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June 24, 2004

 

Walkerton firm flying high

Business buzzing for powered parachutes developed at ND

By MIKE BORGIA
Tribune Staff Writer

 

Brian McCallen, pilot at Hop's, takes flight over Walkerton in a Buckeye Breeze powered parachute.

Wayne Pontius, pilot at Hop's Powered Parachutes in Walkerton, readies a powered parachute for flight. Hop's rents, sells and offers flying lessons for powered parachutes, which were developed at Notre Dame.

Maryln and Wyman "Hop" Hochstetler, owners of Hop's Powered Parachutes, recently received some marketing help from a group of Notre Dame business students through the Indiana Small Business Development Center's Collegiate Management Assistance program.

Tribune Photos KATE ZAVALA


 

Hop's Powered Parachutes

 

Address: 20451 Tyler Road, Walkerton.

Phone: (574)-586-3580

E-mail: hopsparachutes@marshallremc.coop

Web site: www.hopspoweredparachutes.com

Flight and Rentals

A first flight class and radio assisted solo flight costs $213, including tax. After the first flight, powered parachute rentals run from $1.30 to $1.60 per minute.

Purchase

New Buckeye-manufactured powered parachutes run between $15,000 and $30,000.

Used units are also available from Hop's for $4,000 to $16,500.
 

 

WALKERTON -- About 35 years ago, a University of Notre Dame professor developed a novel flying machine -- the powered parachute.

This year, six Notre Dame students helped to "keep-'em-flying" locally at Hop's Powered Parachutes in Walkerton.

Hop's sells and rents out the increasingly popular recreational flying machines and provides lessons for interested pilots. Since opening in 1984, Hop's has trained approximately 2,200 powered parachute pilots.

What's a powered parachute?

Take a large, brightly colored parachute, attach it to a light-weight, military-grade aluminum and steel cart and add a 65-horsepower propeller engine.

Then you're ready to cruise at about 500 feet in the air at speeds of about 35 mph.

John D. Nicolaides, then chair of the Aerospace Engineering Department, and a team of students developed the powered parachute in the late '60s and early '70s with a grant from the Air Force. They received the grant to experiment with ejection systems for aircraft.

"(Nicolaides) had no idea he was creating a whole recreational sport," said Wyman Hochstetler, co-owner of Hop's.

The company gets its name from Hochstetler, who prefers to be called "Hop" or "Hoppy."

Hochstetler, of Amish background, dreamed of taking to the air. He has always loved aviation and has had a private pilot's license since the '50s.

The cost of owning and maintaining a powered parachute is much lower than that of a standard airplane, said Hochstetler.

It also takes far less training to fly one. No license is required to fly a powered parachute and a pilot can fly solo after only several hours of training, Hochstetler said.

Powered parachutes are safer, as well, because of their slow speeds and simple controls, he said.

And if your engine goes out, you've always got a parachute.

When Hochstetler decided to open his own business back in 1984 selling a flying machine he had never tried, lots of people, including his wife, Maryln, called him crazy.

Maryln now co-owns Hop's with her husband.

Hochstetler first became seriously interested in powered parachutes when he read about them in a Popular Mechanics article.

For 20 years, the Hochstetlers operated Hop's and its 2,000-foot-long runway in conjunction with their primary source of income, a Christmas tree farm, Stuntz Hochstetler's Pines.

Last year, the Hochstetlers decided to take Hop's to new heights. They announced that they would no longer be running the farm and sold their share of the business. They then converted the farm's buildings to powered parachute hangars and a pilots lounge.

"You can call me the Colonel Sanders of flying," said Wyman Hochstetler, 69, referring to Harland Sanders, who founded franchising giant Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65.

The tree farm, which had been in the Hochstetler family for more than 60 years, is still in business under the same name, at the same location.

"It just made more sense," said Maryln Hochstetler about the change. "These buildings were sitting empty for most of the year as part of the Christmas tree farm and now we use them all the time."

Although flying the powered parachutes is difficult in the winter, that's when the Hochstetlers sell most of their machines. Hop's sells about 12 new units and six to 12 used ones each year.

Hop's is a dealer for powered parachute manufacturer Buckeye Aviation of Argos.

Having established their new focus, the Hochstetlers contacted the Indiana Small Business Development Center in South Bend seeking a small business loan.

The center arranged a loan through 1st Source Bank and the Hochstetlers purchased three new powered parachutes.

They also had their names submitted for the center's Collegiate Management Assistance program, through which teams of students from around the area gain field experience by helping small businesses develop their operations.

This particular team was comprised of graduate students from Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business. They worked with Hop's from January to May and examined nearly every aspect of the Hochstetlers' business, including all of their financial statements.

The students made several proposals, all aimed at increasing Hop's name recognition.

They recommended that Hop's attend various trade shows around the region to better market its services, a suggestion that the Hochstetlers have already begun to put in motion.

They also proposed that Hop's hire a full-time marketing and sales agent and establish a regional advertising alliance with other area dealers, suggestions that the Hochstetlers are looking into.

There are now powered parachutes buzzing over pine trees at Hop's, "every day it's flyable," said Wyman Hochstetler.

Just a few miles from where it began, powered parachuting looks alive and well.

Staff writer Mike Borgia:

mborgia@sbtinfo.com

 

 

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