Randy Autrey has fought fires. He’s flown airplanes. He once built a hovercraft with his wife. So what earns the undying passion of a man who already has big hobbies and fast toys?

Floating serenely above the treetops.

Autrey flies powered parachutes — those things that look like motorized lawn chairs attached to a canopy  — and is one of the few powered parachute instructors in the state. This is no adrenaline-spiking, heart-in-your-throat skydiving, though Autrey has done that, too. Powered parachuting is more calm and slow, than fast and falling.

And Autrey, known for working hard and playing harder, loves the tranquility. 

Name: Randy Autrey

Age: 51

Town: Bethel

Job: Science teacher at Gould Academy

Hobbies: Fishing, flying, antique cars, radio-controlled airplanes, Angel flight, volunteer firefighter.

I hear you have some very cool toys . . .: My wife and I built a hovercraft from plans. We also restored a Ford Model A car and recently purchased a Model T. We both work very hard, so we try to play the same way.

How did you get involved with powered parachuting? I saw an ad for a backpack unit and started looking into it, then looked in Uncle Henry’s and, bingo, some guy was selling a powered parachute. So I bought it and taught myself how to fly it. I would never recommend doing that from personal experience — it is expensive and dangerous.

What’s the difference between powered parachuting and parachuting that requires you to jump out of a plane? Although skydiving and powered parachutes both have parachutes, that is where the similarities stop. Skydiving is an adrenalin rush reaching free-fall speeds of over 100 mph. When jumping out of a perfectly normal airplane your brain tries to tell you that it is not normal and you get a rush of excitement. Powered parachutes are a very calm and slow experience, only going 26 mph. We lay the parachute behind the cart and start the 65-horsepower engine to kite it overhead, so we know our chutes are fully deployed, before we add full throttle and leave the ground. The engine allows us to climb up to 10,000 feet and go anywhere we want to. Sometimes we go up a few thousand feet and cut the engine to enjoy the quiet beauties of Maine. Most of the time we fly very low and enjoy the smell of a newly cut hayfield or nice cool air over a river or pond.

Have you ever jumped out of a plane? Yes I tried a tandem jump at Skydive New England. They are awesome down there and I would highly (pun intended) recommend trying a jump with them. . . . The wind in your face, the rush of going out the door for the first time and my brain telling me this is crazy. I loved it.

What does it feel like taking to the air in a powered parachute? I can sum that up with a passenger I took for a ride. I heard my female passenger crying in the headset so I turned around and asked her if everything was OK and she told me that the beauty was overwhelming. The sensation of cruising down the river looking over at Mt. Washington as the sun slowly set behind the Presidentials, making a beautiful pink and red glow reflecting on the river . . . It is a calming and surreal experience to cruise along with the warm breeze in our face. We truly felt like a bird.

How do birds react when they see you up there? We have watched birds come and fly with us. Like the movie “Fly Away Home.” We were flying down the river when an eagle soared next to us. We tried to go to the right to make sure we were not bothering him and he went to the right. We tried left and he went left. We even turned around and went the other direction and again he followed. So majestic, I felt honored to fly with him. He finally flew into a tall tree to watch us continue down the river.

Can you steer? Yes, we go up or down using throttle control from the engine and we steer left or right with our feet using control bars. This leaves our hands free for taking pictures or waving at everyone on the ground.

More fun: flying a powered parachute, racing a sports car or flying a plane? I have been very lucky to do a lot of different things from boating to motorcycles, etc. . . . but the most fun I have ever had has been powered parachuting and sharing that experience with friends.


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