Rapid Launch Amphibious Powered Parachute

Canopy Stays Inflated

Rapid Launch USA (the company) claims their Rapid Launch powered parachute is the "world's only amphibious powered parachute." The helium-filled canopy system "is adaptable to all major brands," Rapid Launch says. The canopy (shown here on a Buckeye powered parachute cart) rises to fill the top of your hangar. Below: A pair of SlipStream floats was mounted to the amphibious powered parachute displayed to the ultralight industry recently.

Powered parachutes are seen as one of the fastest growing and most innovative segments of aviation. Reasons for this include: new powered parachute pilots often are able to solo in as little as a single day, and powered parachutes are very portable - no hangar is required and they are easy to transport from home to field. But powered parachutes do have their limitations - limitations like flying on floats.

Now, according to a company called Rapid Launch USA, not only float flying, but amphibious float flying can be done safely on a powered parachute. The Rapid Launch system features a retractable pneumatic landing gear system with a CO2 safety backup system, hydraulic disc brakes and four-cavity fiberglass floats. "The system has been in development now for 4 years," Rapid Launch says, "and has the advantages of increased safety, superior convenience and the lowest cost per use of any powered parachute."

Rapid Launch combines the buoyancy of pressurized helium gas with the latest in ram-air parasail technology, to make a canopy that is "virtually impossible to collapse," the company claims. The helium-filled canopy can thus be used safely for landing and taking off from water, as well as land. According to Rapid Launch's Gordon Belena, the "lighter-than-air wing" is not your "standard" powered parachute canopy, but rather one that has been developed during the past 4 years. It is 574 square feet in canopy area, and because it is a "rigid wing" (pressurized with helium), it has an excellent descent rate, turns on a dime, and has a better flare than a "conventional" powered parachute, says Belena.

Adding to safety is the fact that unlike regular powered parachute canopies - which initially lay out behind the cart and require inflating (by accelerating the powered parachute cart forward) before the pilot can "inspect" his risers - the Rapid Launch system starts overhead - so the risers are visible to the pilot at all times. This, of course, also makes it ideal for float operations, since the Rapid Launch canopy floats overhead rather than sinking into the water (as a "normal" powered parachute canopy would when it deflates after landing).

How do you store your Rapid Launch? Drive the unit into its own hangar, so that the canopy rests overhead in the hangar arch (see photo). The cost for filling the canopy with helium gas is about $100 per season of flying, according to Rapid Launch USA. If a bag were to fail in-flight, the cell then becomes a ram-air chute, with no difference in the flight characteristics of the powered parachute, Rapid Launch indicates. The bags can be easily repaired (or replaced, if necessary).

The amphibious system was recently displayed to the ultralight industry, mounted on a Buckeye powered parachute, and took about 2 days to set up, but it is adaptable to all major brands, according to Rapid Launch USA. Setup can be done by factory representatives at your location or at the Rapid Launch USA factory in Alexandria, Minnesota.

- Report filed by Dave Loveman

Info: Rapid Launch USA, 25271 Terrace Grove Rd., Dept UF, Los Gatos, CA 95033.
Phone: (866) 889-5989.