Interview with Robert (2004)

Question: Robert, tell me first how it all started. What made you decide to become a paraglider designer and what is your background?

Robert: I was born in Geneva in 1957 to English parents. After school I started work in a sail loft in Geneva. 4 years later I started to design and build surf sails, and formed my first company, Phi Sails. I built my first paraglider in 1984 and changed the name of the company to Phi Cells. I then worked for North Sails for a short time before founding Advance at the end of 1987.

Question: You used to fly in competitions yourself. How important is competition flying for your work as a paraglider designer?

Robert: It is always stimulating to be pushed by your pilots and other brands. This is not only visible in glide performance but also handling and usability must be good to have a successful competition glider. Experience from competition glider design can transfer directly to production wings. 

Question: Another paraglider designer, when asked:

“Where do you see the future of paragliding?” answered: “I feel like an automobile development engineer in 1927, who is asked the question: Where do you see the future of car design?”

What do you think?

Robert: Since 1927 car design has made big steps but I think that today the performance of paragliders as we know them will not improve that much. Improvements can come from new materials or innovative concepts that are starting to appear in certain designers’ minds. I find the performance gap between beginner and competition wings is narrowing.

Question: Robert you told me that you have a background in sailing and windsurfing and that you used to design windsurf and yacht sails. In the past years you also worked a lot in kite design. How important is this experience and how does it help you in your work as a paraglider designer?

Robert: I think a successful designer is not necessarily a genius but has his own method of isolating different parameters. My previous work helped develop this method and is still an important source of inspiration.

Question: You have joined the GIN Gliders development team and now work with Gin Seok Song, another very famous paraglider designer.

Can you tell me how that happened?

Robert: Well, it's a funny story! Frederick talked to Tim, who talked to his dad, who talked to Gin who talked to me! When I left Advance, my 9-year-old son Frederick was talking with Tim, son of Housi Bollinger who lives close by and has been with Gin Gliders from the start. So luck played an important role.

Question: Robert, how do you plan to work with Gin? What is the concept of your co-operation?

Robert: It feels very new for the moment. Gin is leading the design work, but I am closely involved in the R&D. At the moment my work is more to help evaluate gliders and exchange ideas than to do the actual designing. I will however be in charge of the kite design. 

Question: How does it feel to work with Gin?

Robert: I am amazed at Gin's passion and humility. Also his mind is always ready to explore new ideas. When we start talking time just flies by. For me it is really refreshing to work with Gin and his team and to be able to work in such a friendly atmosphere.

Question: What can the pilots expect, when two of the worlds most experienced paraglider designers work together?

Robert: We are both driven by a passion for perfection and are only satisfied when we have given our best. When we share our experience and ideas it is very stimulating but at the moment it seems to generate more questions than answers!

Question: Robert, you were one of the founders of Advance and you have designed all Advance gliders from the first Omega to the Omega 6. Why did you and Advance separate?

Robert: I was involved in all the designs but Olivier Nef designed the later gliders, where he made an excellent job. Out of the blue I received an email from my partners. It stated quite simply that they no longer wanted me in the company. With the benefit of hindsight it was a blessing in disguise.

Question: Many pilots expect the launch of the Boom 4 in time for the World Championships in Brazil in March 2005. Gin and Housi Bollinger flew Boomerang 4 prototypes in the PWC final in Tapalpa, Mexico. What can you tell me about the Boomerang 4?

Robert: The Gin R & D Team is evaluating a high arc, high aspect ratio concept of the Boomerang 4 for the moment and we will incorporate it into the gliders we are preparing for the Worlds.

Question: Why is it so difficult to tell when a new glider will be finished and when can pilots expect a new DHV 1-2 from GIN Gliders?

Robert: Designing on the computer is very predictable but to fully evaluate all the prototypes depends not only on the weather, but on different conditions in different places. Not only do we need sun but different wind and thermal conditions. We are not only applying what we know now, but also need to learn more to achieve our objective. This process is difficult to master and therefore timescales and release dates are difficult to predict.

Question: So how long does it normally take you to develop a new glider?

Robert: For me a glider has a natural cycle of development that takes me one year. I cannot stop until I am completely satisfied with the glider. It is a rule that to finish any product to 80% of perfection takes 20% of the development time, and the final 20% takes 80% of the time!

Question: Robert what is your favorite dance move?

Robert: I particularly like the Tapalpa Love Spit Roast.

Robert, thank you for this interview.

[ Hans Bausenwein, 2004 November - Tapalpa, Mexico ]