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Performance Designs is giving you a closer look into the research and development department by interviewing team members. Last time we heard from Kaylin Truba, materials engineer, who talked to us about why PD believes a finished canopy is only as good as the raw materials used to create it, finishing her pilot’s license and getting her hundredth jump.
Next up: Jonathan Nyenhuis, R&D assistant project lead. Jonathan first started working with DeLand Research Corporation (DRC, the company created by PD to handle all test jumping) in October 2016. He then joined R&D full-time in his current role in December 2017.
Jonathan did his first jumps at Central Michigan Skydivers in 2013. “Immediately after college (where I got a Bachelor of Science degree in physics and math), I ended up coming down to Florida to look for actual work as a college graduate, a real job. Instead, I finished my AFF here at Skydive DeLand.” In his first year, Jonathan did 500 jumps and got his AFF rating. “I sold all my stuff, got money from graduation and family and then moved to Lake Wales to get my AFF rating.”
Jonathan moved back to DeLand after getting experience at Lake Wales and Skydive Chicago and did camera work, AFF and tandems. Amanda Festi asked him to help out at DRC testing canopies. Now that he’s full-time at PD Jonathan says, “My job really is to help some of the project leads with their projects and work on special projects, including cargo canopies. Not just the development of the parachutes, but also entire deployment systems. It’s challenging and rewarding. The rest of my job is testing customer canopies and other project lead canopies.”
I had a chance to chat with Allison Reay (previously interviewed for the Nylon Ninja series) who works closely with Jonathan as a test jumper. “He is one of the most versatile canopy pilots. He can fly a lot of different things really well and knows a lot of different canopy piloting techniques that maybe just swoopers or CReW guys wouldn’t know. I think it makes him really valuable in the testing world. And he can carry an 80-pound rucksack around!”
Now that he’s working within the R&D department full-time I was curious about how much of his time was spent in the office versus at the drop zone. “About 33 percent of my job is still jumping for DRC, whether it’s R&D projects or customer canopies. I’m really thankful that I still get to jump a lot.” Jonathan currently has just over 5,000 jumps.
In discussing his canopy progression, I was pleasantly surprised at how slowly he’d taken things. “I took a very conservative canopy progression because there’s always more to learn. And as frustrating as that is to hear, it’s true.” He started off on the Navigator, went to a Sabre2 210, then the Sabre2 190 for around 200 jumps. “I got on my Sabre2 170 and I stayed on that parachute for more than a thousand skydives. I always try and relay that information to people who are in a hurry to downsize. I’m really thankful that I got to learn on that parachute instead of hurrying and getting smaller and smaller and smaller. I learned everything that the Sabre2 had to offer and I could put it in a backyard, I could swoop it downwind, stand up or swoop the pond. I was really proud of that.” Jonathan now jumps a Valkyrie, which he loves, but really believes spending that time at the beginning of his skydiving career focusing on one canopy really helped him progress. I spoke with Gilles (R&D lead) about Jonathan and what he has brought to the team. “He’s a young gun who has a wealth of experience that he learned from old dogs, which makes it interesting to see how much heritage has gone into what makes him such a huge asset here at PD.”
Jonathan has only jumped PD canopies throughout his progression; I was curious why. “The people I looked up to were jumping PD products. It established a credibility and quality. I had confidence in their products and even before I worked here, I felt like it was the reputable choice.”
Being a test jumper is seen as an exhilarating, edge-of-your-seat job, even within our extreme sport. I asked Nyenhuis to give me some insight into what it’s really like being a test jumper. “It has led to my most technical skydives. It brought back some of the rush that had been lost for me. The interesting thing, though, with prototypes is everybody thinks, ‘Oh my gosh, he jumped these prototypes, how often does it go wrong?’ Well, it’s very rare that we ever have something that’s worth cutting away. It is very exciting to be jumping prototypes, but I think people build it up. PD already has a good idea of what will make a parachute stable. It’s very rare that we’d ever jump something that’s not stable or flying. We know, based on years of experience, what will fly. The testing part comes in the fine-tuning and getting that extra bit of performance. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I have a lot of confidence even in prototypes. Of course, I’m ready for the worst. But, it’s very rare and we’ve done some weird stuff. Even the weird things that I’ve seen in my time here, fly.” On that note, Jonathan has had 30 work-related cutaways.
With his time split between the office and test jumping, I was interested to learn which he preferred. “Yeah. I mean, I’m a skydiver. I appreciate the office job. I appreciate using my brain and actually having to problem solve, whether it’s hands-on, on a system and making sure if it’ll work or whether it’s looking at the line information spreadsheets and figuring out what the problem is. But I’m still a skydiver. I love skydiving. I love swooping. That, overall, without a doubt is my favorite part. Sometimes on a Monday morning, I’ll be driving to work and get that Monday-morning feeling, but then I just think about all the stuff I’ll get to do this week, and get super excited to come to work at PD. I think that says a lot.”
Working with all these guys who have been in the sport for years, I wondered what some of the best advice was that he’d soaked up. “From Kappie I’ve learned to embrace the challenges that life or work throw you. Not to complain or be disappointed in them, but to embrace the challenge and know that you’ll come out better one way or another. It’s about having the right attitude.”
Jonathan’s thoughts about why Performance Design’s R&D stands out in the community are, funnily enough, about not making people test jumpers. “We don’t make the customer the test jumper. If we’re releasing a product, it’s been put through the wringer. I think it’s the amount of engineering and testing that goes into it beforehand. We may release a product later, but it’s a better product.”
What’s next for Jonathan? “I want to continue doing CReW (it’s not a dirty word), and move to the title of R&D project lead. I’d like to continue developing all the cargo projects that I’ve been working on. I want to continue test jumping. I want to be even more well-rounded than I am and I want to continue to improve. Mainly, I want to go fast and fly canopies.”
Keep an eye out for more PD R&D stories next month!
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