Have you ever been boating, picnicking, or maybe just hanging out in your backyard on a sunny day when all of a sudden, you hear a soft buzzing sound off in the distance? It slowly gets louder and you start to wonder what it could be. Is it a weed-whacker? No, too loud. Is it a helicopter? No, too quiet for that... Then, clearing the tree line you see a hovercraft of sorts appear: a flying chair with a parachute-like apparatus (called a wing) attached. The pilot, enjoying the view, spots you looking up and waves!
Chances are you've just crossed paths with a member of the Smith Mountain Lake Paramotor Club (SMLPC). The concept of the sport has been around a long time, but with recent advancements in technology it's become much more user-accessible. As a result, it has exploded in popularity! When I was chatting with Cameron Mac (who, along with John and Mir Thomasson, acts as an ambassador for the club) he shared how the topographical conditions that surround the lake make it particularly attractive to fellow pilots. The combination of open farmland, mountains, and water can be hard to come by and we have them all right here in our backyard!
The paramotor club has around 13 members who come from surrounding Roanoke, Bedford, and Campbell Counties to join in the group flights. To become a part of the club, they require that you hold a USPPA Private Pilot Certificate. If you're interested in obtaining that license, Cameron recommends an immersion course that has you in class and in the air every day for a couple of weeks to grow the confidence and develop the skill required to fly. There are several schools that offer this type of intensive training - from Midwest Paramotoring in Franklin, IN (where much of the club has been trained) to Carolina Paramotors in Charlotte (which is the closest school at present). Cameron is also excited about a new branch of Aviator Paramotor that has come to Nashville, TN and offers cutting edge instruction in the sport.
While paramotoring is known as a “sport”, the SMLPC pilots are highly trained, experienced aviators that are regulated by the FAA, flying under FAR Part 103. They take pride in executing safe and respectful flights.
SMLPC organizes weekly group gatherings, but many of the members fly solo 4-5 times a week, so the chances of a paramotor sighting are pretty high! Cameron himself gets out as often as he can. He says that the focus and concentration required to fly is a welcome contrast to the frenetic, multitasking nature of his job. Though he has always been interested in aviation and holds a general aviation pilot's license to fly his small plane, paramotoring grabbed his attention from the very first time he saw a fellow club member float over his backyard!
Since then, he's been passionate about the sport and, along with a few other pilots in the club, is on track to obtain his instructor's license. It's his hope that one day SML Paramotor will be able to offer training right here in their home airspace!
Later this summer, the group will be opening their launch site to the public for a few select evenings. Just as it isn't safe to wander onto the runway of an airport, it isn't safe to just wander up to a paramotor flight take off/landing scenario, so these events will be the perfect opportunity to come check out the equipment up-close-and-personal, ask questions, meet some of the pilots, and enjoy a few flight demonstrations! To stay in the loop, you'll want to be sure and follow SML Paramotor on Facebook and Instagram.
If you are fascinated by the sport and would like to add your property to the club's “Friendly Flyover List”, you can send them your address (via social media) in the form of a Google pin. They love visiting aviation-loving folks who enjoy the pilots coming in low for a wave, so send in your location and keep an eye to the skies!