Ascension fireman celebrates festival in powered parachute

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief

It was early morning, before the sun came up. The grass at Lamar Dixon was still cool and wet. Hundreds, if not thousands of spectators would fill the area later that day for the Ascension Hot Air Balloon and Boucherie Festival.

A few guys who pilot powered parachutes gathered outside their campers before taking flight. Pilots included Terry McConnell, a Galvez Lake Volunteer Fireman since 1976 and another Ascension Parish resident, Ben Harrison, also a former fireman.

Others included Kelly Precht, Ray Morrow, and Scott Moss. McConnell had agreed to take one of us from the newspaper on a ride to capture some images of the Hot Air Balloons on their traditional morning flight.

"This is the most powered parachutes you'll see in Gonzales all year," McConnell said.

He added that himself, along with Harrison and another Prairieville resident were the only three powered parachute pilots in the parish. Say that five times fast.

What is a powered parachute?

Well, it is a small craft. The model that McConnell uses is an Air Wolf two-seater. The craft weighs under 500 pounds, and is propelled by a huge fan similarly to an air boat. When the craft reaches a certain speed, a huge parachute lifts it from the ground and causes it to take flight.

Want to go up? Increase throttle. Down? Let go and glide. The parachute is made of 550 square-feet of material. A typical skydiving chute is about 120 square foot. McConnell's particular chute is designed after the "Thin Red Line," a fireman's symbol.

He said he flies 2-3 times a week. His craft was named Ruby by his wife, Debbie.

"It's the fourth one that I own," he said. "My wife calls Ruby the woman in my life."

Precht said that each year in mid-September about 20-30 pilots of these powered parachutes get together at Sweet Lake near Lake Charles, La. for a few days of flying and alligator hunting.

Moreover, "Ruby" has been used in more than one search and rescue operation. More law enforcement agencies are noticing the benefit to having one or two of these crafts on hand. McConnell recalled searching for the body of a missing LSU student and a Donaldsonville child in the past.

But aside from the rescue angle, the other practical use for McConnell is relaxation. He said that if he is having a tough day, all of his worries seem small when he is soaring above Ascension Parish. He said he's taken the craft to many beautiful places and recalled Arkansas and the California coast.

Besides flying and fighting fires, McConnell also owns a local pressure washing company that keeps him busy, Terry McConnell's Exterior Cleaning at 225-978-3869.