Published 12:00 am Friday, May 9, 2008

‘Chutists drop in for visit

By Rupert Howell
They’ve flown in 24 of the lower 48 and added Mississippi to their list last week and although the weather didn’t cooperate, they were drenched with Mississippi hospitality.

On caravan number four, eight couples and families from four or five states decided to add Mississippi to their list. While talking with a fellow power parachutist, Hal Houston, formerly of Panola County, suggested the group make a stop at the Panola County Airport where the sheriff was also a power parachutist.

A power parachute resembles a go-cart with an air-boat-type fan behind it and hangs from the air while traversing the countryside on a parachute.

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Not only did the local sheriff, Shot Bright, welcome the caravan of campers, he fed the a home-style dinner on Wednesday night complete with gravy made by the sheriff himself.

Lyman Johnston of Welch, Oklahoma explains that the group won’t fly if the winds are 10 miles an hour or above.

His machine is considered the “Cadillac” of power parachutes and guesses he’s got about $40,000 in the machine. Smaller single seat versions can be purchased for around $10,000 he says.

The machines may go up to 30 miles per hour and have a range of approximately 15 miles.

Susi Vietti of Chanute, Kansas says she is the first female sports pilot in the U.S. She got her license less than a year after regulations changed requiring sports parachutist to be licensed.

Susi’s arm was in a sling and her husband, Bill, had several obvious scrapes and bruises about his upper torso.

Their injuries were not due to flying, but four-wheeling. Susi explains that’s what they do when wind is too high to fly.

The machines are guided by peddles connected to the parachute. Push with the right foot and turn right–the left and turn left. Push the throttle forward and go up. Pull the throttle back and come down. Sounds simple.

“When something happens, it’s usually pilot error,” Johnston explains.

Or four-wheeler driver error – it appears.