Intrepid traveller Scott Ritchie in South America
Columbia, Equador Peru and more ticks off another southern spell and takes me and my Zenith closer to the goal.
Hello fellow pilots! We just returned from another flying expedition in Peru and I’m finally taking some time to write a travel review on my Zenith paramotor and, in particular, why it is my best travel partner to date. This is a ten min read…
A few years ago I realized that my old paramotor’s travel credentials and repair history were not impressive. Typically, whilst on one of our abusive trips, some small section of bent cage or a broken part needed repairing, or the larger frame required ‘special packaging’ or fees to get through the airlines. So, after significant research on which paramotor frame/cage would be the best for traveling, I decided to buy a Zenith. The incredibly small size and weight of the Zenith was initially enough for me to give it a go, but I sought out the U.S. Parajet Head of Operations (John Erickson) to see if this thin, lightweight piece of tin could really be strong enough for my rough adventures and harsh travel conditions. After handling a demo machine at one of John’s Parajet booths my apprehensions subsided. It appeared strong enough and definitely small enough (disassembled) to give it a try on the next leg of our expedition – continuing down the Pacific Coastline of South America.
After receiving and assembling the Zenith, my initial impressions were good. What I didn’t know and have come to realize after a few years and a half dozen hardcore adventures is the incredible strength, engineering ingenuity, safety features, and its overall travel friendly characteristics. Each of these topics deserves way more attention, but in terms of this post, we’ll stay focused on the transportable design aspects.
Over the past few years of travelling I have packed/unpacked and entirely disassembled the Zenith at least a dozen times. Although I typically ship the engine (cylinder, piston, head, and carburetor) in an aluminum box to my final destination to avoid commercial airline issues, all of the remaining paramotor parts travel with me in my check-in luggage. In fact, I have created a detailed packing list for these expeditions which lists each part, the weight of each item, and the bag it will travel inside for the journey. Specifically, this includes items such as the Zenith backplate, tank, harness, swing arms, frame stand, spars, cage rings, exhaust, silencer, airbox, spare parts, tool bag, etc etc. It should be clearly noted, none of this system’s gear requires oversized or overweight luggage (unlike a few of my friends who fly different gear). Two standard sized check-in bags work for all of my flying gear – carry-on luggage excluded (clothing, free flight wing, harness, etc). Cleaning, assembly/disassembly, and packing usually occur in a field, at a hotel, a boat dock, or next to a picnic table on the beach in less than ideal conditions.
In an effort to continue my long term goal of flying south (this time with better equipment), I took my new Zenith to Columbia. I have done my absolute best to abuse the Zenith frame and cage to test how it could hold up to extreme travel and flying conditions. Although a large part of successfully traveling with a paramotor includes how well it has been cleaned, disassembled, and packed; the actual ‘abuse’ begins after assembly and during ground transportation (or a rough high wind landing). Typical ground transportation doesn’t take a toll on most paramotors with a bit of care. However, when your only mode of transportation is on the bow of a small wooden boat getting beaten and bashed about in the waves of the Pacific Ocean to reach a remote beach along the coast of Columbia, the engineering and rigidity of a paramotor’s frame, cage, and stand are truly tested.
After two weeks of the Zenith being thrashed on the deck of a small boat (usually unable to be tied down) with a heavy dousing of salt water, not a single Zenith part was compromised. Every safety feature and moving part still functions as originally created. None of the CNC machined aluminum pieces bent, broke, or suffered in integrity during these mad trips. The robust Zenith’s quality becomes clearly evident as other paramotors along such journeys have suffered failures. One exception to the above is a bit of minor abuse the netting received from crew mishandling the paramotor during loading and unloading onto boats, beaches, and vehicles. However, after a few years of these expeditions, I have found the skills of local fishermen repairing the netting to be far superior to mine.
After flying the entire west coastline of Columbia and Ecuador (two years and many trips later), we flew across the border into Peru. Unfortunately, our Ecuadorian crew and chase vehicle were substantially delayed by Peruvian officials. Once we realized our crew was not coming anytime soon, we had two choices: wait or continue flying. Fortunately, the Zenith is conveniently designed to allow the fuel tank to easily drop out of the frame with one locking pin and a push button quick disconnect for the fuel line (brilliant!).
After hiking with our gear to the nearest road, we hired a driver to take us to the top of the mountain to find the nearest gas station. We found the last remaining bottle of generic outboard two-stroke motor oil (definitely questionable oil quality) and filled our hand-carried fuel tanks to the brim. Thanks to the uniquely designed ‘trave’ handle and the slim profile of the Zenith fuel tank, carrying a full tank (over 3 gallons / 12.5 liters) was like carrying a briefcase full of gold. We knew we could continue on our own for a few days without support if we had flying equipment, fuel, oil, a bit of money, and a GPS. After installing the filled tanks and grabbing a bite at a beachside food shack, we flew south to the next inhabited area before the winds picked up and nightfall arrived.
Nearly three days of traveling without a chase crew, fuel cans, and luggage to dip into for a clean pair of underwear created a memorable and aromatic experience. In this hot and humid environment along the equator we needed to find a hotel, a clean bed, and a long overdue shower. But the instant we landed near the local ship yard constructing oil platforms, we were overwhelmed by hundreds of excited Peruvians. We hastily agreed our best option was to leave the area before we were overpowered by the locals and potentially having our equipment stolen or damaged. We hired the nearest three wheeled moto-taxi carts and tied the paramotors to the back. After fitting between the rear fenders and tying off with shoe strings, we were underway. The dirt and cobbled roads filled with potholes and speed bumps created a bit of angst amongst us, but the strength of the CNC machined alloy parts of the Zenith withstood the mototaxi ride with only a few rub marks on the cage’s anodized coloring. This is a true testament to the solid design.
As we continued our journey south along the Peruvian coastline, we knew one of the effects of the 1983 El Nino (the most devastating weather-related disaster ever recorded from an El Nino) destroyed many of the few roadways along our route. We decided we needed to hire a local guide with a small 4x4 pickup for this more extreme off-road section of our expedition. The driver followed us along our two week journey to carry us, our motors, and our gear. Day after day we tied our motors and gear to the bed and roof rack of the 4x4 pickup. The extremely remote and rough terrain of the area, coupled with the incessant high winds in the afternoons, effectively sand blasted our paramotors for a new kind of torture for both the Zenith and pilot. Every day (several times a day) we loaded and unloaded motors and gear to sit in the sun baked bed of the pickup. The 4x4 drove through sand drifts (getting stuck twice), rocky canyons, dusty trails, and blazed through self-made paths with the gear exposed to all the bumpy and breezy glory. With a bit of cleaning, the Zenith remained strong and true without a fault to be seen in one of the harshest and driest places on earth.
Through this short story and testimonial of my use and abuse of the Zenith, I can confidently say there is no other machine I would rather have by my side as a travel partner. Throwing everything a crazy paramotor pilot and Mother Nature could muster at this piece of equipment and the Zenith still asks for more. Whether it is stripped down and carried as luggage, soaked in salt water, sand blasted and baked in the sun, or pounded in the back of boats and 4x4’s, the Zenith wants to go with you. This transportable design will go wherever the adventure leads… thanks Parajet!