A New Powered Parachute From a Well-Known Leader
Randy Snead branches out into his own company
Once an important figure in
Buckeye Industries, Randy is
known to many as the man
who worked on the technical
side and performed flight-testing for
Buckeye. When the former company fell
into struggle (see Editor’s Note), Randy
departed to do his own thing. Customers
who followed state, “It’s the people
behind the company” that are important.
I can find no argument with this
approach; we all tend to trust those we
In turn, Randy is assisted by people he
trusts. His wife, Fern, is the business
manager and also operates the parts and
ordering department for the young firm.
Their son, Jeremiah, has experience in
general aviation aircraft, weight-shift
trikes, and powered parachutes, and he’s
built many powered parachutes. In the
EAA way, Gemini Powered Parachutes is
a family affair.
“It’s the American way” say others.
The ease with which folks like Randy can
start off on their own demonstrates
America’s support of entrepreneurialism,
part of what makes this country great.
When times got tough, Randy set off to
make his own way.
Though the field is now crowded with
about 20 powered parachute producers,
Gemini Powered Parachutes views the
future as full of promise. “The industry
just started growing in the last five years,”
Randy says. “Before that, it was hardly
noticed.” Indeed, a decade ago only three
large producers existed: Paraplane, Six
Chuter, and Buckeye Industries.
“People like to fly low and slow,”
continues Randy, and I agree. While it is
true that many pilots will gravitate
toward the 130-mph little airplanes of
the proposed light-sport aircraft category,
others aren’t moved by speed or fully
“Over the years, I’ve trained a dozen
or more airline pilots to fly powered
parachutes,” explains Randy. These pilots
are qualified to fly anything they want
(usually with incomes to allow most
purchases as well), and yet these 500-
mph aviators were drawn to the low-andslow
powered parachute arena.
Randy sees room for plenty of growth.
The mid-90s boom of powered
parachutes attracted plenty of other
producers. Some have created high
overhead to support their products, but
Gemini plans to survive any shakeout by
keeping its overhead low and by offering
good products at low prices with
reasonable delivery times.
“We have middle of the road pricing,”
says Randy, adding that his basic but
well-equipped model sells for $13,000,
and the electric start E-box version is
$13,600. A recently instituted Rotax price
increase bumped the numbers a few
hundred dollars. “As a small producer, we
had to pass that cost along to customers,”
Refining the Breed
When he departed Buckeye for his
own venture, Randy was experienced in
building powered parachutes, and he had
plenty of his own ideas to improve the
vehicles he had represented. “I took a little of everybody else’s best,” he
summarizes, “and then I added my own
He made the rear suspension beefier,
replacing the typical 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.
Gemini Powered Parachutes worked to
assure more creature comforts by using
separate, supportive velour-covered seats.
Separate seats for each occupant seem
superior to the previously conventional
powered parachute seats that placed the
back of the pilot against his or her rearseat
occupant. Other companies have
also embraced this development, and
most pilots and passengers will probably
prefer separate seats. Shoulder belts at
each seat should secure the occupants
“Older eyes need a little help,” Randy
correctly identifies, “so we moved the
instrument panel a bit closer to the
pilot.” Like other powered parachute
manufacturers, Gemini prefers the
electronic instrument packages that offer
lots of information, but some users feel
these are harder to read at a glance than
old-fashioned needle gauges. Randy also
moved all the controls closer, saying that
he “wants students to be able to reach
everything while securely belted in.”
The instrument panel and controls
can be located closer to the pilot thanks
to the addition of upper fuselage bars,
those large diameter tubes that run in
front of and above the occupants.
Powrachute, a competing manufacturer,
first popularized these bars, and now
these bars are popping up on powered
parachutes everywhere. Often referred to
as “rollover bars,” the tubes certainly
offer a measure of protection on landings
and while flying near ground obstacles,
although the industry tries not to draw
attention to such problems for liability
In my experience of flying with this
tubing framework, I could easily see its
protective value, although it does
somewhat block visibility and erode that
hugely open feel of flying a powered
A single strobe light comes standard to
help make you obvious to other aircraft,
while options include electric starting,
dual controls, dual strobes, a four-blade
Ivo prop, a choice of parachute parafoil
brands, a choice of airframe colors, and
factory assembly. Gemini Powered
Parachutes can also set you up with a
trailer to haul it all.
Operating a Gemini
Gemini’s “joystick throttle” comes
from the Buckeye design, which I flew a
few years ago. Because I now have
experience with other control systems in
newer powered parachutes, I asked Randy
about his continuing use of the joystick
In my experience, thinking of the
throttle as a joystick proved distracting.
When I first flew a Buckeye Dream
Machine with this throttle arrangement, I
had an experience that I now find
humorous—I inappropriately used the
throttle and started to pull the joystick
back to stop a launch I felt wasn’t right.
In so doing, I added power and things
got worse before they got better.
(Nothing came of the misapplication of
power, and a few minutes later I was
soloing the Dream Machine without
problems.) The error was clearly mine,
but it showed how the joystick throttle
can introduce wrong responses from
pilots used to “pull-for-less-power”
Randy has trained a number of pilots
with conventional throttle experience.
He says that he tells them to “forget the
word throttle.” He never terms the
joystick as a power control, instead
directing his transition students to think
of it as a “pitch control” or “stick.” In so
doing, he says his conventional pilot
students have never had control reversal
problems. A Piper Cherokee pilot himself,
Randy is also able to make the transition
by using his “not a throttle” mantra.
By making the “stick” function like it
does, Randy has helped it do double
duty. The same lever also steers the
chassis while on the ground. With the
stick linked to the nose wheel by
conventional pushrods, the Gemini
features push-right, go-right steering. This
is an improvement over the older
Buckeye model that had two levers: one
for power (or “pitch control”) and one for
steering. With the old steering lever, you
pushed forward to go right and pull aft to
go left. I found that counterintuitive, and
it was these two unorthodox controls
that were the source of my distraction in
that early takeoff.
Ready for Certification
While the proposed light-sport aircraft
(LSA) category with its FAA-mandated
consensus standards may be scaring a few
powered parachute manufacturers, it’s
not causing Gemini any concern. That’s
because Randy was involved with
Buckeye Industries’ attempt to qualify its
rig for Primary aircraft certification.
“If FAA had the money, [Buckeye]
could have had a certified aircraft five or
six years ago. All the work was done,”
recalls Randy. He feels a confluence of
events conspired to suffocate the effort.
ValuJet had just crashed into the south
Florida swamps, and FAA focused its
efforts on common carrier problems. The
Buckeye Primary aircraft effort was put
on the far back burner and never came to
the forefront again.
Too bad, perhaps. Randy had taken
Barry Valentine, then acting FAA
administrator, aloft at the Sun ’n Fun Fly-
In in 1996, and Valentine was highly
supportive of the certificated Buckeye,
says Randy. In those days, industry
comment on rules came from the “Big
Three” of powered parachute producers—
Paraplane, Six Chuter, and Buckeye—and
it was fairly easy to get agreement
between the three builders. Now, with 20
companies having input, Randy feels the
process of finding consensus has become
much more challenging.
In the mid-90s, Randy worked with
Ben Morrow to prepare pilots for flying a
Primary aircraft powered parachute. The
effort produced a document available
from FAA’s Kansas City office called the
Practical Test Standards for powered
parachute pilots. This effort may be used
in the new process of devising rules for
sport pilots. With FAA’s newest
regulation on the near horizon, Randy is
serving on an ASTM (American Society
for Testing and Materials) committee
that’s creating the consensus standards
for powered parachutes.
“The proposed light-sport aircraft
category could open up a lot of doors,”
Randy says. “Some entities can’t use our
aircraft today,” referring to
municipalities, police departments,
forestry services, and private corporations
that might find a use for powered
parachutes, because they are nervous
about the perceived lack of licensing,
insurance, and regulations. Under the
proposed sport pilot/light-sport aircraft
rules, some of these barriers could fall.
Randy will use his expertise to assure
the strength and quality of materials used
in light-sport aircraft category powered
parachutes. He says, “Our goal is for these
machines to last a long time. We don’t
want them to wear out in four to five
years,” noting that Cessna and Piper
build aircraft that last a very long time.
Randy went on to state his view of the
role of the powered parachute committee
of the ASTM effort. “LSA powered
parachutes won’t stall, will do 50- to 60-
degree banks without falling out of the
sky, and will land without parts flying
off.” The goals sound simple, but
involving a group of 20 manufacturers in
the process isn’t easy.
Gemini in the Skies
I felt one of the most important
questions I could ask Randy was how he
advises new pilots to choose the right
wing or parachute. In my experience
flying several other powered parachute
brands, I found the manufacturers were
not focused on wings. To me, the
competition appeared to be all about the
carriages. It turns out my view was
something of an oversimplification.
“Every two years, there’s a completely
new wing,” claims Randy. It may not be
the same as Moore’s law of computer
chips (regularly doubling processor
power), yet a new wing every couple
years certainly reveals growth in the
powered parachute community.
After I asked more questions about the
shapes and sizes of canopies, Randy
detailed the history of powered parachute
wings in the last five to six years. He says
the shapes have evolved from rectangular
to elliptical, though the rectangular
parachutes are still the most common
(and are the right choice for most
newcomers). Sizes have also changed
from 450 square feet to 550 or more. One company is offering a 610-square-foot
chute, according to Randy.
However, even the original
rectangular canopy is evolving. Randy
referred to the new Skybolt canopy from
High Energy Sports that he says can do a
360-degree turn in three seconds!
Indeed, performance has crept into
the equation. While most powered
parachutes fly at about the same speed—
from 26 to 34 mph—some have begun to
push the envelope. Elliptical canopies
include the granddaddy of the segment,
the Chiron wing from an Israeli
company. These higher aspect wings
offer a somewhat increased speed range
and snappier control line response.
When I was under the Chiron wing, it
was able to speed up in shallow dives and
reacted quickly to reversing turn inputs.
Randy says you usually select a wing
that is sized to the load you’ll put on it. If
you and your flying friend are of modest
build, a 500-square-foot wing might be
the best. This is the size Randy prefers for
the machines he flies. But I asked about
big guys with experience who want to go
faster. For them, Gemini will recommend
an elliptically shaped wing, not a smallersized
one (that is, one with less square
feet of area).
Gemini prefers to work with two wing
suppliers, Apco of Israel and High Energy
Sports of California. The U.S. company—
which I knew of long before they started
building powered parachute canopies—is
partnered with Bill Gargano, a parachute
design expert respected in the general
parachute community. Randy says, “I’ve
known Bill for many years, and I think
his work for powered parachutes is the
Gemini would like to log sales of 200
units a year but predicts about half that
for the near term. Most ultralight
airframe makers would consider that a
terrific delivery performance. My regular
inquiries of Rotax distributors confirm
that powered parachute producers
remain the biggest buyers of that
company’s two-stroke engines, that
overwhelmingly being the 582.
Gemini predicts growth from new
interest overseas. “Israel is developing a
powered parachute community, and we
expect to make sales in France, Germany,
and Spain,” Randy adds. He senses that
interest in powered paragliders—the footlaunched,
backpack sister to powered
parachutes—may spur interest in U.S.-
style powered parachutes. “Europeans
also like wheels and creature comforts,”
Currently, France has a couple
domestic machines (one, the Sylphe, was
displayed at Sun ’n Fun 2002), otherwise
the Americans largely have the
international market to themselves, at
least for a time. Gemini hopes to get its
To keep American and foreign buyers
coming, Randy’s mantra for Gemini is to
keep the prices modest, the aircraft
reliable, the service good, and the
That sounds like a good way to please
customers to me.
Editor’s Note: Buckeye Industries, the
enterprise that once employed Randy
Snead, is now involved in a Chapter 11
bankruptcy filing. Buckeye Aviation is the
newly formed company that displayed
Buckeye powered parachutes at EAA
AirVenture Oshkosh 2002.
|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).
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