As James Beyer nears the floating ramp, he veers toward it, gaining speed. • His wakeboard rushes up the curved ramp, and suddenly, he's airborne. • About 15 miles north, pilot Glen Rushing takes his 500-pound aircraft to the skies. At 900 feet, he shuts off the engine. • Think rural Hillsborough County is boring? Think again. The open spaces allow for grassy paintball fields and archery ranges. There are landing strips for ultralights and a rodeo ring where anyone can ride a bucking bronco.
As Beyer soars through the air, he grabs his wakeboard and leans back. It's known as an indy glide to those who hang out at McCormick's Cable, Wake and Ski Park in Seffner.
The trick looks difficult. And dangerous. But Beyer, who has been wakeboarding for about a year, says it's not.
"The worse you can do is tear a few ligaments," said Beyer, 17, of Clearwater. "That's bad, but it's the very worst scenario."
To assist thrill seekers with airborne adventures, Rushing gives lessons on his light sport aircraft. He has been at it for nearly six years.
Before then, Rushing was an Army helicopter instructor. Now he's retired and teaches out of the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport.
He built the small orange plane from an $18,000 kit. Technically, it's not an ultralight because it's slightly heavier, but Rushing says it handles just like one.
On a cool morning, he circles through the bright blue sky and points out the Tampa skyline in the distance. Then he shuts off the engine.
The noisy propeller stops. The wind jostles the plane. But it doesn't plummet from the sky.
The red, white and blue wings catch the wind as the lightweight plane glides through the sky.
Rushing steers the plane toward the runway. The nose gently leans down, and the hangars no longer look like tiny game board pieces.
The plane's wheels graze the runway.
"See," Rushing says, "I can land smoother than a commercial plane."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.