As focus sharpens on FAA’s proposed Light-Sport Aircraft regulation, the first aircraft segment to complete an ASTM airworthiness consensus standard is powered parachutes. While these aircraft are simpler, which helped speed the process, participating manufacturers got together well and hammered out their certification rules efficiently.
Summit Powered Parachutes of Canada hasn’t yet chosen to enter the Light-Sport Aircraft arena. They aren’t worried, just wary of new regulations. In fact, the company started work under England’s BCAR S regulation. Just recently, Summit was working to qualify for German DHV certification. They see no great challenge passing the proposed U.S. powered parachute standards, as currently defined.
Fortunately, the proposed Light-Sport Aircraft is not the only destination in sport aviation. It may be part of the spectrum of aviation regulations.
We’re seeing more new designs tuned to Part 103. And the Amateur-Built 51% rule will still allow many 2-seat ultralights to be built and flown as they are today.
So while government agencies churn through the proposed rule, buyers need not wait. Summit Powered Parachutes offers a single-seater, the Summit SS, which they say can easily make Part 103 (and it starts at a mere $8,500). If the Canadian company never pursues Light-Sport Aircraft certification, the 2-seat Summit II could eventually qualify for Amateur-Built. As proof of their ability, another company in the family, ASAP, qualifies for the 51% rule with their Chinook and Beaver fixed-wing ultralight designs.
Happily, an aircraft’s flight qualities aren’t necessarily tied to the regulation under which it operates. Let’s look closer to see how Summit Powered Parachutes found a way to enter a crowded field with a product done differently than its competitors.
To go aloft in the Summit powered parachute, we had to wait until the right time arrived. At airshows, powered parachutes are generally scheduled for morning and evening flying as that’s when winds are lower for less experienced pilots. (As with most aircraft, more experienced pilots can operate in stronger conditions, but airshow organizers must accommodate less experienced pilots as well.)
On a pleasant April evening with only a light breeze blowing, I flew with Summit Sales Manager George Wood. He provided most of the factory’s comments used in this article.
When I asked Wood about their powered parachute and why pilots ought to consider it over other brands, he offered a few points of difference.
Summit says they’re the first to use cell canopy stiffeners. These are thicker pieces of cloth sewn into the leading edge openings of the canopy’s individual cells. They say this enhances canopy opening during the inflation period. Wood added that a year later several other manufacturers were using the same idea.
Summit may not have been the very first to use distinct and separate seats for each occupant, but the ones on the Summit II are deluxe. Older powered parachutes (and trikes, for that matter) often use seating that presses the front occupant between the legs of the aft occupant. Many pilots, especially larger ones, find the individual seats more comfortable.
The Summit’s carriage will allow a much steeper (nose-up) angle with the ground on landing than other brands, more than three times higher, says Summit. This helps, as a large angle tends to cause initial contact only on the wheels and not far-aft parts such as prop guards or prop. Good piloting can prevent large-angle touchdowns, but when it happens a Summit will see less parts damage.
The company uses all anodized finishes to their 6061-T6 tubing. This is common on fixed-wings, but Summit says most of their competitors use powder coating. While such painting can be done precisely, worker skill must be higher and still doesn’t cover tubing the same as anodizing. Additionally, anodizing is thorough inside and out. And, because anodizing is not as thick as paint, it also allows fitting of precisely made parts. Anodizing costs more, says Wood, but the results are better, he feels.
Precision parts come easily to Summit, as the company is part of a family of enterprises, one of which is a machine shop operation with numerous CNC machines.
Further synergy comes from another member of the Holomis family empire. ASAP, which builds the Chinook and Beaver, rescued both designs from faltering companies and in so doing, kept these famous Canadian fixed-wing ultralight designs in the sky.
The connection to fixed-wing ultralight manufacturing leads me to see the Summit as more airplane-like than most other powered parachute manufacturers, most of whom are pure-play enterprises engaged only in powered parachutes.
My View of the Summit
In addition to the factory’s pitch, I observed other unique features of Summit’s powered parachutes.
Summit uses a central lower beam on their carriage not unlike many ultralight fixed-wings with their booms, or trikes with their keels. Summit calls that member a “body tube fuselage” and it distinguishes the design from other powered parachutes. Following this construction with riveted gussets, Summit was able to make a strong design that is lighter than some of their competitors.
Indeed, among modern powered parachutes, only Six Chuter comes in as light as Summit models. Most other top brands are 25 to 50 pounds heavier for a comparable model. In any aircraft, lighter usually means more performance, or less engine needed, or both.
Summit sliding foot controls are different from other powered parachutes and I imagine they appeal to pilots of other aircraft more so than the foot bars common to other powered parachute designs.
The Summit II’s throttle moves conventionally, that is, pushing the lever forward produces more power. While more common on powered parachutes today, a few brands are sticking with joysticks, where the throttle (that helps you climb) pulls aft for more power. In the past, I’ve had my struggles with this “backward” system and other conventionally trained pilots may also have difficulties adapting. (Yet, since powered parachute companies often claim to sell to nonpilots, a throttle may have no right or wrong action.)
Summit positions the engine weight directly over the rear wheels where many powered parachutes place the engine aft of the wheels. This change helps Summit deal with those landings where the aft sections can strike the ground. Described by Wood as a “web plate,” the main wheel construction is also derived from aircraft construction.
Using knowledge from the ultralight aircraft industry, Summit uses a dynafocal engine mount technique to suppress vibration. (Dynafocal refers to aiming the mount attach points at the center of the engine’s mass.) The company says this is not common on other brands and my own examinations corroborate that statement.
All Summit Powered Parachutes’ 2-place units come standard with the electronic EFI unit by Taskem with the some useful info: tachometer, EGT, CHT, flight time, climb, and altitude.
On the single-place Summit SS, you still receive the same instruments but the cowl is an option. If you don’t select the option, you get a smaller instrument pod mounted atop a tubing construction.
Given that Summit Powered Parachutes is based in Canada, you shouldn’t be surprised to hear that a nose enclosure with windscreen is available to deflect a chilly wind. If you’re still cold, they can tell you how to duct some engine heat into this space, allowing flight even in a cold Canadian winter. And, the company says it will eventually offer a full enclosure.
The Summit’s yoke is linked only to the nosewheel and it works intuitively for ground steering, that is, turn right/go right. All models, including the Summit SS, are fitted with a hand brake on the left side of the yoke. The lever works a drum brake on the front wheel and is useful when the canopy is not lifting that wheel off the ground. Summit doesn’t want you to have to put your feet down to slow the chassis.
Looking Around From the Summit
Some fixed-wing pilots claim no interest in powered parachutes. While these ultralights aren’t fast, they do offer some of the best views in powered aviation. Going aloft in one is now a delight for me since I adjusted my attitude. Wood proved an excellent instructor as I learned these machines better.
Before committing to takeoff, Wood’s technique to assure a fully inflated canopy is to look over each shoulder and examine just the wing tips, only the last cell or two, rather than move his head to see the entire canopy. He says that’s sufficient and if you look directly overhead to check canopy inflation – as I once did on a solo flight – you can lose focus on where you are going.
For training, Wood says, students are given a convex mirror to help them check the whole canopy. When the student becomes comfortable, the instructor removes the mirror and has the student use the over-the-shoulder technique.
When teaching flight in powered parachutes, a student starts in back and moves to the front as the instructor sees aptitude. From the rear seat and using a dual throttle arrangement, Wood can instruct while maintaining control over all but nosewheel steering. He can’t reach the steering pedals either but in flight, he can pull on steering lines to turn the aircraft should the student fail to use adequate control.
Since the wind suddenly picked up while we were flying, I got a lesson in crosswind technique. Wood recommends using a consistent crab angle until you get down near the ground and then turning into the wind. Except for crossing the runway at a sharp angle, the technique didn’t seem notably different to what you’d use in a fixed-wing. Rollout on a powered parachute is much shorter than any fixed-wing or trike, so crossing the runway presents little problem.
The whole time you operate in a crosswind, you are suspended toward the upwind side of the canopy, with the canopy positioned downwind relative to the carriage. You wouldn’t want to land with the canopy off to one side, so as we established short final on landing Wood made sure we had the canopy directly overhead. Had it not stabilized – with help from a last-minute wind direction change that lined up with the runway – Wood said he’d consider going around for a new approach.
A final goose of power just before touchdown slowed the descent rate and we touched down with excellent control. I estimate about a 1.5-second delay between a significant power input and response from the canopy, so you need to plan ahead slightly. Ignoring this delay can cause the carriage to swing more under the canopy. While that’s fine aloft, you don’t want such movement as you touch down.
As opposed to the more customary powered parachute location for the main gear axle – ahead of the engine weight – Summit locates their axle a good 18 inches back. Combined with its main boom-type construction, the Summit looks highly unlikely to allow a prop strike. Such events can occur from the way powered parachutes land with the aft end of the carriage hanging relatively low. Yet fitting powered parachute carriages with such a positive angle of attack is necessary if the parawing is to produce lift during a takeoff roll. The Summit’s aft axle construction better supports the engine at all times.
With its weight better distributed, and spreading out that weight using the long stainless steel attachment bar, Summit appears to offer further potential to stabilize the carriage on the ground or in flight.
As we touched down in windier conditions, Wood showed me how he prefers to pull vigorously on the trailing edge lines to assure the canopy deflates where and when he wants. Were it to keep flying – and the canopy readily wants to do so – you could be pulled backward or even lifted somewhat.
Handling and Performance
Instead of the foot bars of most powered parachutes (and except for ParaSki’s handlebar method), Summit uses foot pedals that wheel back and forth on rails. This may seem more intuitive to conventional pilots. The slide pedals are secured to the rail top and bottom, and move quite fluidly.
The range of motion that’s available from this sliding pedal arrangement gives more line action than the hinged foot bar method, Summit says, so that the pilot has an increased measure of control. The control range is enough, Wood says, that you hardly need to pull on the control lines to add input as is commonly done on other brands of powered parachute.
To compensate for a skiing injury he once sustained on his right leg, Wood has his personal rig set up so he has a 1:1 action on the right pedal. The left pedal is standard at a 2:1 ratio of movement to control input. Wood’s right leg thus has to move twice as far but has only half the pressure required.
Despite a peppy and smooth-running Rotax 582, climb was only 500 fpm from 65 hp. Of course, all parameters of performance seem significantly better with an elliptical canopy.
My 2-place test Summit aircraft had an S-500 Mustang canopy. This parawing is made to Summit specifications and Wood described it as a more common square canopy. An elliptical model called the Thunderbolt E-340 is also available. In both cases the numbers refer to the square footage while the “S” stands for square and “E” for elliptical.
Square is best for training, Wood says, and nearly all other powered parachute producers echo him. Choosing elliptical is a personal choice. The Thunderbolt allows you to see as much as 40 mph forward speed, says Wood. For the same carriage, an elliptical produces lift more efficiently as well.
While we flew at near gross under the S-500 Mustang, I noted the power required for various phases. During climbout, we used about 6,200 rpm; during cruise, we used about 5,200 to 5,300 rpm. These values are not far off from the average of fixed-wing or trike ultralights.
Wood indicates that with the Thunderbolt elliptical canopy, 4,700 rpm would be sufficient, showing the added efficiency of the elliptical (more wing-like) shape even though it has only two-thirds the square area.
A 4,400-rpm approach setting produced about 300 fpm of descent.
Use of stainless steel canopy attachment bars allows Summit to spread out the load longitudinally such that a single occupant in the front seat can range from 150 to 280 pounds. Many powered parachutes use a single point attachment (on each side), though Summit isn’t the only one using fore and aft attachments. I’m not aware of others using stainless steel for this attachment component, however.
By moving the attach brackets on these stout stainless steel members, Summit says their model can accommodate up to a 300-pound pilot in the front with no one in the rear. Americans big enough to need such a configuration should be pleased someone is considering them.
Although it looked a little dainty to me – compared to similar constructions on other carriages, Powrachute and Skymaster for two examples – Summit personnel assured me the roll bar up front has already demonstrated its capability. It may crush a bit, they say, but the circular design can take a lot of punishment.
Should any problems occur with their aircraft, Summit president Brent Holomis observed that his company sends out Airworthiness Directives (AD) to help owners comply with necessary changes. This happens all the time in general aviation and it is a sign of manufacturer integrity. Holomis believes Summit may be the only powered parachute manufacturer that issues ADs.
Your Own Summit?
Wood and I flew the Summit II model. The company also offers the single-place Summit SS. Both single- and 2-seat models come with various engine choices, including Simonini, Rotax and HKS. Holomis said in late September 2003 that they are now reinvestigating Hirth engines, due to consumer requests. “We have some Hirths on the floor now,” Holomis says, “but with any new powerplants, we’re being very careful after a poor experience with the MZ engines.”
The 2-place Summit II starts at $12,950 with a 50-hp Rotax 503. Our test aircraft had a few options such as Rotax 582 with electric starting (the package adds $2,200), rear foot pegs ($20), custom inlaid seats ($90), jumbo tires with spun aluminum rims ($200), and the instrument cowling ($250). A full cowl as seen in the single-place photo runs $400, and factory building adds $750. Instructors will want the dual throttles for $70 additional. Don’t forget to factor in crating and shipping, which varies depending on where Summit must ship your ultralight.
Wood assured me you could refer to their Website for pricing information and specifications as they keep the site up-to-date. Prospective buyers will be happy to find prices quoted in both U.S. and Canadian funds.
The single-place model uses all the same construction as on the 2-place models, including the fat stainless steel bar; it is simply somewhat shorter in length.
For the Summit SS, you can select the optional fairing or stay with an open-air version. If you choose the latter, Summit says you can easily fit within Part 103, “even with electric start.” They refer to an SS with a Simonini single-cylinder engine generating 45 hp with a belt drive and electric starting. The price of this model is $8,795, more than $4,000 (U.S.) less than a basically equipped Summit II. Even with a Rotax 503 and pull starting, the single-seater comes in under $10,000 complete.
Summit Powered Parachutes offers two interesting choices for new pilots or enthusiasts of powered parachute flying. I’ve got to try that Summit SS sometime, but you’ll definitely enjoy the experience and the view from a Summit II.
|Empty weight||310 pounds|
|Gross weight||850 pounds 1|
|Canopy Span||39 feet 1|
|Canopy Area||500 square feet 1|
|Canopy Loading||1.7 pounds/square foot|
|Length||10 feet 4 inches|
|Height||6 feet 2 inches (to roll bar)|
|Kit type||Assembly kit|
|Build time||30-40 hours|
|Notes:||1 For standard Apco PW500 canopy; Summit also offers canopies from Apco and Chiron that carry 950 pounds gross and which cruise up to 40 mph.|
|Standard engine||Rotax 582|
|Power||65 hp at 6,500 rpm|
|Power loading||13.1 pounds per hp|
|Cruise speed||30 mph|
|Rate of climb at gross||500 fpm|
|Takeoff distance at gross||150 feet|
|Landing distance at gross||75 feet|
|Standard Features||Rotax 582, instrument console with multifunction electronic monitoring, separate seating with 4-point belts, choice of carriage and canopy colors, 3-blade GSC prop, Azusa mag-style wheels, front wheel brake, canopy bag, line socks, roll bar system.|
|Options||Rotax 503, HKS 700E 4-stroke engine, Rotax 912, possibly Hirth engines, various canopies including elliptical, electric starter, composite prop, additional instruments, composite instrument cowl, windscreen, factory-assembled option, dual throttles, full enclosure coming.|
|Construction||Aluminum airframe (tubing anodized inside and outside), 4130 chromoly, stainless steel, AN hardware. Made in Canada by Canadian-owned company.|
Cosmetic appearance, structural integrity, achievement of design goals, effectiveness of aerodynamics, ergonomics.
Pros – Summit Powered Parachutes took a new approach to the carriage; built with fixed-wing methods. The Summit II utilizes a long side bar to mount the canopy from four points, leaving it less vulnerable to misloading. Steering method is unique and can suit pilot-specific adjustments (see article). Light among comparable designs; helps performance.
Cons – Some critics of multiple mounts suggest maneuverability is less (though I was not able to detect this). Rollover hoop looks too delicate (though factory personnel say it has proven itself). Canopy wings hardly differentiate on powered parachutes as the same suppliers are mostly used.
Subsystems available to pilot such as: Flaps; Fuel sources; Electric start; In-air restart; Brakes; Engine controls; Navigations; Radio; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Since powered parachutes are simple flying machines they aren’t heavy on systems, which is a good thing in my mind. The Summit has a nosewheel brake; lever on yoke. Flight steering pedals are adjustable. Rear seat holds fuel tank. Excellent repair access to all parts of carriage.
Cons – For those who like to manage systems, the Summit will be a disappointment; it’s quite simple. Optional electric starting will prove valuable; pull starting from the front seat means a long rope run. Trimming a powered parachute is something you do with lines on the ground and it’s important to get it right.
Instrumentation; Ergonomics of controls; Creature comforts; (items covered may be optional).
Pros – Individual, and very comfortable, seats are used so the occupants are not touching. Space in both seats is generous. Four-point seat belts. Pedal positions can be rigged for different pilot sizes. Rear seats may have fold-down foot pegs to rest feet. Windscreen available; full enclosure planned.
Cons – Access to the rear seat is more challenging due to the side bars used to attach the canopy. Foot pedal adjustment isn’t quick for changing pilots. An aft throttle is optional but necessary for instruction. No cargo storage (though it’s unlikely you’ll fly a Summit cross-country). Aft instruments only by custom fitting.
Taxi visibility; Steering; Turn radius; Shock absorption; Stance/Stability; Braking.
Pros – Right-way steering, that is, turn right (with the yoke)/go right. Brake fitted to front wheel; hand lever is on yoke. Excellent shock absorption (common on powered parachutes). Engine and airframe weight is well positioned over the gear, an improvement on other powered parachutes I’ve flown. Good ground clearance for rough field landings.
Cons – Taxi turn rate is rather slow but ground maneuverability isn’t a particular need with powered parachutes; they’re normally pushed to a takeoff position. Braking power is modest and hand levers don’t allow much leverage (though brakes are hardly needed on powered parachutes).
Qualities; Efficiency; Ease; Comparative values.
Pros – Ground roll is fairly short, 150 feet± helping to confirm a light structure. Sliding steering pedals work smoothly and can be rigged for differing mechanical advantage (see article). Excellent visibility in nearly every direction (a common powered parachute trait).
Cons – Crosswind landings must be set up well or going around can be the best bet (if the engine is performing properly). Canopy wings aren’t known for retaining energy; you need to get landings right or go around if possible. Sole approach angle aid is using both foot pedals to slow speeds slightly.
Quality and quantity for: Coordination; Authority; Pressures; Response; and Coupling.
Pros – Throttle is arguably the most important control on a powered parachute; Summit’s works conventionally to most pilots (lever forward = more power). Sliding steering pedals offer mechanical advantage to make turning and flaring easier. Maneuvering is much more responsive than fixed- wing pilots think.
Cons – Sliding steering pedal actuation is not standard in powered parachutes; may affect resale. Precision turns to headings take practice. Foot pedals take generous physical effort. If your legs aren’t up to it, adjustment is possible but response is lessened by relieving pressure (which is why some pilots also pull the steering lines with their hands).
Climb; Glide; Sink; Cruise/stall/max speeds; Endurance; Range; Maneuverability.
Pros – Powered parachutes excel at low-over-the-field flying. Summit claims 6:1 glide out of their top canopies – a good gain over the more common 4:1 for a square canopy. With an elliptical wing, speeds can exceed 40 mph (if that’ll be fast enough for you). Summit’s innovation of stiffened cells in the canopy reportedly aids inflation efforts.
Cons – Powered parachutes are not for cross-country (though some long flights have been made). Climb seemed rather weak at about 500 fpm from a Rotax 582’s 65 hp (probably better with a higher performance canopy). With a square canopy top speed is limited to 30 mph, forcing operations in lower wind conditions.
Stall recovery and characteristics; Dampening; Spiral stability; Adverse yaw qualities.
Pros – Secure restraints will keep you in the seats. Dynafocal engine mount reduces vibration. Engine weight is over the axle; better support and more angle allowance before aft frame touches, avoids damage to aft components. No adverse yaw effect (though pendulum swinging can occur with crude throttle movements).
Cons – Though company says the overhead roll bar is robust, it does not look as strong as some other powered parachute brands. Airborne stability in powered parachutes is very good, but elliptical canopies are not for the inexperienced (Summit, like all good builders, steers new pilots to square canopies).
Addresses the questions: “Will a buyer get what he/she expects to buy, and did the designer/builder achieve the chosen goal?”
Pros – Summit Powered Parachutes is associated with ASAP, long-time builders of the fixed-wing Chinook and Beaver ultralights of Canadian fame. Company used this synergy to make a different product in a field of look-alikes. More aircraft-like construction may appeal to pilots. Design’s innovations should help on resale. Dependable company to associate with after purchase.
Cons – If you can, accept a single-seater Summit as a bargain; the Summit II is priced with the crowd (more than $4K more than the single-seater). Summit is still unsure of pursuing LSA certification; will otherwise require an approved kit for 2-seater sales in future. U.S. dealers are widely spaced