From The Mag

The Nylon Ninjas: Kappie Kapp

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Originally printed in issue #114 (June 2019) of Blue Skies Magazine.
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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 Jonathan Nyenhuis, R&D assistant project lead, who talked to us about his conservative canopy progression, being a test jumper and why CRW isn’t a dirty word.

Next up: Ignatus “Kappie” Kapp, engineering manager at Performance Designs for 18 years. “I’m responsible for getting products to the market from R&D. From the beginning of an idea, right through the development and then getting it to production. In other words, once we’re done with the R&D, we make sure that people in our production facility have what they need to manufacture a canopy. Everything from the training, equipment and information that they need.”

Who’s Kappie? That’s Kappie!

Kappie created the engineering department at Performance Designs. With that came the task of setting up the procedures, work instructions and references that people use every day in the factory. Because of this, his workload is considerable and he ends up involved in a lot of different areas within the company. “No day is like any other, they’re all different. We’ve got more than 20 projects running. That includes projects where we make machinery, test equipment for production and it also includes the R&D canopies that we’re working on. Because every day is unique, every problem is unique. A lot of my days go by with being involved in everybody’s world, helping them make decisions. Some days I go home and I tell my wife, today I have done nothing but talking, so I can listen now.” That’s a lucky lady …

Before arriving at Performance Designs, Kappie worked at IST Aerospace, a company that made and sold autonomous guided parachute systems. “I worked with a lot of parachute companies while I was there, including PD. When I left, I got offers from all the parachute companies I worked with. I picked the one that was the best. PD had the strongest history and the strongest market share.”

He was working at PD for four years before he decided to try skydiving. “When I first arrived, I had a colleague that told me I ‘should never go jump because once you jump your head goes bad.’ There was too much going on at that time. We were going through enormous growth and I just didn’t get around to it. I’d always been curious—since I was a little kid—about skydiving. I just never had the opportunity. I got to PD and I had a world champion teaching me how to skydive and I had the best equipment available on this planet, so why wouldn’t I do it?” Kappie now has around 400 jumps but doesn’t get out to skydive as much as he’d like. That could be partly due to all his other hobbies: mountain biking, running half marathons, scuba diving and motocross. “I don’t jump enough, that’s for sure. I wish I had more time. When I started off, I had this plan of having a thousand jumps, doing a jump a week. I’m behind schedule.”

Over the years Kappie has tried a few different disciplines. “I tried to go head down once with Rickster. It didn’t work out. He said let’s just do head down, and then we left the plane. I tried and he was going head down. I think I was tracking … I’ve done some wingsuiting. I really loved that. It’s a little bit more complex and involves new equipment so there are some more nerves involved, but once you’re out of the plane and everything is stable, it’s awesome, just awesome.”

Kappie prefers hop n’ pops or casual lunch jumps with the PD R&D and marketing team. “I just want to have fun. I am definitely not into competing or trying to be the best in the world. I just want to get the adrenaline pumping. That’s all, I love that.”

When I asked Kappie what canopy he jumps now, his answer was pretty succinct. “Whatever’s in my rig.” After some more digging, he revealed that he currently has a Pulse in his rig but he has something else that he’s about to try. “I have a Sabre2 on my desk that I made specifically for me, it’s a special Sabre2. There’s only one in the world like it. So, I need to go do the first jump and then I think that will be quite something because I’ve never done a first jump on a brand-new prototype ever.”

With 18 years at Performance Designs, he’s worked on a lot of canopies but says that without a doubt, the project he’s most proud of is the Optimum. “I was pretty much here from the birth of the concept of the fabric we designed. I was here and I was a key link in making that happen. So yeah, I’m proud of that. We didn’t know it was going to work out. We had a lot of obstacles to go through. It wasn’t easy. Even internal politics tried to stop us from doing that. People in the company said we don’t need another reserve. But the big success story is how the community responded to the Optimum and now it’s our most popular reserve canopy.”

Photo by Craig O’Brien.

Kappie believes that what PD offers in terms of education and service to the community is a big reason for the company’s continued success. “I really believe that whatever was built through the years carries over. People come into the sport and then leave the sport to the next group coming in. I know there’s a lot of other companies in our area, but there’s a strong following for PD out there in the community and it’s not without reason. We put a lot into our products, our education and customer service.”

With such a complex job, high workload and spread across so many areas I was curious about which upcoming projects Kappie’s excited about. “We have two sport canopy projects that I’m really enthusiastic about. Also, when I came to the U.S., I came on a specialist visa in guided cargo. It became a mission for me to be successful with that. When I moved to PD, we didn’t do guided cargo for a long time. Recently with CPS [Complete Parachute Solutions] I’ve been able to work on guided cargo and we’ve had so many successes, I’m looking forward to seeing that to the next stage.”

What really goes into making a PD canopy?

Being such a goal-oriented person, I wanted to know what’s next for Kappie on his bucket list. “Actually, I’ve crossed out everything that I wanted to do on my bucket list. Life’s too short … ” Spoken like a true engineer.

Keep an eye out for more PD R&D stories next month!

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