Arkansas man prefers flight in powered parachute

Sunday, August 2, 2009
Tony Hardin can often be seen flying over the skies of Fayetteville, Ark., in his powered parachute. (Northwest Arkansas Times)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- It's not a bird. It's not a plane. For Fayetteville's Tony Hardin, though, it's his preferred way of flying.

The powered parachute appears to most to be some sort of bicycle contraption. It weighs about 415 pounds with oil and fuel and can carry another 500 pounds of passenger weight. The parachute -- which sails 17 feet above the riders when in flight -- is 39.5 feet wide and 15 feet deep.

Hardin has had a love for flying for as far back as he can remember. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, Hardin flew Cessna 350 aircraft as a hobby. But that hobby became way too expensive to keep up through the years.

Even though he stopped his flying, Hardin never stopped dreaming of returning to the clouds. But when he showed up at a hunting and fishing show at the Tyson Indoor Track Center in March of 2006, flying wasn't particularly what he had on his mind.

At least it wasn't until he locked his eyes on a powered parachute. The two-passenger parachute ride intrigued Hardin -- intrigued him so much that he asked the man who brought it to the show, Bob Hawkins of Claremore, Okla., to give him a test ride.

One ride was all Hardin needed. He was hooked on the powered parachute.

"I told him I was already hooked. I just wanted to make sure," Hardin said. "And once I went up, I told him before we ever got back on the ground, I told him to get one ordered."

Hardin actually admits to a fear of heights. But the way he sees it, having a love of flying and a fear of heights can coexist in certain circumstances.

"It's unexplainable, I guess," he said. "But a lot of people with fear of heights like to fly."

Fear or no fear, Hardin is sold on the powered parachute. And ever since he saw his first one in March 2006, he's been convinced there's no better way to glide through the sky.

"If you ever get into any trouble, all you've got to do is find a spot and lay it down," Hardin said. "In my opinion, it's the safest way to fly."

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