Eddie Johnson

Looking to Popularize New Mode of Flight

Eddie Johnson, seated, and Reggie Caudill prepare to take a powered parachute ride. Johnson is helping to design PPCs for government use.
Eddie Johnson, seated, and Reggie Caudill prepare to take a powered parachute ride. Johnson is helping to design PPCs for government use. (By Jon Goldberg For The Washington Post)
By Jon Goldberg
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

VIRGINIA BEACH -- Eddie Johnson's first encounter with paramotoring still stands as one of the most bizarre moments in boxing history.

James Miller, more widely know as "The Fan Man," flew his 78-pound powered paraglider into the boxing ring at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas during the seventh round of a heavyweight title bout between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield in 1993.

"Had he not done it and got the national exposure, it would have been many more years before I was exposed to a powered parachute," Johnson said. "What he did tweaked my interest in powered parachute flight and caused me to research the sport and get involved."

Johnson, the inaugural powered parachuting (PPC) champion in 2000, is president of Paradynamics in Virginia Beach. He and his team of designers are developing PPCs for government use and are trying to perfect manned and unmanned powered parafoil technologies.

"A lot of people think when they meet me, 'Oh, you jump out of airplanes,' " said Johnson. "In their mind you use a parachute to come down, but we stay up for hours."

The unmanned PPCs that Paradynamics are building have surveillance cameras and night vision technology for the purpose of patrolling the nation's borders and to deliver supplies.

"The technology is there," said Reggie Caudill, a certified flight instructor and small aircraft mechanic. "You wouldn't believe what we can do with these things. . . . Like a parachute that can reach speeds of 100 mph."

The two-seat PPC is currently transitioning from an ultralight flying category and into a light sport aircraft category, governed by the Federal Aviation Administration. This move, according to Johnson, has put the industry in flux and the world championships on hold, possibly until 2008.

When the championships resume, the competition will add two European-influenced events (navigation and efficiency) to the five preexisting events -- power-off landing, carrier landing, obstacle landing, precision taxi and pylon run.

"The world championships are geared around consistency. You need to be pretty good at all events," said Johnson, who received a new two-seat PC2000 powered parachute for winning the 2000 title.

Johnson misses the thrill of competition. He says spreading the sport's popularity is what drives him.

"My first solo flight [in 1994] was realizing a dream that I could fly. It was an extremely euphoric feeling of accomplishment," Johnson said. "Now it's a pleasure to share with people the enjoyment of what I do."

© 2006 The Washington Post Company