Parachute enthusiasts drop by Amidon

This year Amidon was added as the last stop for a group of flying powered parachute enthusiasts.


By RACHEL BOCK | Herald Reporter

This year Amidon was added as the last stop for a group of flying powered parachute enthusiasts.

Karl Johnson from Grand Rapids, Minn., has been flying small aircraft called powered parachutes, or PPC, for over 17 years. He is part of a group that includes 23 other PPC enthusiasts that travel around the upper Midwest for a weeklong tour called the Gypsy Tour.

The group travels from the Minnesota and Wisconsin border, down to the North and South Dakota border, usually around the second week of August when weather conditions, primarily wind speeds, are the calmest in North Dakota.

The powered parachute group has members from North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin, with members’ ages ranging from 26 to 78 years old.

During the tour, the group travels together and stays in various locations, camping and flying.

Amidon was the last stop of the tour.

Cody Sauter from Velva is a member of the PPC group. His brother, Jamie, is an Amidon resident. Sauter’s father-in-law, who is also involved with the group, decided that Amidon would make a great stop to end the tour.

The groups setup their camping gear and readied their aircraft on land owned by Don Nordby, located next to the Amidon Fire Hall.

The event added plenty of excitement Friday and Saturday for spectators in the area enjoying a burger at the fire hall.

“We just like to try different places, and do different things and that’s how we ended up here,” Johnson said.

A powered parachute is an ultra light aircraft that has a two-stroke motor, similar to those used in snowmobiles. They also have wheels, a parachute, and can hold five to 10 gallons of fuel. The powered parachutes can travel 30 mph and can be flown in the air for roughly three hours at heights ranging from less than 50 feet to as high as 10,000 feet.

Ideal wind speeds are needed to be at 15 mph or less for the aircraft to be able to take off and fly. Usually the mornings and the evenings are ideal flying times, since the wind is usually at its lowest speed.

A new, single-place PPC—a one-person powered parachute—costs around $10,000 and falls under the Federal Aviation Regulations, which does not require the operator to have a license. The single place can only hold five gallons of fuel, can only carry one person, and the weight needs to be less than 254 pounds. A two-seat powered parachute can cost up to $20,000 brand new. Pilots for those do need to be certified with a sport pilot certificate.

Johnson, who owns an 80-acre farm and makes his living shoeing horses in his hometown, takes his single-place powered parachute out and flies every chance he can. Johnson likes to keep his hobby a secret, as he enjoys flying as a recreational sport as opposed to making it a business.

“That is why I didn’t want to be a flight instructor, because it’s my recreation. Yes, I could go give rides for money; I could do a lot of things but its recreation that’s how I want to keep it,” Johnson said.

One of Johnson’s most memorable experiences while on the Gypsy Tour occurred near a ranch in Grassy Butte.

While he was flying, he rounded up roughly 300 head of cattle into a circle—accidentally.

Johnson apologized to the rancher, thinking he had done something wrong. The rancher, instead of being angry, welcomed him to come in autumn to help round up cattle for him again.

“The rancher said, ‘Do you realize what you just did in about an hour is what it takes us days to do,’” Johnson said.

The group ended its tour Aug. 16. While spending two days in the area, the group had plans to fly over the Badlands and the Little Missouri River.

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