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Aerochute Story in Herald Sun Newspaper

Bringing Flying to the Masses with an Aerochute Powered Parachute

Writer: Jonathan Hawley
Photos by Jonathan Hawley

 

It happens so quickly there’s virtually no time for second thoughts. After a rapid-fire pre-flight check of seatbelts, helmets and fuel delivery, pilot Stephen Conte fires up the engine, the propeller’s backwash fills the trailing parachute and our spindly conveyance goes bumping across what looks suspiciously like a cow paddock.

After barely 15 metres the wheels stop hitting the bumps and begin to float: we are airborne, and climbing into the wide blue yonder.

This is flying, no doubt about it. We’re just beyond Melbourne’s suburban fringe near Werribee and there’s the city in the distance, Port Phillip Bay to the right and the Dandenongs far beyond. Directly below, the flat fields have visually expanded: the hills on the horizon are now almost touchable, there are tracks, dams, windmills and yes indeed, plenty of cows.

Business class travel it isn’t. Pilot and passenger are crammed onto a small settee and apart from the seatbelt there’s nothing between you and the elements apart, of course, from an amply stuffed pair of overalls to keep the wind at bay. I see my knees, the tips of my boots then the ground below.

Welcome to the world of Aerochutes, surely one of the cheapest ways to achieve powered flight in absolute safety.

If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a pilot but don’t have the time or money to get your licence then how does this sound: spend as little as five hours being taught how to take off, steer and land an Aerochute and you’re ready for solo flying. It’s that easy. Alternatively you can turn up on a Sunday morning and just go for a ride, like we did.

Part of the secret to an Aerochute’s accessibility is the simplicity of the machine itself. This particular example is manufactured in Melbourne by Aerochute International Pty Ltd, a company not coincidentally owned by my pilot. It consists of a roughly triangular frame with a Rotax two-stroke engine and propeller mounted on the back, a seat at the front, four wheels underneath and a few basic instruments.

And that’s about it except, of course, for the chute which acts as a wing for lift. It is also a fairly comprehensive safety device because it cannot be stalled (lose lift, that is), does not spiral and if the engine should cut out it lowers the whole shebang reasonably gently to earth, much like a normal parachute.

“We had a few incidents like that in the early days of Aerochuting,” says Conte. “But not any more and there’s never been a death or even serious injury so the safety record is excellent.”

The whole thing fits comfortably into a medium sized trailer and keen Aerochutists tend to take their aircraft on holidays with them.

Get permission to use a suitably flat piece of ground, keep out of restricted air spaces and you could be whale watching off the coast, circling the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia or checking out any of Australia’s marvels from the air.

There are costs involved, of course, not least of which is purchasing your very own flying machine. Aerochute International has two models, the basic 52 horsepower Aerochute for around $20,000 or the more powerful Hummerchute which can carry more weight and costs around $26,000. That’s fully built to Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) standards and includes everything from the engine, the chute and even air in the tyres. It’s not chickenfeed, but it’s a lot less than a Cessna.

Far from being a backyard operation, the company employs 10 people and is an Aussie export success story with its Aerochutes going to the USA and Europe where they are valued for their light but strong frames and handy side-by-side seating arrangement.

So, how do they go? Top speed is limited to about 70km/h mainly because the 10 metre-wide chute creates plenty of aerodynamic drag as well as lift. Perhaps more importantly they can go much slower if you want to get down to treetop level and investigate something interesting.

Maximum legal ceiling height is 5000 feet although because “our” cow paddock is not far from Avalon Airport we don’t go above 1000 feet. Which seems plenty, given we’re basically in a propeller-driven go-kart hanging from a nylon bag.

And that’s what we do for a good half hour, buzzing around the area, heading down almost to ground level to follow a rutted track, practise a few touch-and-go landings and some steep turns. There’s a pilot-to-passenger intercom and a radio to contact other flyers but considering you have everything hanging out in the breeze, sometimes it’s just as easy to wave.

The controls are amazingly simple: there’s a foot operated throttle for maximum power on take off and steering is done by pulling the chute’s two cords to turn left or right. Throttle down to land, flare the chute back like a parachutist and you’re back in the paddock. Conte is a qualified instructor and has taught hundreds how to do it.

There’s a club, of course, called the Aerochute Association of Australia which operates out of Victoria, although members are from all over the country and even New Zealand and the USA. They’re hoping to get the biggest massed flight of at least 38 Aerochutists airborne sometime soon, which might even make Werribee’s nonchalant bovine population give a second glance upwards.

On this particular Sunday morning there’s just the four Aerochutes, two taking some pretty excited civilians on joy flights, the others just there for the flying. It’s all very pleasant and you can’t help feeling this was how flying used to be: no airports, queues or aggravation, just a bunch of guys and gals in a paddock tinkering with machines then taking them for a spurt. It’s something anyone with half a hankering to get airborne could get used to.

 

Please check out the link below for the original article and more photos!

http://www.eclipsemagazine.com.au/autumn-2013/aerochute

Come Fly With Me

By Mark Smith

 

TEN kilometres to the west of Werribee lies a small airfield that’s home to an unusual aircraft. While a Jetstar Airbus flies overhead, inbound to Avalon, a small engine roars as a strange-looking cart with two people on board moves forward, attached to a large parachute that fills with air. Inside, pilot Steve Conte is introducing potential student Darryl Deller to the joys of flying an Aerochute.

A short run along the bumpy runway and the cart, which looks ungainly on the ground, lifts off and heads skywards, suddenly gaining a smooth grace like a soaring bird.

Conte has been operating from the strip for 15 years, teaching people to fly the Aerochute aircraft his company builds in Coburg. “We get a lot of people who just want to have a try flying in something that’s different. It’s an unusual, but very safe, way to get into the air,’’ Conte says. ‘‘It’s a lot of fun and very easy to fly. You can’t stall them or spin them, and if you have an engine failure you just parachute slowly down to the ground.”

At the end of his half-hour flight, Deller agrees. “It’s fantastic. You get up there and have the wind in your face. You look down and realise there’s nothing between you and the ground except the seat you’re sitting on.

“It’s certainly very adventurous. I’ve never done anything like this before. Steve’s a great pilot. He let me take the controls, which I didn’t expect.”

Another potential student, Jodie Wood, of Bonbeach, was equally impressed with her Aerochute experience. “It was like being on a flying motorbike just above the ground. My favorite part was watching the kangaroos as we flew above them.

“It’s definitely a thrill, but a very comfortable thrill. The seat is like sitting in your lounge chair.”

Please click the link below for more detail.

http://www.mooneevalleyweekly.com.au/story/1311563/come-fly-with-me/?cs=1230

Weird and Wonderful Flying Machine

By Stuart Kennedy

It was dawn. It was cold. And Stephen Conte had to be kidding. I was in the middle of inspecting a hangar full of beautiful (and very airworthy) looking sailplanes when the sound of a loud two-stroke engine shattered the early morning tranquility. Outside the hangar sat a tricycle with the lanky frame of Aerochute manufacturer Stephen Conte hunkered down in its bench seat.

Gliders may not have motor but at least they have wings. Conte’s craft didn’t appear to have a prayer of flying let alone any visible means of aerial support. All the trike had - lying in the dirt behind - was a huge, multi-colored rag attached by a tangle of cords.

But then came a miracle. Conte cranked the two-stroke motor hanging off the back of the trike to full noise and the giant rag was transformed. First, the pusher prop blew it off the dirt. Then the trike rushed forward and a parachute swung up and blossomed above. One blink later and Conte was airborne, screeching into the distance like a lawnmower gone wrong. The whole process can’t have taken more than 15 seconds; it was like watching a parachute landing in reverse.

A few circuits for the camera and Conte lands. My turn to fly. On goes a mandatory open face motorcycle helmet along with a thick pair of gloves in deference to the early morning freeze. I strap in next to Conte - accommodation for two is tight on the thin bench seat.

Clear prop, zip start and we are off into the take off roll. Conte looks back and up to make sure we have a flyable wing, decides we don’t, chops the power and we roll to a halt. It’s my first aborted take off in any flying machine and I start to wonder whether the Aerochute is as safe as the promotional blurb makes out.

The Aerochute design idea came from a Ministry of Defence specification calling for a durable, easily rigged and transportable machine that was simple enough to fly for the dumbest grunt with the worst hangover. It also had to be hard to crash.

We get set for take off again. A heavy dew has wetted the nylon ‘chute causing deployment problems. But this time the wing swings up sweetly and, after a much longer roll than Conte’s one-up take off, the little ship gets off the deck. We climb to 150m and watch the world awake. All is serenely beautiful but my rational mind starts to wonder about the structural integrity of the four solitary D rings holding the ‘chute harness on (the karabiners are similar to those used in hang gliders and could probably secure the QEII). From there it wanders to the possibility of an errant propeller mowing through the lines - but they’re made of Spectre, which is strong enough to foul the prop before a line could possibly break.

My gloomy reverie is broken by Conte screaming something through the two stroke din. I shrug my hands up to motion that I don’t understand and Conte responds by handing me the controls. Oh my God, I’ve got the ship. Fear turns from illusion to the real thing.

Flying an Aerochute is bone simple. A foot throttle controls the climb and descent. Put the boot in and the Aerochute climbs; back off and it descends, and somewhere in the middle of the throttle travel it cruises level. Full tilt is 70km/h with a minimum airspeed of 40km/h. Aerochute flying controls consist of two steering toggles (or “brakes” in parachute talk), which hang down at shoulder height. Pull left to go left and right to go right. One foot goes on the throttle bar and the other can do what it likes. Conte has a hand throttle designed so that paraplegics can fly the craft.
The Aerochute has to be one of the world’s most austere powered aircraft. The only contraption more minimal is a Para glider with an engine that straps to the pilot’s back.

I grip the brakes as if they were Lotto cheques. “Turn left!” gets hollered in my ear and I give the left brake a half-inch tug. We keep sailing off to the right in the general direction of New Zealand “More!” and I give it another half inch. New Zealand remains the destination. A hand grabs my left wrist and reefs it down a good 12 inches. The ship responds smartly by swiveling left and heading for Brisbane. Aaah ha - a little bit of effort goes a long way in steering the thing. Bank in turns is gentle, even with the steering toggles pulled all the way to the stops. The ship will fly straight and level with hands off the brakes.

Conte is managing director of Aerochute Industries, which distributes the machine throughout Australia and overseas. He sees the domestic market for the Aerochute split between sport flyers wanting to get into the air quickly, safely and cheaply, and farmers using the Aerochute like an aerial trail bike. The Aerochute machines have been sold worldwide, with the majority going to recreation flying and farmers for aerial survey work.

Selling points are ease of use and safety. Australian regulations call for 20 hours instruction as per ultra-light pilots.

The Aerochute is certified under Air Navigation Order 95.32, which relates to powered parachutes and trike hang-gliders. Under ANO 95.32 the Aerochute can be flown to a maximum altitude of 1500m (true ceiling is 3050m) and can be flown cross-country so long as you stay out of controlled airspace. Gusty winds will keep an Aerochute pilot on the deck, as flying is not recommended in winds over 15 knots and the maximum allowed crosswind for landing is five knots.

Conte says the most obvious safety feature is the wing; if something goes wrong then you have already bailed out under a good ‘chute.

In more than 10,000 hours of operations world-wide there has yet to be a serious Aerochute crash. The aircraft is incapable of getting into a spin and stops in the brake lines make it impossible to stall the ram air wing. The machine has been flown 1500km across the Australian outback and has been tested for high altitude, high temperature performance in North East Africa. A variant equipped with skis and balloon tyres was flown around the Arctic for three months.

We land. This is achieved by leveling out close to the ground, backing off the throttle, and pulling on both brakes. The increase in drag on the wing pitches the nose up and the craft touches down back wheels first. Braking during the landing roll is accomplished by extending a Reebok until the ship stops.

My second flight is much more relaxed. This time I know the thing is a gentle flyer and I get involved with enjoying rather than worrying. The sensation of flying low and slow is fabulous: there is no cockpit to dampen the experience of being in the air and you can watch the countryside roll under in exquisite detail. The feeling is God-like. My grin has spread to the vicinity of my ears by the time Conte lands and I am hooked. As the ship rolls to a halt all I want to do is hand over the readies and make it mine!

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North Coburg, Victoria
Australia 3058

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