THEY glide through the air, a motor attached to their backs and an adapted 'wing' above their heads, seeming to laugh in the face of death as they do.
They are paramotor pilots/powered paragliders; those men and women who take to flying like duck to water.
Career & Education talks this week to Chris Santacroce, a man who has made paramotoring/powered paragliding his profession for more than two decades.
The 39-year-old, who is employed to Red Bull North America, was recently in Jamaica with team member Othar Lawrence to participate in the island's 50th anniversary of Independence celebrations. He and other members of the Red Bull Air Force team showed off their paramotoring/powered paragliding skills at select parties in Negril and Ocho Rios, between August 3 and 5, and put in an appearance at the Grand Gala on August 6.
The married father of two children, who studied business at the University of Utah in the United States (US), said the past 20-plus years have been bliss.
"I always liked skiing, skateboarding, bmx and fast sports close to the ground. Then, I liked sports where it was possible to jump — always high and higher — [including] skiing, mountain biking, even flying planes. Then I saw paragliding. It was 1990. Since then, it is all that I have done. It has been an amazing 22 years," he said.
His current duties at Red Bull, Santacroce said, "depends on the year". "Sometimes it's competition, sometimes it's demonstrations. Sometimes video and movie projects or just taking pictures of other sports from the air," noted the professional, who at one time worked as a caterer.
In addition to paramotoring, Santacroce said he also sky dives, flies planes; is involved in ultralight aviation (the flying of lightweight one- or two-person fixed-wing aircrafts), and BASE jumps. BASE jumping sees him jumping from buildings, antennae, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs, canyons, gorges) before using a parachute to break his fall;
Who is a paramotor pilot?
Our job is to be what we call 'current', which means that we fly as much as we can. We can't let a week go by without spending a few hours in the air. Also, we have to make sure that our equipment is in perfect condition. This is almost a full-time job. When it is time to do demonstrations, we have to pack up our motors very carefully and ship them with all the spare parts. Then, we travel to the destination and double-check that the equipment wasn't damaged in shipping. Finally, when it is time to do the shows, we have to use our best judgement to make sure that the show happens without making any mistakes. We have never had an incident in front of a crowd and that is why we get to do what we do over the years.
What are the academic qualifications for entry into this line of work?
Everyone on our team has about 15 years experience. We all have won competitions and have the highest ratings available in the United States. The organisations are US Parachute Association, US Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association and US Powered Paragliding Association.
What other skills and/or competencies are required?
To do this job we are specialists in risk management, photography and videography, social media, and public relations.
What do you most enjoy about the work that you do?
We love to open people's minds to the world of flying.
What are the challenges you face on the job?
Weather is sometimes hard and the regulations in the US sometimes prohibit us from doing the projects that we really like to do.
Have you had any paramotor accidents/mishaps? If yes, detail the one that has stood out for you.
I had an accident three or fours years ago. It was scary, but I made a full recovery. I am grateful for it now because I am a better person and a safer pilot from the experience.
How much can one make as a paramotor pilot on an annual basis?
Being in the flying business can never be about the money. We just do what we love and Red Bull helps us to turn it into magic.
Why would you advise anyone to get into this line of work?
If you find yourself flying or jumping every day and are as passionate as you can be about it, then look for some organisation that would like to be associated with the good things you are doing. You can make a lot of nice promotion for a brand and they can help you to do what you really love.
Trained in paramotoring, what sort of employment options are open to you?
A paramotor pilot can do advertising, tandem flights or teaching. A person could even do repairs or inspections.
There are a number of entities that teach paramotoring/paragliding, many of which can be found on the Internet, including Axis Paragliding and Paramotoring (http://www.paraglide.co.uk/index.htm) and Airborne (http://www.airborne.uk.com/about_us_faq.htm), both out of the United Kingdom.