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The Man and His Monkey

Flying in the openness of a powered parachute at 500 ft. on a calm, warm evening is a luxury everyone should be able to experience at least once. This was one of those evenings in August, 1991 in Walkerton, Indiana. I had been aloft about twenty minutes and it was time now to begin my landing pattern. This was only my third flight in a parawing and the joy of the occasion was tempered with my acceptance of the fact that I was completely ignorant of the proper procedure to descend to a safe landing. I was totally dependent upon my instructor, "Hop" Hochstetler, to talk me through all the correct moves.

Through my earphones, his voice was calm and authoritative as he ordered me at well-timed intervals to power back. The 90 degree turns were ordered at the right times to line up in the middle of the runway. Everything was proceeding smoothly and I was gaining in confidence each moment because the man in the orange shirt, standing in the middle of the runway sounded so confident. Just before I touched down, he said, “Don't kill the mags until I tell you to. Bring it right to me.” My wheels rolled smoothly onto the ground just as he had planned. He kept urging me to continue taxiing directly toward him. I became alarmed that I was going to run him over but the calculating look on his face assured me he knew what he was doing. At that precise second I thought he had met his doom, he said, “Kill the mags!” My relief was punctuated by the realization that he had given his order at the exact time and distance which enabled him to gently stop my roll with his extended foot. It didn't even jar him.

My friend, Pat had video-taped the landing and I watched it over and over. I concluded. “This man is really good!”

I was impressed that his professionalism was capable of over-riding my ignorance and anxiety. All I had to do was follow his orders. Any trained monkey could have flown that Paraplane. A rather humbling thought. An intriguing thought! My logic was, “I'm no more than a remote controlled monkey following his master's instructions. We could do this even if I was blindfolded.” The idea of doing just that grew within me. It took Hop several minutes of thought after I proposed the experiment to him. We both realized a failure could dash his reputation to a new low but the sudden twinkle in his eye and the devilish grin said, “Let's do it!”

Three summers later in 1994, I sat in the middle of the runway with both engines roaring. The wind was calm and the thermometer read 84 degrees. I could hear Hop but I could not respond to him. I was the monkey now and I wore not one but two blindfolds under my helmet. I reminded my Savior of my vulnerability and requested He inspire this guy to make all the correct decisions. After a frustrating moment caused by an elusive stirrup, I heard Hop say, “When you're ready you can begin your roll.” I responded by powering up. The roll was increased again but I seemed to keep drifting to the right. That surprised me because I took note to keep both flairs pulled back. He urged me to the left a few times then distinctly ordered, “Go to full power! Full power!”

I left the ground and continued to climb until he said, “You're at about 500 feet so you can level off now.”

Hop continually apprised me of my location and altitude. Even though I was totally at the mercy of his expertise, I felt at ease. His voice conveyed confidence which bordered on boredom so I took advantage of it by enjoying the feeling of freedom from concern and the wind rushing by.

We negotiated several 90 and 180 degree turns which revealed my complete lack of orientation. I had theorized I would be able to execute these turns with a fair amount of accuracy, but in reality I would have overshot all of them had he not corrected me.

We played around for about 15 minutes. He then told me he'd set me up for an approach but warned we might have to try it a couple of times until we got it right.  It hadn't occurred to me we might not do it correctly the first time.

During the approach, as in the takeoff, I kept drifting to the right over the rows of Christmas trees. Again, he coaxed me to the left.

I had always wondered if, as an instructor, Hop ever became concerned enough to have his composure shaken. I smiled to myself as he kept urging me left because I thought I detected an ever-so-slight falsetto in his voice.

We did it correctly the first time. Actually, the landing rather startled me because I didn't realize we were that close to a touch-down.

No, I wasn't frightened at any moment. My only concern was that I might not respond correctly and thus disappoint Hop in my competence. I would advise not trying this experiment unless you have a fully skilled instructor to whom you are willing to hand over your safety and confidence.

My one disappointment is that we did not get a video of the flight because I very much wanted him to be able to show it to his other students and say, “See, it's so easy a grandmother can do it blindfolded” next time.

- The Monkey, Alice Hoover

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