x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Ras al Khaimah pilot is jack of all trades

The Life: Kevin Donaldson flies a two-seater, powered parachute. Never heard of the contraption before? He explains how it works.

Kevin Donaldson, a flight instructor at Jazirah Aviation Club in Ras al Khaimah, in his 'flying lawn chair'.
Kevin Donaldson, a flight instructor at Jazirah Aviation Club in Ras al Khaimah, in his 'flying lawn chair'.

Capt Kevin Donaldson is of a jack of all trades at the Jazirah Aviation Club in Ras al Khaimah. He fills in as a flight instructor and orders spare parts for club members. But his primary responsibility is to take passengers through the skies in a two-seat, powered parachute that has been called a "flying lawn chair". Here is how his day develops:

About 7am

I'm not an early riser. I get between seven and eight hours of sleep. For my mother, that's way too much sleep. For me, that's about what I need.

9am

The aviation club opens. On a weekday I'm working on the computer as a dealer for aircraft parts. Some things are not allowed to be imported here. If it gets rejected by the department of homeland security in the US, I have to go back to the client and work through it.

About noon

I'm a licensed mechanic and I do my own maintenance on my powered parachute machines. I've had that thing called a flying lawn chair. I like to think it's a little more sophisticated than that. It's like two seats sitting on a tube hanging under a parachute. It's completely open in nature. We also have about 30 aeroplanes. We're a microlight club; all of our aircraft are two seats.

Lunchtime

I have a little fridge in my shop but I'm not big on lunch.

Afternoon

When customers come in we have to get their information for security reasons. It takes about five minutes to check the engine and get it up to the right temperature. The engine is mounted on the back and has a cage around it for people's protection, but also for keeping lines from getting into the propeller. Then I lay the parachute out behind the machine, check all the lines and make sure there are no tangles.

About 10 minutes later

We fly at 500 feet (150 metres), at 45kph. Along this section of the Gulf coast the water is very shallow. We see a lot of big sea turtles, sting rays and schools of fish. In cooler months we see sharks. For the last five or six minutes, we cut into the desert and descend to 3 or 4 metres over the dunes. If the wild donkeys are out there, we give them a little chase sometimes.

Either 15 or 30 minutes later

We drop down. It's not like a parachute when you're dropping out of a plane; it glides down gently, not a bounce at all. On a weekend I could have four or five flights. If that's the last flight of the day, I put the parachute back in.

Between 5.30pm and 6.30pm

The best flying time is the last hour before sunset. The wind will calm down. On weekends, my wife is here and I'll pick her up for a little while. Flying like this is not so enjoyable by yourself. You want to share it with people.

nparmar@thenational.ae