Saturday, June 24, 2017

Newbury, Essex County, Massachusetts: Selectmen hear paragliding request

NEWBURY — One minute you are trotting slowly and awkwardly along the ground; then suddenly, you are gliding gracefully up and beyond the tree line, experiencing freedom like none other.

This is part of what makes powered paragliding such an enticing sport and one that a group of local enthusiasts hope to bring to Newbury.

In a letter to Police Chief Michael Reilly dated May 6, paraglider Domenic Martinello made the case for why he and others who participate in the sport should be able to launch their craft from Manter Field, near the old Byfield airport.

 Martinello, who lives in Chester, New Hampshire, is director of emergency medical services for Anna Jaques Hospital in Newburyport.

Reilly forwarded the letter to selectmen, who had mixed feelings about the idea when discussing it at a recent meeting. Selectman JR Colby felt the sport was dangerous and noted that paragliders who start on town land can very quickly wind up flying over private property.

But Selectman Chuck Bear had a somewhat different perspective.

 “It’s a blast to do,” said Bear, who believed the request was “at least worth considering.”

 Should approval be given for the sport, the town must not be held liable, insisted colleague Damon Jespersen. In the end, selectmen decided to forward the request to the Recreation Committee for further investigation.

Around since the 1990s and considered the simplest form of flight, powered paragliding consists of an elongated fabric parachute typically launched from a flat, open field with an engine stored inside a backpack worn by the pilot.

“You throttle up and start to run. Your wing fills with air and springs to life, coming overhead as you squeeze a hand-held trigger to throttle up. With a few more steps, you’re flying,” states a pamphlet on the sport created by the U.S. Powered Paragliding Association.

The gliders can fly for about two hours on 1.5 gallons of fuel at altitudes from 20 to 500 feet. They make about as much noise as a lawnmower “and when more than a few hundred feet away, most people do not find it objectionable,” the USPPA states.

“Typically we fly out and away from our area much like an airplane would, and we enjoy the sky in a manner that is as unobtrusive as possible,” wrote Martinello.

His group has launched from land near the Plum Island Airport with approval from Essex County Greenbelt; from Woodsom Farm in Amesbury; Kimball Farm in Haverhill; and coastal beaches from Plum Island to Hampton, New Hampshire, as well as from airports and beaches in Maine.

Take-off and landing areas need to be about 200 feet long and 100 feet wide, and are preferably covered with grass, although dirt and sand work, too.

 “A skilled pilot is off the ground in a very short distance and can land in a very small area,” according to the USPPA. “The engine is not needed to make a safe and controlled landing, only to gain and maintain altitude.”

Licensing is not required to paraglide but most pilots receive up to eight days of formal training at cost of $1,200 to $2,500.

A new paraglider motor runs between $4,500 and $12,000, and the wing costs between $1,700 and $4,500. Lightweight carts or “trikes” that can be mounted on the glider are optional for those don’t wish to foot launch and run about $1,000 to $2,500.

Martinello’s group limits their flying to fair weather evenings within three hours of sunset. “Midday flying is dangerous due to thermal activity, and we do not fly mornings out of respect for local residents,” he said. Flying this type of vehicle after sunset is illegal.

“We are very safety oriented and we come from many professional backgrounds ranging from engineers, local business owners, professional pilots —and I’m a physician,” Martinello wrote.

“Flying is a huge part of our lives -- a freedom like no other. A freedom which demands we be accountable for our own actions,” states the USPPA.

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