Power Gliders, Madison County, Iowa

Nov 16, 2012  | 5 min  | Ep 206

In rural Madison County, the hum of a distant motor may not be a combine in the midst of autumn harvest. The growing buzz can envelop a valley alongside the Middle River and once is descends below the horizon a unique image suddenly appears -- a young man floating underneath an expansive parachute with a massive fan strapped to his back.

This is Jason Jasnos, a longtime skydiver who discovered the wide open expanses of Iowa were perfect for a virgining aerial endeavor known as power paragliding.

Jasnos: Know your comfort zone.  Know where you are, you know, comfortable enough to fly.  I have a lot higher of a comfort zone than you probably might.  I'll fly in a little bit more turbulence than you might.  It takes years of getting comfortable with that feeling of being in turbulence, knowing how to handle it and just enjoying the flight regardless.

Flying alongside Jason is a visual feast, particularly in the midst of fall color.  The California transplant hugs the tree line valleys, flies only feet above countless golden acres of corn and provides a bird's eye view of Madison County's famous covered bridges.  Strapped with multiple cameras on board, Jason's images are one-of-a-kind.  But his long-tailored abilities are what keep him safe.  And hugging the surface of the Earth in a powered paraglider has its dangers.

Jasnos: That's the danger zone, when you fly low, okay.  But when I'm flying low I'm constantly aware of where the winds are and my relationship to objects with that wind.  So that keeps me out of a lot of trouble.

Jason is a thrill-seeker turned teacher.  His launching pad at the Winterset airport serves double duty as a training round for prospective clients, each hoping to fly over the Iowa countryside.

Jason Glaza: When I saw Jason flying around and I'd watch him coming in for landings or just taking off, many days when we'd be on the ground we couldn't skydive because of the clouds or winds, he could be out flying.

A young skydiver like Jason Glaza was lured to Iowa PPG by witnessing seemingly effortless flight with a powerful motor at your back. 

Jasnos: Once you get control of the wing just keep controlling it and then when I tell you to turn, go ahead and turn.

But for potential paragliders, weeks of tedious training begins with chute control, especially at takeoff.  Powered gliders must have expert control of their parachute.  Their hands not only control the direction and rate of descent but the acceleration of the propeller.  It is a balance that takes practice, practice and more practice.

Jasnos: Keep driving until the lines come up over your head.  At that point you can let go of the ayes and your back should be straight as possible at this point.

While PPG is an under-the-radar extreme sport in Iowa, it does fall under federal regulation.

Jasnos: It is an aircraft so the FAA has regulations what we can fly, where and when and you follow those regulations and you go through proper training and it is, I'd say it's absolutely safe.

When we met Glaza, he had spent weeks honing his skills on the ground.

Glaza: This cost $7,719.

The Iowa school teacher hoped a calm autumn evening would be perfect for his first flight.

Jasnos: He is doing great.  He is an A student.  I like his ambition, he is very motivated and that's what it takes.  It takes a certain amount of gumption to really make this thing happen.

With his own teacher Jason on the ground coaching his student via radio, Glaza began his first solo flight, drifting above the farm fields near Winterset.

Jasnos: It takes a moment to adjust to that mindset that I'm flying, yeah, I'm flying okay, here we go and after that it's like wow.  You just start soaking it all in and it becomes a spiritual experience just about. 

Glaza: Climbed a little more gradually, not as aggressively but you get a feel for it real quick.  It's a blast.  Oh man. 

Jasnos: I love watching them fly for the first time.  They're just feeling their wings.

The lessons Jasnos gives in Winterset are economical and designed for entry level beginners for Iowans hoping to witness the state from a bird's eye view.  Glaza's first flight is one of the reasons Jason Jasnos fostered Iowa PPG into a home-grown business.  He wants to share his experiences and the natural beauty of Iowa with everyone.

Jasnos: Beautiful flying, just everywhere was just colors and just better air.  I think I might have to take another flight.