Q&A With John Leblanc

Q: What do you do at PD? 
A: “I have been with PD since 1984, when it was just Bill Coe and myself. For the last twenty five years my primary responsibility has been to guide the management team as the Vice President. I also spend a great deal of time on developing and testing new prototype parachutes, and working with a great team of people to create new parachutes.”

Q: Where and when did you start jumping? What do you love about it? 
A: “I started jumping when I was 16 in the Republic of Panama. I love so much about jumping that it is hard to pinpoint one thing. I like the challenge of trying new things in freefall, being a part of the great culture and community, and most of all building and flying new parachutes!”

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your design process? 
A: “Sure. It has evolve a lot over the past thirty years. We have been using our own parametric design software since the early 1990s, which allows us to produce new prototype designs very rapidly—sometimes a totally new design is developed in minutes. This software has evolved a lot in the past twenty years, which gives us tremendous flexibility. We can manipulate over 1700 variables to create just the designs we want to try. The information is quickly fed to our computer-controlled laser cutting table, and the parachute is ready to fly in just a few days. We have also been heavily involved in Computational Fluid Dynamics since 2013. This area is quite advanced in aircraft design, but in my opinion is still in its infancy for parachute design, but it holds some promise over the long run. We have several developmental projects going at all times, and several Project Leads to direct and manage these programs. One of the great benefits of a larger engineering department is that things learned on one project can be easily applied to another project or canopy design.  

Q: You have been developing canopies for over 30 years now. What are some of your proudest accomplishments? 
A: Here are a few I am pleased with, based on my personal experience and the feedback from our customers:

  1. The Sabre2. I like how well it has been received, and how many people with such a wide range of experience levels love the way it opens, flies, and lands. It really proved how effective our parametric modelling tools were in the hands of a great R&D team.
  2. The Velocity, which has really incredible fly-ability and range. While you need to respect its capabilities, in the right hands it is a versatile performer and very intuitive to fly. This was the first canopy I ever flew at over 3.0 pounds per square foot, demonstrating good straight in landings with no extra speed on final.  Just flaring with toggles for a soft stand up in light winds.
  3. The Peregrine and Valkyrie, two very high performance canopies developed simultaneously with our great team of engineers and test jumpers. Again, I love the fly-ability of the Valkyrie.

Q: What do you think is “next” in parachute design? 
A: I have always been obsessed by the pursuit of the “Dream of Flight.” And yes, there is a big emphasis on it being a “dream,” just beyond our reach. It is a powerful motivator. There is always more to learn, new technology to discover, better wings to develop. The motivation comes from a love of discovering what is possible, and then finding ways to make it happen.”

Q: What’s a fun fact about you? 
A: I don’t really know…. I have never bought a lottery ticket. I love flying anything that can be flown.”