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Over the next few months, Performance Designs is giving you a closer look into the research and development department by interviewing team members. Last month we heard from Jimmy Scarpelli, R&D project lead, who talked us through finding his way to PD via studying aeronautical science, drop tests and how the community and manufacturers work together to push canopy design forward.
This month it’s Allison Reay, assistant project lead. Allison is a lifer in the sport with 8,500 jumps. “I wanted to be a skydiver as a kid and I jumped for the first time in 2004 when I was 17 in Colorado and knew that’s what I was wanted to do with my life. So, I learned how to pack, got through AFF and then started shooting video for the drop zone.”
Allison is now 31 and has been in the sport from that first jump and only worked within the skydiving community. “I went to school in Colorado and worked my way through school by skydiving and shooting video. Then I got a job after college at Mile-Hi shooting video and doing AFF for 5 seasons.” From there Allison started at Performance Designs in 2015 in the marketing department. She managed PD’s demo program, which lets people demo PD wings so they can try before they buy.
Allison moved from the marketing department to R&D in May 2017. “Even when I was working in marketing I was getting involved with DRC (the company created by PD to handle all test jumping). I came down to Florida interested in flying parachutes, so as soon as I started working here I was asking how I could get involved with test jumping.” For example, soon after Allison started, the Horizon (PD’s wingsuit canopy) was heading into the final stages of testing and Allison was able to be involved with that, especially for the lighter wing-loading test jumps.
As assistant project lead, Allison’s role is assisting the leads with any of the tasks they’re working on. “It’s a lot of rigging. Basically, we take the parachute out, test it, bring it back, talk to the project lead, [then] they will look over the notes and all the information they have. I might help them rig it differently or do any sort of alteration. We then take the parachute back out and the test jumpers and I will test it again and the process repeats. I’d say I’m about 60 percent in the office, 40 percent out at the drop zone test jumping.”
At Performance Designs Allison is a champion for the Proxy and BASE jumping in general. “I started BASE jumping in around 2010; I have about 500 jumps. I use the Proxy for slider-off and slider-up BASE jumps. I love it; It’s the best BASE parachute.”
When Allison isn’t test jumping, her main canopy is a Hybrid Valkyrie 67. When training for canopy-piloting meets, she’s usually to be found on her Peregrine 64. “I don’t tend to focus on the podium, I want to be very efficient at flying my Peregrine through gates and courses. I love training. It’s my favorite part of flying parachutes. So regardless of winning, I want to fly my Peregrine really well through a course.” Outside of canopy piloting and testing canopies Allison does enjoy other disciplines such as freeflying. “But it’s never been a huge focus for me. I like freefall for sure but I’ve always focused on canopy flying. And probably my favorite type of freefall is AFF. It’s fun, it’s rewarding, it’s exciting and a little scary. Teaching and bringing people into the sport is the most rewarding to me.”
As if Allison didn’t have enough going on with R&D, test jumping, BASE jumping and CP training she’s also a member of the Denver Broncos demo team Thunderstorm. “In 2012 they were looking for a new member and I got asked to try out. I did and it worked out.” From August to December (football season), Allison is out there once or twice a month to do the demos in Colorado. I caught up with fellow Thunderstorm team member, Jimmy Tranter, and asked about Allison. He spoke of Allison’s skills under a wing: “She has a natural flying ability and a constant drive to acquire canopy knowledge. That combination has made her one of the best canopy pilots in the world. She swoops into a stadium like a badass in all weather conditions, on fire and through a spiderweb of wires. I’m a big fan of her work.”
Allison is one of the few women in our sport who jumps a Peregrine. With that in mind I was interested to find out about her canopy progression. “I was on a Sabre2 150 for a long time. I went to a Sabre2 120, then a Crossfire 99, Velocity 96, Velocity 79, Velocity 71 and then the Hybrid Valkyrie 67 and Peregrine 64. I started swooping on the Sabre2 120 at an almost 1:1 wingloading doing 270s. I was trying to max out every parachute before downsizing.”
Allison feels that the R&D team at PD is successful because of the team effort and leaders. “Nobody does any project by themselves. Everybody has a task they have to do but everyone works together really well. It’s a family for sure which is awesome. Everyone loves their job, so everyone works their butts off. We have Kappie (Engineering manager), Gilles (R&D lead) and John LeBlanc (Vice president). Those are powerful tools. They’re so knowledgeable and have so much experience doing this that any sort of learning in a project being led by them is going to be successful or have some massive value in learning and progression as a company.”
One thing that Allison was keen to stress is that it isn’t just about building a new best parachute. It’s about finding the best materials, the best lines, getting a parachute to last the longest, etc. “There’s a huge amount of development and time at PD that goes into that. It was surprising to me moving from the marketing department to R&D about how much effort is put into finding the best possible materials, line, tapes and stitches. Those things are part of what makes our canopies stand out in the end. The little things that people don’t always see. All the work we put into getting the right materials before we even get to the CFD, test jumping, etc., are a huge part of our success.”
She also wanted to remind people how much consideration PD puts into the everyday skydiver. “It isn’t that we’re just focusing on the people who are winning the CP competitions. We love to do development that helps them, but we put an equal amount of effort into the wingsuiters, students, tandems and intermediate jumpers. Our heart and soul went into the Sabre2 which has really helped jumpers be able to make huge progressions in canopy flying from student status to be able to progress to cross brace wings. At PD we want to make sure that we’re bringing people into the sport and then we’re taking them on this journey. And we also want to support those people who won’t ever want a high-performance parachute. Something that’s going to open as nicely and softly as possible and get them to the ground easily. We care about these jumpers as well. We want to make sure that every jumper is taken care of.”
Keep an eye out for more PD R&D stories next month!
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