Beisswenger’s area.
Bob Ferguson says
Any idea where I can get parts for a Buckeye Dream machine. I need a wheel axle 80201.
Dan Johnson says
Buckeye has been out of business for many years. I doubt you can find a new original part. I suggest social media to see if someone may have a used or comparable part.
Cei Davies Linn says
I’m just making contact to see if you remember my late husband, David Grove. We met you at a few Oshkosh EAA events in the mid to late ‘90s.
Dan Johnson says
Hi Cei: I am not sure who you are addressing, but I regret I do not remember your late husband. It’s a good news/bad news thing that I meet so many people out airshows, too often their names do not stick with me. Did you have a question, or was this just a general inquiry? —Dan
Phil Melvin says
Thank you Randy Sneed for a great flying aircraft, I love my Gemini 2 2004
I love my 2004 Gemini Twin; it flys great. It is a lot more comfortable than my Inspirators Buckeye 2-seater, but it takes a big box trailer to haul the Gemini around.