Sky riders — Tandem flights help everyone take wing
August 19, 2014
By Rachel Osgood
Seattle Paragliding teamed up with Project Airtime recently to give wings to those for whom flight seemed impossible.
“The overall goal of Project Airtime is to take everyone flying, no exclusions,” Project Airtime founder Chris Santacroce said.
Marc Chirico, the owner of Seattle Paragliding, worked with Santacroce to give people with special needs the opportunity to fly tandem as co-pilots. Santacroce came from Salt Lake City to provide Seattle Paragliding with the necessary equipment to launch paraplegics and quadriplegics off Tiger Mountain from July 25-27.
“My favorite part about working with Project Airtime is the inspiration and perspective check that comes out of all Santacroce does,” Chirico said. “It is clearly a good spirited project.”
Project Airtime is a nonprofit organization dedicated to sharing the experience of flight, no matter the obstacles facing the prospective co-pilot. Using a super chair, a three-wheeled wheelchair engineered for flight, certified pilots are able to take the elderly, sick and wheelchair bound to the skies.
“One of the highlights of this project is the ability to make magic moments happen,” Santacroce said. “People who are facing challenges often times need a lift. An awesome experience like this can be the thing that gets them excited and helps them to persevere as they take next steps.”
With the help of Project Airtime, extreme sportsman Michael Roe was able to add paragliding to his athletic resume. Surrounded by an entourage of friends and family, Roe and Santacroce launched the super chair off the Tiger Mountain runway.
“This was my first time paragliding and it was great,” Roe said. “It was awful cold, but fun to float around up there.”
The intrepid individuals were far from flying solo — families and friends came out to support and experience flight with the Project Airtime co-pilots.
“One of the best parts of this venture is its far-reaching and inclusive nature,” Santacroce said. “The co-pilots bring their friends out and everybody works together to make the flights happen. All parties get to help out in their own little way and leave the experience renewed and excited.”
Chirico said many passengers facing physical challenges have a tendency to become withdrawn and stoic. However, upon landing, they come out fully and gush with emotion.
“I am only now realizing the magnitude of the profound effect of this project on the disabled individual and the impact it has on those involved as they watch it unfold,” he said.
Santacroce has been a professional paraglider pilot since age 17. He is one of the nation’s top aerobatic and cross country gliders, as well as one of the world’s foremost gliding instructors. Santacroce was wheelchair bound after suffering a spinal cord injury. Defying the odds and making a full recovery, he dedicated his time to ensuring that flight be made possible for everyone.
Seattle Paragliding was founded by Chirico and is the only paragliding school in Western Washington with a facility located at Tiger Mountain. The training facility at the base of Tiger Mountain is outfitted with cutting-edge equipment and instruction.
Chirico said he hopes the efforts of Project Airtime would gain traction in the greater Seattle area. If enough awareness and support are raised, Seattle Paragliding may be able to share the experience of flight with all aspiring co-pilots.