South Point man#039;s dreams take flight

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 20, 2004

SOUTH POINT-Recreational vehicles are gaining in popularity among people looking to get off the beaten path, but that path is usually solid ground and not the limitless sky above.

For Jean J. Gill of South Point, his odd flying contraption known as a Buckeye powered parachute can take him anywhere, almost anytime. He has been reaching new heights of adventure since he took up the sport in 1998.

"It's one of the best toys there is," he said with an enormous grin. "It's not difficult to operate and is perfectly safe if you use your head."

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Gill's love of flight began early and it definitely got him using his head to figure out how he too could take the controls someday. The answer came not from gazing at the sky, but the blue glow of the picture box in his home where he first saw the flying marvel.

"I had seen it on TV and I wanted to buy one," Gill said. "I flew a lot with other people in helicopters, airplanes, but I wanted to fly by myself."

That kind of flying freedom requires quite a bit of money and although powered parachutes run from $15,000 to $20,000 apiece, they are much cheaper than a small airplane. An extra bonus: One-seaters don't require a pilot's license to operate, Gill said.

"This was the only thing I could afford to learn to fly," he said. "It's no big deal; within a half a day you can learn to fly that thing."

Of course, the experience doesn't come without some difficulty. In his first flight from the Lawrence County Airport, Gill said he flew to Marshall University's football field in 12 minutes (record time). The return trip took four times as long because the wind wasn't in his favor.

"Unless it's a steady wind, you don't go anywhere," he said. "You just go up, up, up and you can stay overtop the airport here for an hour. If you go with the wind, it will hold you. You look just like an eagle. It's a lot of fun."

Gill's flying machine is designed to make the most of the wind, however. Its parachute helps to keep it aloft while a massive blade blows wind into the colorful fabric, propelling the vehicle forward.

It has a radio, Global Positioning System and two main controls that allow Gill to steer and ascend or descend as needed. The machine "can turn on a dime," thanks to its advanced design, Gill said.

So how did this native Canadian living in Lawrence County since 1971 come to own powered parachutes? (He now has two, including a two-seater that requires him to have a pilot's license.)

The idea sort of landed in his lap as he was hanging out at the airport one day. A dealer came to the area and Gill was his first customer.

Since then, Gill has found it difficult to keep his feet on the ground. The retired timber man spends as much time as he can, exploring the wild blue yonder.

The powered parachute's gas tank holds about 10 gallons, enabling Gill to fly about two to three hours at a time.

Just as the last traces of day faded from the Saturday evening sky, Gill came in for his landing at the airport. He said he had debated whether to go for another run, but the clear sky beckoned.

"I'd go up every day if I could," he said laughing, his voice tinted by a gentle Canadian dialect. This is how I spend my free time. It's good fresh air-good for your health."

But he doesn't keep all the fun to himself. Gill offers rides to anyone willing to give it a try. There is a 500-pound weight limit for the two-seater, however.Gill charges $40 per half-hour.

To schedule a flight appointment, contact Gill at 894-3490 or on his cell phone at (304) 544-8866.