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Lee Benson
Fredrick Scheffel of St. George sits in an early model powered parachute.
It really is like being on a magic carpet, and they’re so easy to fly. If you’re up in the air and something happens and you don’t know what to do, take your hands off the wheel and it will land itself. —Fredrick Scheffel

ST. GEORGE — The first time Fredrick Scheffel laid eyes on the Dixie corner of southwestern Utah, he thought it was amazing.

And that was before he saw it from the sky.

Fredrick is a powered parachute enthusiast and entrepreneur. Powered parachutes, as the name suggests, are engine-operated flying machines that do everything parachutes do, with an important add-on: They’ll stay in the air until you a) decide to land, and/or b) run out of gas.

Gravity is not an issue.

At his business — Predator Powered Parachutes — Fredrick sells, services and rents rides on powered parachutes, an experience he likens to “Aladdin on his magic carpet.”

He has a warning for anyone who goes up in one.

They’re extremely addicting.

“Don’t bring your checkbook,” he says, smiling, “you’ll end up buying one.”

Especially if you fly around here.

It was the spring of 1971 when he came over the top of Utah Hill into St. George.

The Virgin River Gorge portion of the I-15 freeway was still being finished, so he descended into the city on the old road from Vegas. When he stopped at one of the few stoplights then in operation on Bluff Street, he gazed around at the cozy little red-rock town and placed it high on the list of places he’d like to return to.

He was traveling home to Maryland after a year of college in California — taking the long way around in a 1964 Ford Fairlane.

From St. George, he drove the few miles northeast to Zion National Park and camped there for a couple of nights before resuming his journey. The landscape there was beyond description. The longer he lingered, the more he was mesmerized.

He was 19 years old, single, without a mortgage. Life couldn’t have been more wide open.

He majored in psychology at college, but after he graduated he went to work in software design, an industry just starting to boom. He boomed right along with it. By the end of the 1970s he had a great job with a great company that told him he could live wherever he wanted as long as he could easily get to an airport.

Fredrick Scheffel remembered the little Utah town he’d passed through — and that’s where he moved.

He bought an eight-bedroom home at the top of Bloomington Hills and rented out the basement.

“I wanted to raise my family in such a place,” he remembers. “I had no idea Mormons love kids as much as I did.”

He was still single at the time, but he later met his wife, Soon Jin, on a St. George lineup. They were married in 1996 and have two children, Alexander and Sabrena.

So that’s how Fredrick Scheffel got to St. George.

It took him a little longer to become a powered parachute addict.

For one thing, the first powered parachute wasn’t even commercially available until 1981. For another thing, he had to get his first career out of the way.

In 1999, looking for a change of pace, he took his first ride in a powered parachute.

He was immediately hooked.

“It really is like being on a magic carpet,” he says. “and they’re so easy to fly. If you’re up in the air and something happens and you don’t know what to do, take your hands off the wheel and it will land itself.”

They might look dangerous, but more people die every year riding donkeys, he points out, than have died in the entire history of powered parachutes.

“It’s a fact,” he says, “37 people on average die every year riding donkeys. There have been 35 powered parachute deaths in 45 years. And most of them are because people get distracted by the view and don’t see a power line, or they try to fly too close to water.”

Of course it’s also true that a lot more people ride donkeys than fly powered parachutes — something Fredrick is eagerly trying to rectify. He started his Predator Powered Parachute business (skytrailslsa.com) in 2004.

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The St. George-Mesquite area, he expounds, is the perfect place for it. The scenery — from the nearby national parks to the pine-covered mountains to the red-rock canyons — is indescribable, and it’s a sport that can be very conducive to all ages, baby boomers especially.

“It appeals to people who have always wanted to fly and now they have the time to do it.”

It’s expensive, but not Learjet expensive. You can buy a used one-seater powered parachute for around $8,000. A new two-seater starts at $22,000.

Or you can try one out for $75 for a half-hour or $150 for an hour.

Fredrick will drive.

Lee Benson's About Utah column runs Mondays. Email: benson@deseretnews.com