“Come Josephine in my flying machine...”
If you have heard the sound of a motor humming in the air over Larned, it is not a bird, it is not a plane, it is... Chaz Beckwith! And what an interesting sport he enjoys. Beckwith flies a powered paraglider, also known as the sport of “paramotoring,” where the pilot wears a back-mounted 2-stroke engine motor which provides enough thrust to take off using a paraglider. It can be launched in still air, and on level ground by the pilot alone – no assistance is required.
How did he get involved in this sport?
“I have always been into sky sports and have loved them forever. I started out as a skydiver when I was going to school at K-State. I made my first jump there, but it was super expensive and when I moved back to Larned in 2013, I decided to try it again; this time to Wichita. The two-hour drive and the need for good weather hindered my trips. It wasn’t worth it because I could just never do it.”
Beckwith discovered paramotoring on YouTube. He researched to see if there were any instructors in Kansas, and there was one, Michael Holiday, in Neodesha. Chaz contacted him and started his training, receiving his certification there.
“I am very regulated by the weather and, to be comfortable and fun, the wind needs to be 10 mph or less,” Beckwith said. “The past windy, rainy, months have not cooperated. Less wind is better for a smooth flight. It’s comparable to taking a boat out on a lake. You don’t want the water to be choppy, but to be smooth. I can go as high as I can breathe. The highest I have been is 5,000 feet, but honestly, I have more fun flying low. When you are flying high you go for the view but it feels like you are floating in space, and you cannot tell how fast you are moving. I prefer to fly low where I can explore. I can fly so low and slow I can literally drag my feet across the ground. It’s called ‘foot dragging’”
He explained how convenient and mobile the paraglider is.
“The paraglider is easy to store. I can keep it in my garage, and I can throw it in the back of my truck at a moment’s notice; all I need is an open area. It’s very mobile. Most of the time I fly from the airport, but just lately I flew from the practice field at the high school,” he said.
“There are some laws I have to abide by. My 5-gallon tank of gas lets me fly for roughly 3 1/2 hours but, by law, I cannot carry a larger tank than 5 gallons. Technically, I cannot fly over an assembly of persons like a football game or over a town without permission. Laws and regulations come about when people abuse them. Everyone in the sport is working to abide by the laws to keep this sport as restriction-free as possible as that’s what makes it such a beautiful sport.” He added with a smile, “I try to stay away from people’s cattle and am careful of what land I am flying over. The main thing is not to make people mad.
“What’s so cool about this sport is I get to see Larned in a different view that nobody else gets to and I can go where other aircraft cannot. In a paramotor I can see clearly in front of me. It’s a flying lawn chair! I have the motor behind me, I am sitting, and literally there is nothing restricting my view. It’s the closest thing to flying naturally. That’s another thing: Often because I fly low, you can hear me but cannot see me,” he said.
“My helmet is a Bluetooth motorcycle apparatus meant to block out the wind. By integrating the Bluetooth into my helmet, I can take phone calls, text, and listen to music. I do fly with a reserve parachute that sits across my lap and works as a flight deck.
“It’s something I will do for the rest of my life, as long as I can run. The landing gear is your feet. The sport is safe as you make it. My instructor has a motto, ‘Don’t let your confidence and consistency turn into complacency,’ In this sport, complacency kills.
“I am also slowly working at getting into ACRO (acrobatic) stunts. I have done ACRO maneuvers and am learning the different stunts like ‘wingovers.’ The first time I tried this, it was amazing. I love it!”
Beciwith added that there is an organization, the United States Powered Paragliding Association (USPPA), which enrolls and supports members, connecting the paragliding community as a sponsor of events and as a news source. Their events require paraglider participants to be certified.
“Other than that,” Beckwith concluded, “we are very free.”