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I have started to lose track of how many of these interviews we have done, but I do know that this one is the second in a series of six interviews conducted on my trip down to DeLand, Florida. You may already be familiar with this series, but if not, it only takes a moment to explain. This is just a quick photoshoot and an interview with a badass who shares our love of the big blue sky. For the interview portion, the goal is to introduce you to them as they are off the drop zone by not getting too focused on their skydiving history or resume.
I have learned so much from this month’s subject, even though I had not met him in person until this interview. From old VHS skydiving tapes to modern seminars on YouTube and blogs, his knowledge has helped me and many others. He has been a key person in the skydiving industry for around 30 years, and there is a good chance that at some point in your jumping career you have jumped equipment he helped create. I hope you guys enjoy learning more about John LeBlanc.
Zach Lewis: Where are you from? How did you get from there to here?
John LeBlanc: I was born in Oklahoma. My father was stationed in the military there for a short time. After that, I went to Texas, and then to England when I was 3. I stayed there until I was nine and went to California. From there I went to the Republic of Panama. I left there when I was 16 years old and had about 27 jumps. At that point I went to Tampa and jumped at ZHills for my last year of high school. From there I went to Daytona and have been in and out of this area ever since.
It sounds like you started skydiving when you were very young.
I started as a junior in high school in December of 1977 using really old school round parachutes.
It must have been intriguing to experience the evolution of canopies from rounds to what we fly currently. I think many jumpers take for granted how great our modern gear is. We trust something we buy off the shelf. We expect consistent and soft openings, powerful flares and reliable canopies. I started in the late ‘90s and there were still some lingering effects from the old days where people didn’t want to jump the new canopies or new manufacturers because they may have been made by someone who designed it on a napkin and made it with a hot knife and a coffee can without proper testing. Today people never even think about gear not being expertly designed and thoroughly tested before it hits the market.
I couldn’t have said it better. My first ram-air parachute was one that I put together myself with a very old and un-airworthy ram-air that I took apart and modified according to the instruction of a very old-school rigger. By stroke of fate we got a few things wrong and it turned out really cool as a result. It was a very steep, fast and swoopy parachute for its day because of the mistakes we made. It was nicknamed the Baby Paraplane. It had no slider, stabilizers or cross ports. I added and modified all of that stuff, and it worked out great.
What is the best way to really piss you off?
I would say the best way to piss me off is to tease someone for entertainment reasons. I find that really objectionable and it really pisses me off.
Outside of skydiving and the tunnel, what do you do for fun?
I like surfing, and love flying old vintage airplanes and experimental airplanes. I have one of each. I also love hanging out with my friends.
Tell me about these airplanes!
I have an experimental 2-seat Glasair tail dragger made of fiberglass. It is small and fast and I use it to travel to different drop zones. I have a 1936 Waco Cabin biplane. It seats 4 people and has roll down windows. It is a lot of fun and I love giving people rides in it.
How do you pay the bills?
I design and build parachutes at Performance Designs. I am also the Executive Vice President.
Did you always want to work in the skydiving industry?
I tend to follow my passions. When I got out of school I intended on flying for a living, but my passion was skydiving and the equipment specifically. Going to school in this area [DeLand], it was just natural to combine my love for flight, aerodynamics and skydiving through the designing of parachutes.
>> Read the rest of the interview in the issue #80 (August 2016) of Blue Skies Magazine. <<
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