BROWNSVILLE, Ore. (AP) — Jim Tice of E.D. Hughes Excavating in Philomath spends his weekdays managing dirt moving projects.
But on the weekends, the Corvallis resident straps a 25-horsepower engine to his back and turns his attention skyward, taking flight with a powered paraglider.
Tice was among more than 30 pilots of experimental aircraft who attended the seventh annual Mid-Valley Fly-In at the Ken Sayer farm east of Brownsville. Some families spent the entire week, while others came for a weekend of fun.
"I couldn't afford a real one," Tice, 51, said of his decision to buy a backpack unit instead of a powered parachute when he was introduced to the hobby eight years ago. He said the former cost about $8,000, while the latter range from $15,000 to $30,000 or more.
He now has one of each.
Tice called his pursuit "every kid's dream," but admitted he should have taken lessons rather than learn on his own. No pilot's license is required.
"I am self-taught and there were several near-death experiences," Tice said. "I went through five or six propellers before I got it right."
The 223-pound Tice said that with the right wind pattern, he can travel up to 21 miles per hour for about two hours at a time. The unit's fuel tank will hold 21/2 gallons of gasoline. Unlike larger units, Tice has to run from a few yards to a few hundred feet before the unit's parachute catches enough air to pull him aloft.
The backpack weighs about 65 pounds and the parachute is about 33 feet wide. The unit is steered much like a motorcycle, in that Tice uses body movements to turn left or right.
"My body becomes the rudder," Tice said. "It's the scariest thing I have ever done, but I love it."
Tice purchased the unit from a man in Eugene, who flew it only one time. Although Tice said he enjoys flying over mid-valley farms, he has also flown in St. George, Utah, and near Palm Springs, Calif.
Art Smith of Amboy, Wash., is president of the Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 127 that sponsors the annual fly-in of mostly powered parachutes and powered trikes.
"We have about 130 total members," Smith said. "We're one of, if not the largest chapter in the United States."
Smith said the chapter was formed in 2002 with five members.
This year's flights were mainly in the early morning because the wind picked up most evenings last week.
In addition to being an inexpensive way to enjoy flying, Smith said the powered parachutes and trikes are used in Clark County, Wash., for search and rescue missions.
"They are also used to help locate people with Alzheimer's who have wandered away from home or a care facility," Smith said. "They wear a transponder and the ultralight pilots can mark their location with a GPS."
Ellen Franklin of Sherwood took her first flight Saturday morning and called it, "Beyond my expectations. I don't like heights, but it was amazing to look down. It was like we were floating."
Ken Sayer, an ultralight pilot himself, said he enjoys hosting the event because the pilots and their families "are wonderful people. I never have to worry about them and when they leave, there's not so much as a gum wrapper left on the ground."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.