Propelling to new heights
Lucas Niehues says he learned to fly because of the excitement it would bring to himself, and he’s kept flying because of the excitement he’s seen it bring to others.
A whole new world opened up to Lucas when he learned to fly a paramotor, and many residents in Nemaha County have witnessed his high-flying skills. While he spends much of his time out of sight — soaring over secluded fields, ponds, rivers and timber — spectators have seen him flying along highways, country roads and over area lakes. But everywhere he flies, he’s got a camera and an eye for capturing breathtaking shots of wildlife, scenery and sunsets.
A paramotor is a powered paraglider. It consists of a parachute-type wing and a propeller that is strapped to the pilot’s back.
“To put it simply, you wear a large two stroke powered propeller on your back attached to a paraglider,” Lucas said. “A throttle lever straps to your hand controlling your thrust. This is essentially your up and down mechanism. Once I’m strapped into my harness, I take off jogging until the glider inflates overhead and generates enough lift to scoop me off the ground and into my seat. Steering the glider is the easiest form of aviation — pull the right brake toggle to turn right, and the left toggle to turn left.”
Paramotoring is self-regulated, that is, it is not regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, they do comply with the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) 103, which is the FAA regulation for ultralight pilots to keep both the pilot and spectators safe.
“While I do have to abide by the rules under FAR 103, the part that seems to surprise people the most is that paramotorists are not required to have any kind of license or training to begin flying. Although, formal training is highly recommended! In rural Kansas, the rules are mostly common sense. We can fly 30 minutes after sunset with a strobe light, and up to 18,000 feet of altitude, which at that point you would need oxygen to avoid hypoxia,” Lucas said.
Learning to fly
For Lucas, his passion for flying came together unexpectedly and started lining up years before he would discover paramotoring.
“I grew up on a farm near Kelly, Kan. My older brothers had the farm under control, so I went to college to become a wind turbine tech — that’s not what I do anymore, but it’s funny how things happen for a reason — I was training myself for the ‘heights’ aspect of flying before I even realized it,” Lucas said.
Lucas recalls the exact moment that he was introduced to the paramotor.
“I vividly recall it being a Sunday morning and YouTube recommended that I watch a video of a guy flying his paramotor to McDonald’s. I watched him fly over cornfields and through a hayfield of big round bails. It reminded me of Nemaha County, and I instantly knew this was something I had to try,” Lucas said. “Before I knew it, I’d been studying the sport for three years, reading every article and watching every video about the sport.
I discovered a couple guys in Topeka that also flew paramotors. They had trained themselves and said it wasn’t too hard to learn. I got a little overly excited, purchased my own setup and began practicing with the glider. I quickly wised up and knew receiving formal training was the best option, but with one major problem — I didn’t have two weeks of vacation to spend on learning to fly.”
Some people are blessed to find a job they enjoy doing every day, while others discover a hobby they love. But in Lucas’ case, he has been fortunate to have successfully found both and they pair perfectly.
“The timing of all of this was impeccable,” Lucas said. “In my spare time, I was working hard on starting up my own business repairing phones, which was quickly overtaking my day job. Being the loyal employee that I was, I found it difficult to walk away from a guaranteed paycheck at a good job.
But one chilly December day, I decided to make a phone call to a paramotor school in Florida to inquire about any training spots they might have available. To my surprise, they informed me that in about two weeks, they’d be happy to squeeze me in. Everything was spinning for a second, but I knew that was just enough time, and the push that I needed to give my two weeks notice at my day job.”
Finally, after about three years of anticipation, Lucas took his first solo flight.
“New Year’s Day of 2020, I drove to Avon Park, Fla. I booked an Air BNB with a great Italian family that made me feel right at home, and never let me leave the house on an empty stomach. Then, by day four of training at Four Winds PPG [Powered Paragliding], I was already up in the air taking my first flight,” Lucas said. “I still replay the video from time to time knowing this was probably the single most pivotal moment of my life. Quitting my job, learning to fly and starting my own business was a risky move, but I’d never felt more as though I was on the right track. And from there, things couldn’t have lined up any better.”
Luke’s Phone Repair
While most small businesses were struggling due to COVID-19, Luke’s Phone Repair business was booming with customers who relied on their devices more than ever.
“Not long after I returned from my Florida escape, a virus called Corona began spreading,” Lucas said. “You’d think this would be a horrible time to start a business, but what did people rely on during this peculiar time — phones, tablets and other electronic devices. With social distancing in place and new apps such as Zoom, devices were more important than ever. As we all sat in uncertainty of what would unfold with COVID-19, I was busy working to make sure everyone had a dependable device to stay connected with loved ones.”
Lucas said he learned that having the parts needed and a flexible schedule were the keys to his success. Today, his business is thriving and he says repairing people’s phones is the most rewarding job he’s ever had. It also gives him the flexibility to fly his paramotor whenever the weather allows it.
Paramotoring has allowed Lucas to experience the world from a new perspective and reach places he had only been able to see on a map.
“I wouldn’t say I’ve always been the adventurous person that I am today, but I’ve always had a fascination with studying Google maps and wondering what certain areas would look like in real life,” Lucas said. “Especially those nooks and crannies you can’t access by car or on foot. Paramotoring simply turned my couch exploring into reality!”
Lucas mostly flies alone since he is the only pilot in Northeast Kansas who flies a paramotor, and he shares some of his favorite places.
“Solo flying is very relaxing, but it sure would be nice to have a wingman to experience those amazing flights around Nemaha County with!” Lucas said. “I’ve always been interested in the way Kansas used to look 100 years ago when there were railroads spider-webbed across it — most of which have been removed and no longer exist — but from a few hundred feet in the air, it’s incredibly fascinating that you can still see right where the tracks used to be.
If I had to pick a favorite spot here in Kansas, I would say Tuttle Creek because it is an amazing area filled with wildlife. It’s also really special being able to fly over all of your favorite places from childhood. I get hit with a wave of nostalgia when I fly over a favorite pond or bridge, and it’s almost like getting to experience them for the first time all over again!”
Paramotoring has taken Lucas to incredible places and he’s made many life-long friends along the way.
“Luckily for me, I’ve met plenty of amazing people across the U.S. and beyond that have given me the excuse to travel,” Lucas said. “My paramotor packs down relatively small, allowing me to bring it with me everywhere I go. My favorite place to fly is probably Moab, Utah. Moab has some mind-blowing terrain, including natural rock arches that you can even fly through. Exploring the many canyons and mountains here is something you just don’t find back home in Kansas,” Lucas said. “This sport has opened the door to upcoming adventures such as Baja Mexico, Iceland and even the Great Pyramids of Egypt. Seeing the world from this point of view definitely makes you feel like the tiniest speck. A very fortunate speck — that discovered its own unique way of seeing the bigger picture.”
No matter the season, Lucas never regrets getting out of the house and spending time in the sky.
“I’ve truly come to appreciate each passing season. The pristine snowy landscapes in winter, the fresh spring aroma as it begins to warm up, the endless rows of corn in the summer, and flying over a sea of clouds on a chilly autumn evening are just a few reasons this sport will never get old,” Lucas said.
Follow for more
Feel free to reach out to Lucas with questions if you’re interested in the exciting sport of paramotoring.
You can enjoy hours of videos on his YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/@lucas2143, and don’t miss the weekly flying adventures on Instagram @lucas.niehues.
For those interested in seeing more paramotoring in person and meeting other paramotor pilots, there is an event right here in Kansas. In the fall, the town of Fredonia welcomes paramotor pilots from all over the U.S. to their annual Fly-In known as Endless Footdrag – expected to be held Sept. 18-23. A couple hundred pilots camp on the runway, and put on a nice airshow in the evenings just before sunset.
Finally, you can follow Lucas’ business page at www.facebook.com/lukesphonerepair where he drops all the latest deals and the occasional iPhone from his paramotor as part of his fun little “Guess my Altitude” iPhone Giveaway.
There’s some magic in this tarp and strings
Submitted by Lucas Niehues
There’s some magic in this tarp and strings…
A dinky two stroke motor that I’ve torn apart and put back together a hundred times. A chipped up propeller held together with Q-Bond, and the little ball field I call my runway.
It’s the endless corn rows, the foggy valley mornings, and the taste of clouds on a humid summer night.
A timber full of deer, a pond boiling with bass, or going wingtip to wingtip with an eagle.
It’s putting faith in the knots you’ve tied, the gas you’ve mixed, some cheap zip ties, yourself, and the big man upstairs.
And when everything comes together…
Yep, there’s some magic in this tarp and strings…