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Jeff Goin

 

 

Powered Paragliders From the Past

A look at the early machines that shaped our sport

As best I can tell, the well documented 1981 flights of Mike Byrne were the first. He built the thing himself and dubbed it "paramotor." There wasn't anything to buy until 8 years later when Pagojet introduced their Konig powered machine. That was Joe Public's invitation to backpack flying.

In many ways, the machines haven't changed all that much, physics and geometry being what they are. But in other ways, improvement has been dramatic. Most notably the adoption of longstanding technologies in two-stroke engines and harness improvements. Mike's first machine left him hanging from a harness the whole flight whereas the Pagojet introduced seated comfort. Each new edition catered to a slightly different goal depending on area, target pilot groups and simple preference. One thing I've learned after tracking hundreds of pilots in this sport is that, generally speaking, they like what they learned on.

Here is a look at the early machines that started things off. Brands will be added slowly and in no particular order as information dribbles in. I start with the DK. It was not the earliest, or the "best," or the most powerful, but it may have been the most prolific early paramotor in the U.S. Hard to say, of course, but when I started to travel, I saw more DK's than any other single motor. It's history speaks of the optimism common in new entrants. The mere scope of the company's effort impressively shows their hope for a bright future.

Understand that my recollection isn't perfect and like the rest of the history, isn't exact. I'll welcome corrections and they'll be added over the months that this section will take to complete. It will probably never really be "complete" so bear with me. Also, these machines are ones that I'm familiar with in the U.S. Others may have been earlier, and even more significant, but I'm just not privy to the info yet. I'll welcome input from flyers of those or keepers of their history. Thanks for your input.

DK

Daiichi Kosho was a successful Japanese electronics company, mostly in Karaoke equipment.

I imagine that somebody in the company, an aviation nut probably, saw a powered paraglider and went gaga. I know the feeling, so probably do you. They "knew" that was going to be the next great hit; aviation's hula hoop or water sport's jet ski. And his company had the manufacturing, marketing pizzazz and money to grab a piece of it.

There were, however, well established companies already competing. Pagojets, LaMouettes, Paramotors and Adventures were flying and had long wait times. DK wanted to bring its manufacturing might to bear on a sport populated by small shops. Only Paramotor Inc. seemed to be building in much volume but their sales were more limited to dealers who were sold on the coming "next big thing."

The DK was a well-engineered machine with a way different style of harness. You wore it like a ski vest. The designers probably flew another machine and didn't like the way it moved around during launch so they came up with a system that didn't move so much. It was indeed tight. Like most innovations, the pilots who learned on it, usually loved it. They were the only ones, it would seem.

First came the Beat. A two-cylinder motor drove a screaming 29 inch prop. Lots of noise and a little thrust—it struggled to get 75 pounds worth, but it was fairly lightweight and very compact. Each cylinder had a manual decompression valve that you pressed to decompress. They would pop out when the motor fired, just like on most Black Devil motors.

Then was the Beat "Whisper" with a reduction drive, bigger prop and more thrust. But it was still a screamer by most accounts owing to its smaller prop.

The Whisper was followed when they changed to their enduring single cylinder machine that incorporated an optionally larger cage and prop, the Whispter GT. That machine had tons of thrust and the torque to go with it.

Daiichi Kosho started development around 1993 and probably had flying machines by early 1995. They solicited importers in Canada and the U.S., settling on a deal with the recently-trained Scott Alan of Paraborne near Kissimee, FL. Of course everybody then was recently-trained. Scott had taken his training in Canada with Eric Dufour about a year prior.

Scott did well and set up dealers in several other parts of the country including Bruce Brown of Ohio, Bill Fifer in Traverse city and a few others. He also joined up with Aero Sports Connection and included the Basic Flight Instructor rating with the purchase of a machine. That was normally a weekend course with ground handling and about 3 to 5 flights.

The DK trike was an innovation. It's sporty, faired frame had a spring loaded castering nosewheel that tended to track in the direction the wing wanted to go. But it suffered from being heavy, especially considering it's paramotor power source. Plus, you sat fairly high which made a bit tippy.

I've flown 4 DK models from the twin-cylinder Beat through the single-cylinder Whisper GTO and the trike and they all ran flawlessly. Of course troubles are part and parcel of two-stroke land but, overall, they seemed to enjoy a reputation for reliability.

DK continued to refine their machine and enjoy success. But eventually reality intruded into their vision. There would never be a huge mass market and the competition became fierce. DK had built their own motor, spending copious amounts of money on research, development, marketing and manufacturing capability. Plus, pilots discovered that other harness systems and lighter gear. The Top 80 was doing well DK didn't change in response.

In about 2003 they decided the market wasn't what they hoped for and announced the end of production. Scott Alan tried to continue with his own version, the Backplane, but it didn't take off and he exited the business in about 2004.

Following DK's exit, an English youngster, Giles Cardoza, bought the rights and some machining to continued the DK-like line, calling it the Parajet. His redesigned cage was stunning in appearance but was essentially the same machine. His newest machines have little resemblance to the original DK.

1. DK ad from the 1996 Powered Paragliding Guide.

2 & 3. DK Whispers. Dave Johnson running his up in 2.

3. Scott Alan's follow-on to DK was the Backplane. Scott Fischer is pictured here next to it during a Sun-N-Fun show in about 2003.

 

 


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