If flying in a small airplane without doors sounds cool to you, the latest tourist experience in Israel — riding in a powered parachute — is definitely for you.
But even if you’re thinking you’d rather keep your two feet on the ground, don’t dismiss a sightseeing tour from above so quickly. Flying as a passenger in a powered parachute is truly an inimitable experience.
And though it fits into the “extreme sports” category, this Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang-like vehicle is tame and accessible to everyone.
Trust me. I have jumped out of an airplane twice (in Israel and New Zealand), bungee-jumped off the Victoria Falls Bridge (111 meters), soared down Canada’s longest twin zip line (777 meters long), and quad-biked over the dunes of the Namib Desert.
A ride in a powered parachute is exactly that: a ride.
Whereas in skydiving you’ve got just three minutes to take in the view below, sitting as a passenger with no rules to remember is a fantastic way to get a bird’s-eye view of Israel. You can see the layout of the land in shades of green, blue, brown and white. You can see how cities are expanding and what farmers are growing.
“Even if you’ve been around Israel dozens of times, flying over a site is an exceptional experience,” says Sharon Baram, who runs Extreme Israel and organizes powered parachute flights over the country.
Baram invited ISRAEL21c on a sightseeing tour from above. Taking a cue from Colonel Pott (of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang) to “never say ‘no’ to adventures,” I said “yes” and tried out his most popular flight route over the Sharon plains.
An aerial vehicle that’s safe
The powered parachute, also known as a PPC or Buckeye, is a type of ultralight sports aircraft that includes a cart, parachute, motor, fan and wheels.
It is one of the safest aerial vehicles on the market, according to numerous sites dedicated to outdoor extreme sports.
“The PPC is a very slow craft and this makes it the safest of aerial vehicles,” says Baram.
Before takeoff, Baram introduces passengers to his PPC. It has an APCO Aviation parachute made by the Israel-based company recognized as the world leader for paramotoring and paragliding equipment.
The PPC is equipped with a fuel tank that could potentially keep a pilot in the air for a couple of hours.
Baram offers 20-minute rides – more than enough time to take in the beauty of Israel and feel the thrill of flying like a bird.
These contraptions don’t need an airport or long runway. Pilots can take off from backyard strips, parking lots or even mown fields. And these powered parachute crafts are easy to transport in a special trailer.
Because they’re so easy to move, Baram tailor-makes flights over heritage sites across Israel. Passengers willing to pay a bit extra can also experience a sightseeing tour over Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee or Masada.
Like a bird
Baram launches most of his flights from a small public airstrip in Ein Vered, about 30 minutes north of Tel Aviv. There’s a patch of grass for onlookers to stand and watch the light planes and powered parachutes take off and land.
Baram takes the pilot’s seat; I sit in the passenger’s seat right behind him. He helps me buckle up, then decks me out in a helmet, microphone and earphones, which muffle the noise of the engine and enable mid-flight communication.
Takeoff is smooth, with minor vibrations as we climb up over the plots of farmland. There are no bumps, no turbulence. The PPC is surprisingly sturdy.
As we sail the skies, Baram points out the landscape below. Over there is Hadera and the Mediterranean Sea. There is Rosh Ha’ayin. We see Jaljuliya, an Arab town in Israel near Kfar Saba, and Qalqilya, on the western edge of the West Bank.
“People are always surprised to see how small Israel is. You can see the country’s western side and eastern side from above. It’s just seven or eight kilometers wide. When you see it as one view from above, it can be very shocking for many,” says Baram.
For people of all ages and abilities
Baram conducts tours in English and Hebrew. “A powered parachute flight is suitable for everyone, from kids to adults. We organize the flight according to each passenger. It can be a calm and quiet flight or more extreme. It depends on what passengers want.”
I chose the extreme option and tremendously enjoyed swooping down to just one meter above the fields below. Soaring peacefully at 220 meters up in the sky was also enjoyable.
Powered parachuting is one of the few extreme sports suited to people with physical disabilities. “As long as you can sit, you can fly,” says Baram, who notes that every year he and fellow pilots volunteer a day to take disabled IDF veterans on flights over the country. “It’s an amazing experience for them and for us,” he says.
Baram has always loved flying and extreme sports, he tells me. After a career in event planning and more than 12 years of pilot experience, he decided to change direction and offer everyone the chance to see Israel in a new way.
“You sit outside, you smell all the smells, you see all there is to see. The experience is that you can see it all no matter how high or how low we fly. It’s a different feeling completely from flying in an airplane,” he says.
Blessed with amazing weather year round, Israel is a prime destination for extreme sports such as paragliding, hot air balloon rides, skydiving and scuba diving.
But powered parachuting is by far, price-wise and fitness-wise, the most accessible. A flight over the Sharon area costs $150 – about one-third of the cost of a skydiving experience and half the cost of a hot-air balloon ride.
“Seeing Israel from above is very special,” Baram recaps.
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