Profile - John LeBlanc | D-10824
John LeBlanc, D-10824, is a legendary parachute designer and test jumper. While earning his Bachelor of Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU), he met Bill Coe and in the mid-1980s joined Coe’s fledgling company, Performance Designs. Since then, he’s designed and tested numerous landmark canopies, including the PD nine-cell, Sabre, Sabre2, Stiletto and Velocity.
Marital Status: Married to Bibi LeBlanc
Children: Three boys: Chris, Ben and Nico; aged 17, 13 and 10
Occupation: Vice President of Performance Designs Inc. and lead canopy designer at PD. Also President of DeLand Research Corporation, a company that provides test-jumping services to PD and other well-known parachuting equipment companies.
Life Philosophy: Be fully where you are, in excited anticipation of what is coming next...
Jump Philosophy: Jump for the pure joy of it. Relax and enjoy—no need to rush. Be considerate of others in the air. Leave yourself and others plenty of outs. Don’t injure yourself. Don’t ever take anyone out!
Container: Usually a [United Parachute Technologies] Vector, sometimes Mirages and [Sun Path] Javelins
Main Canopy: Usually whatever we are developing at the time, but on pure fun jumps, I really like the Sabre2 150 to 190 and the Velocity 96 to 103.
Reserve Canopy: A PD or an Optimum reserve in a size that is about the same size as the main I’ve been jumping or perhaps a touch larger.
AAD: I use [Airtec] CYPRES and [Advanced Aerospace Designs] Vigil AADs.
Home Drop Zone: Originally Calzada Larga in the Republic of Panama, but Skydive DeLand [in Florida] since 1979.
Year of First Jump: 2001, December 1977: a static-line out of a UH1-H Huey helicopter down in the Panama Canal Zone when I was 16
Total Number of Jumps: I quit logging personal jumps about 24 years ago and had 1,400 at that time. Looking at our test-jumping logbook, which has over 35,000 logged jumps since we created the Sabre2, I would say that roughly 5,500-6,000 jumps is a realistic estimate for my total jumps over 34 years.
Total Number of Cutaways: Two cutaways from tandem-prototype malfunctions. Several dozen cutaways from weird prototypes that were fully open but not really stable enough to land. About 10 cutaways during the “two canopies out” dual-square study that PD did for the PIA and USPA. Roughly 100 intentional cutaways during the development and TSO [FAA Technical Standard Order] testing of the PD and Optimum reserves. I’ve had only four cutaways from normal sport mains, all more than 25 years ago!
Most people don’t know this about me:
I have never had to cut away from line twists. I have never had an unplanned malfunction or cutaway on a production canopy. I have never broken any bones skydiving. My only injury was a sprained ankle on my last static-line jump in 1977!
Who have been your skydiving mentors?
Tom Piras and Billy Weber.
What safety item do you think is most important?
Two things: First, the best way to prevent traffic problems is to time your arrival to the landing area so that nobody else is landing at that time. Second, to make a practice flare on your reserve before you land it. The flare is probably different on your reserve, and you can practice even if you are only a few hundred feet in the air.
Do you have any suggestions for students?
There is rarely any real need to downsize if you choose your weather conditions well. Don’t think you are ready to downsize simply because you are landing softly. Don’t forget that every skydive should be fun and safe, not just a step to where you think you should already be.
What is the toughest thing to do in the sport of skydiving?
To learn how to detect and correct canopy control errors while they are so small that they don’t cause any problems. That is the essence of being truly ready to downsize.
What kind of skydiving student were you?
I was a very poor student in freefall but was pretty accurate under the round student canopies. I did really poor on the high-performance rounds, though, and had a terrible time transitioning to squares. My landings and accuracy were awful for my first 100 square jumps!
Do you have any suggestions for USPA?
Resurrect a low-cost static-line program that includes basic wind-tunnel training. The sport really knows how to teach freefall skills, so that weakness of static-line training can be easily overcome nowadays. This would help solve canopy-control problems by having far more jumps during training. It would also be far more affordable for the average guy to get through training and still be able to afford jumping when they become licensed. Finally, it would give people more DZ time while being a student, to help ease the transition into the local crowd. AFF was a great thing in the 1980s, when students were on PCs [Para-Commander round canopies], but the canopy control learning curve is so steep now!
What has been your best skydiving moment?
Swooping around a cloud-filled sky under Excalibur [canopies] with my new German girlfriend in 1989. She was such an aggressive and natural canopy pilot! I have been married to her for nearly 22 years.
What has been your worst skydiving moment?
Becoming hopelessly entangled in another test jumper’s cutaway test canopy. I felt like it was going to pull my leg off. I have never been so stupid yet so lucky at the same time! Stay the heck away from any cutaway canopy!
...the largest canopy you’ve jumped? 800 square feet, jumped as a tandem and a triple-tandem with one jumper cutting away for landing. (With our 725-pound exit weight, we were concerned with the possibility of tripping up and falling.)
...the smallest canopy you’ve jumped? Velocity 75 prototype, which I landed straight with no extra speed or front risers. Also some F-111 prototypes in the 50- to 65-foot range, which weren’t intended to be landed.
...the smallest reserve you’ve jumped? PD 106 and Optimum 99, both with great landings, but you can never forget how small they are.
Of all the parachutes you have created, which has been your favorite?
It is a toss up between the Stiletto and the Velocity. These are my favorites because they are so high performance but also really well behaved at low speeds and capable of amazing things in the right hands. I was never a more current skydiver than during these two projects, and I am really pleased to see how well they were accepted by the skydiving community. The Stiletto is 20 years old and still going strong!
What were the early days of Performance Designs like?
I met another ERAU student, Bill Coe, who was in the skydiving club and had a similar background modifying old ram-airs in high school, just like me. It was Bill Coe who had the desire to build parachutes as a business, and he started Performance Designs in Miami on the porch of a friend’s house where he rented a room. I tried one of his prototypes/demos and was totally hooked. I had no money to buy one, so I started working for him sometime in 1984 to trade my labor for a canopy. This doubled his workforce size in the process, and it wasn’t very long before he gave me some latitude to experiment with different airfoils and design concepts, some of which really surprised us by how differently they flew.
Based on that, we decided that PD would never stop doing research and development, no matter how difficult or expensive that might get. I didn’t really have it in mind for the long term, but I was already a bit jaded about the idea of flying for a living, so I went with it. These were great times for a couple of guys right out of college, but the best times in our sport are still to come.