By Gary Mitchell
Clovis farmer Scott Pipkin checks the air sock just outside his house to make sure the wind isn’t too strong for takeoff. He enlists his brothers, Stan and Spencer, to help him spread out the parachute.
Then he climbs into what looks like a sophisticated go-cart contraption, fires up the two-stroke, 65-horsepower engine and rambles lickety-split across his crop land. In less than 300 feet, he takes to the air, thanks to the air-filled parachute fluttering overhead.
It’s a novel way for area farmers and ranchers to check their crops and cattle, Pipkin said.
“Most people use it for recreation, but I use it for my farm,” he said. “I fly over my crops and check how they’re doing. You can cover ground better than you can on four-wheelers and motorcycles — and helicopters are real expensive.”
Pipkin operates a side business to his farming — selling powered parachutes to anyone interested in them, not just farmers and ranchers. Through his business, Powered Parachute World, he offers instruction and training, along with sales.
Powered Parachute World sells single-seat and two-seat powered parachutes, ranging in price from $12,000 to $20,000, Pipkin said.
“Scott talked Spencer and me into buying one just to have someone fly with him,” Stan Pipkin said. “We use it to play with. Scott likes to go to all these fly-ins.”
Stan said they use the powered parachutes for other purposes than just recreation.
“We scout crops with them quite a bit,” he said. “We look for insect infestations. We take them up and look our crops over. A lot of guys check cattle with them. You can use them to check windmills to make sure they’ve got water. But mostly, you have them just for the fun of it.”
“It’s fun,” said 9-year-old Ashley DeMatties, who has flown in Pipkin’s powered parachute. “All you could see was the ground and trees and stuff. You can see birds and fly along with them.”
Flying a powered parachute isn’t problem-free, Scott Pipkin said.
“Usually, we fly early in the mornings or late in the evenings,” he said. “You have two main problems — heat and wind. These machines fly about 25 miles per hour with no wind. With a wind at your back, of course, you can fly faster. I’ve seen these things fly backwards. If you’re traveling at 25 miles an hour and you hit a 30 mile-an-hour wind, you’ll start flying backwards. You can get hurt in strong winds.”
Power lines also pose a problem if a pilot’s not careful, Scott Pipkin said.
“You don’t want anything to do with a power line or trees,” he said. “We push safety. You have to be at least 16 years of age to fly this machine. These things are not a toy. They can hurt you. I’d like to have a sign made that reads, ‘Common sense required to operate this machine.’ ”