13th SC(E) NCO flies with the birds

Story and Photos by Spc. Fabian Ortega
13th SC(E) Public Affairs Office

FORT HOOD, Texas — For the past four years, Staff Sgt. Robert R. Bent, a supply ammunition sergeant with the 4th Corps Materiel Management Center, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary), has been flying with the birds, literally.

Bent, a Montana native, took up the sport of powered paragliding, a form of ultralight aviation where the pilot wears a motor on his back and runs into the air with lift from a paraglider wing, and has been doing it since 2003.

“As a kid, have you ever had dreams of flying like superman, well this is the closest you’ll ever get to it,” said Bent, “There’s freedom of flying like the birds.”

Bent was drawn into the sport of paragliding in 1992, when he went on a parachute jump at 10,000 feet.

“I had a lot more fun on the parachute ride down, than the free fall,” Bent said. “The instructor that I jumped with, it was a tandem jump, said, ‘There’s this sport called, power paragliding,’ from then on I’ve wanted to go up,” Bent said.   

Bent explained some of the mechanics of powered paragliding.

“Basically you have your chute the entire time and you have control over altitude, speed, anything that an air plane can do, a powered paraglider can do,” said Bent. “You can go up, you can go down; if the motor stops while you have you’re parachute, you just come down and land.”

 It’s probably one of the safest modes of flight to get into, said Bent.

Powered paragliding is safe enough that the Federal Aviation Administration does not require a certification. The FAA does not consider PPG’s as aircraft, but are considered as a “method of conveyance.” They are not subject to the rules for aircraft, notwithstanding restricted airspace. The sport is basically self-regulated.

Bent said there is some risk associated with his hobby of powered paragliding, but that’s sometimes the case with hobbies.

“As a hobby, with anything you get into there is a certain amount of risk, just like riding a motorcycle or anything along those lines,” he said. “If you decide you can accept the risk you are about to take, then it is probably the safest form of light methods of flight there is.”

After considering the risk factor, for an entire second, Bent said he likened feeling of soaring through air to riding a thrill ride at the fair.

“Have you ever been on one of those rides at the fair where it’s just a big swing and it goes in a big circle, that is it, it feels that way every time,” he said.

As much as he enjoys going up and aerially navigating the city he decides to take off from, Bent said he has not flown in more than a year. Some of that is due in part to rules that limit air space around Killeen and his busy schedule. Bent moved from Colorado Springs to Killeen in 2005 and deployed a year later, so he has yet to take to the skies in the Central Texas region.

“Right now I have not gone up as much as I want to, because of the restrictions around Killeen, with the military post; you can’t fly in restricted air space,” Bent said. “You have to be so many miles from civilian airports and the closest place I’ve found where I can fly freely is, San Antonio, he said.

“It takes a lot planning to make that trip, as to where in Colorado Springs it was probably five to seven miles from post, which I was able to fly when I was there,” said Bent. “It was so convenient, so awesome that it was just happening everyday for us almost.”

Bent took up powered paragliding while stationed at Colorado Springs, and it was there where he happened to find just what he was looking for to get his jump into the sport.

“I went to a flea market and there was a guy flying a [powered paraglider],” Bent said. “Before then, I never really had the resource to get up with somebody and a find out exactly what was going on with it. When I saw him flying, I stopped my car and waited for him to come down, the rest is history.”

His name was Bob Peters, then President of the Pikes Peak powered paragliding club, said Bent.

The Pikes Peak powered paragliding club is based in Colorado Springs and has been featured in the History Channel series, “Digging For The Truth.”

“I was in with them for probably a year and half,” Bent said.

Before joining the club, Bent underwent some training.

“I went to New Mexico and got my training, from American Flyer. The instructors down there were awesome,” he said. “Typically it takes three to five days to get your training and I was up and flying my third day.  I was so hungry for the knowledge and to get it down, [the instructor] had me flying the third day.”

Since then, Bent has been up more than 80 times, on more than 15 flight days.

Bent said he is planning to fly with the birds once again, in the near future.

“I’m hoping to go up this holiday weekend, if my girlfriend decides to take the trip with me,” he said.