Powered Parachute Safety (PPCs)

 

PPCs are considered by many to be safer than normal fixed-wing aircraft because of their inherent stability, limited response to control inputs, and stall resistance. There are two primary means to control a PPC: increasing or decreasing engine power (which controls vertical rate of climb) and deflecting the right or left trailing edge of the parachute—typically by moving the steering bars with the feet—which turns the aircraft right or left. If the trailing edge of the wing is pulled in on both sides at the same time, the aircraft "flares," i.e., slows and temporarily gains additional lift. The flare is generally used to make fine adjustments in altitude when flying close to the ground and, in particular, when landing.

The power-off glide ratio of a powered parachute ranges from 3:1 to 6:1. Glide ratio varies depending on the chute size and shape, and the weight that the chute is carrying, as well as the wind speed and direction during time of flight. Engine-off landings are generally safe, provided that the aircraft is within glide range of a suitable landing zone and the pilot is properly trained in the use of proper "Flare" technique. "Flaring", in terms of Powered Parachuting, refers to the usage of the steering bars pushed out simultaneously, causing the aircraft to "rock" forward. This is caused by the reshaping of the rear of the "Wing" or parachute, which is pulled downwards, this results in the entire aircraft rocking on the lateral axis. Thus slowing the aircraft momentarily, allowing an engine-out landing to become less brutal within the last few feet of the ground. Done properly, flaring will allow an engine-out landing to be much smoother than simply relying on the "Lift" of the Ram-Air to cushion the landing. Every tip and technique comes with experience, and differs with every pilot.


A powered parachute with its wing laid out in preparation for takeoff.
Although possible, it is difficult to cause the aircraft to get into a dangerous attitude, stall, or chute collapse by means of pilot control inputs. Chute collapse is considered by many pilots to be virtually impossible with Square "Wings." The wing is more likely to collapse with the more maneuverable but less inherently stable Elliptical Wing, but such collapses are normally followed by an immediate reflation and often go unnoticed by the pilot. In these rare circumstances where an elliptical wing collapses, the collapse is caused either by some extreme adverse meteorological condition or by pilot error. (The Federal Aviation Administration reports that over 80 percent of all aviation accidents are due to pilot error.) Inflatable Ram-Air elliptical wings can have upward of 30 individual cells whereas square wings typically have fewer than 13 cells.

The main hazards one faces while flying a powered parachute are associated with wind and obstacles. Flight should not be attempted in winds exceeding 10–15 mph or in gusty conditions. Wind hazards include terrain-induced air disturbances called rotors (it is advisable to stay upwind of trees, mountains, and other obstacles that disturb the flow of the wind). Wake turbulence created by the passage of other aircraft (referred to as "Wingtip Vortices") especially aircraft that are heavy, aerodynamically "Dirty", and slow...pose another significant hazard. And since the slow-moving powered parachute (like the helicopter) is particularly well equipped to fly safely near the ground, however, special care must be taken to avoid power lines, trees, and other low-level terrain obstacles.