Up in the air: Powered paraglider's flights are eye-catching
When he was little — just three months old, in fact — Jimmy Jevnager's babysitter liked to take him flying.
His babysitter, who was also his grandfather, was a pilot and often took him flying a few times a week. So it was no surprise that Jevnager grew up with a love for planes and the air.
As an adult, he dreamed of getting his pilot's license. But when medical issues prevented that, he decided to purchase a powered paraglider, for which no license is necessary.
Now, Jevnager often flies his paraglider over Alexandria, catching the eye of both children and adults. Recently, Alicia Davidson of Alexandria posted in an Alexandria community page on Facebook, expressing that her children loved seeing Jevnager fly.
"My 3-year-old has to be outside until he can't see him in the air anymore," Davidson said.
Jevnager saw the post and replied with a video of the GoPro he wears while in the air.
"I'd kind of been waiting for someone to start asking questions," he said. "One of the things I love doing, especially when I see kids outside, is come down low and wave at them. They're always interested. When I was little I'd have loved it."
In Davidson's neighborhood near Alexandria Area High School, watching for Jevnager becomes a group activity.
"At one point my kids rode their bikes through the whole neighborhood saying, 'The parachute guy is coming, come to our house,'" Davidson said. "They all gathered in this big baseball diamond because it's the talk of the neighborhood. All the kids love seeing him."
The paraglider is powered by a motor that is strapped onto the driver's back. A small seat is also attached to the motor. The operator holds a throttle, which allows the paraglider to move up and down. To steer, there are two brake handles that pull on either side of the wing.
To take off, only about 150 feet of clear space is needed. While the world record for powered paragliding is 25,000 feet in the air, Jevnager prefers to fly low, typically sticking to about 500 feet.
"I like to stay low and see all the wildlife," he said. "I see a lot of deer, and fly with bald eagles, which is fun. They're never scared of me. I don't get too close, but it's neat to be in the same air space as them."
Jevnager typically carries about two and a half gallons of fuel, burning about a gallon per hour. Recently, he has been experimenting with turning the motor off while in flight.
"I just started playing around with shutting the engine off while out there and restarting with my pull starter," he said. "If the engine quits, all I really have to do is find a spot to land, so I make sure I'm set up over an area I could land if I have to. Turning it off is fun because it's really quiet."
While powered paragliding is typically safe, Jevnager says he avoids flying over the lakes in the area.
"It's the safest form of aviation but the Number 1 cause of death (while paragliding) is drowning," he said. "When people hit the water and have 65 pounds strapped to their back, it's not good. I just stay away from the lakes."
Jevnager is a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. The Alexandria chapter meets at 6:30 p.m. the second Thursday of each month at the Alexandria Municipal Airport. He encourages those with any interest in aviation to attend a meeting.
"Unfortunately general aviation is dying out," he said. "It's getting pretty prohibitive with costs and insurance and everything. People can afford to get into it, but not everyone realizes they can. We're trying to show people you can get into it and make something of it."