This is a presentation of who I am, how I came here, my thoughts around ballooning sport and industry, and some more digressions.
Just for those how are interested enough and want to know more about this whole thing.
It is long (very long), I know, but when passion is involved I don't count the time.
it's all about passion
Flying for sport and leisure attracted my attention since a very young age: RC models, paragliding, gliding pilot license, paramotoring, light sport aircrafts, and more recently an airplane PPL and my balloon pilot license; all achieved as soon as age and pocket money allowed. I can't just get enough of it: being up there is just the most magical experience you can have, and mastering with love and dedication the tool that allows to reach the sky, whichever it is, is a rewarding experience. I made of sport aviation my life. My free-time, my studies, and all my professional background are somehow directly related to that. I've written several aviation articles for some Italian magazines when I was adolescent, in order to get some money to keep flying. Then, after my studies in Aviation Management, I founded my first company, Aeroshop, a reseller of pilots gear and aircraft spares and components in Spain. Years later I experienced running a small manufacturing operation: designing, producing and marketing my own product proved to me to be such an exciting experience, I always aimed to do again one day. At that time we were paramotor and trike manufacturers. It last some years, then life pushed me and my wife (and one kid at that time), to move to Italy and join a major sport aircraft manufacturer. But it was not the last episode: other life circumstances, and second kid on the way, encouraged us to establish our family in a lovely sunny alpine region of the French Alps (a paradise for flying by the way), where I could join a major aircraft components manufacturer.
unaccomplished dreams come back again
Balloons have always captivated my imagination, and I'm sure that the one of many others, both aviation initiated people and not aviation geeks alike. It is just big, very big, colorful, silent, it attracts your attention, you just can't avoid looking at it and dream to give it a try, it would just not be natural human behaviour. I can exactly remember that the first book I purchased myself (with a certain level of consciousness and motivation), was the story of the first successful circumnavigation of the world in a balloon, by Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones: wow! I was feeling, when reading it, like I was onboard as well! It came back to my hands by accident when opening one of those last unopened carton boxes from our last move and... well, I think that when you leave many questions unanswered for a certain amount of years, at a certain point you need to face it, and look out to answer them. It was the right time to move forward along that path.
Ballooning has always been a discipline that somehow sitted apart from the rest of sport aviation categories: I've attended dozens of aviation shows around the world, but I've never seen a balloon manufacturer or Federation attending them. Why? Don't they consider themselves an aviation sport? Isn't there a willing to develope it further? It always looked to me (and somehow it was), a bit like a standalone and difficult to access community and sport. But this did not stop me at all, and in the process I've also found wonderful and passionate people luckily.
Motivation was high for me to get hands on with balloons, for a bunch of reasons: my last several years of profession for third parties, the noise and intensity of nowadays life with 2 young passengers at home, got me somehow a bit saturated (was there maybe a preliminary bite of that crisis of the 40s coming 5 years in advance? Who knows...). Going out flying airplanes, even if I still love and practice it, started in that context to be what in fact is: a bit of too cumbersome and work loaded experience, more a source of stress than a stress-healing experience. Checklists, procedures, paperwork, noise and vibration, and then pay for it, which is not exactly without consequence for my pockets... Paragliding, which I still feel the need to do at least a couple of times a year, was what has always been for me in the last times: a neverending process of regaining confidence with it after a scary episode (without consequences) of few years ago. So, in other words, again not the relaxing/regenerating type of experience I was in need in this moment of my life.
So, ballooning started to take shape in my mind as the next big thing for me because of the learning factor involved (I always like and feel alive to learn new things), finding answers to my old unanswered questions (like "how the hell do you steer that thing?", or "how is that they cannot steer that thing and I still never hear about accidents?"), and potentially provide me a more relaxing type of experience, without renouncing to remain in aviation.
there is still something to be done
And there is one last thing also, to be honest: my brain is accidentally shaped in a way that when I heavily put my passion at play and my energy at work in something, it's hard for me not to start brainstorming about "what can still be done here that has not been done before?". I love to analyze opportunity, to conceive, design and create new exciting (for me at least) things.
That ingredient was there since the beginning in fact: I always have found unbelievable, that there were no manufacturers of uncertified balloons in the light sport aircraft category, even if a standard for that has been published by ASTM International years ago. It must be, arguably, the only published standard among their whole 13000 available, without meeting the interest of a manufacturer. Why is that? Well, I found the answers along the way. Major balloon manufacturer are structured and used to deal with ICAO/EASA/FAA/CAA procedures for the design and manufacture of standard aircraft, they are audited companies with production in western countries and consequently high fixed costs to deal with: they have no real interest in small balloons for a small number of passionate weekend pilots. For them, the bigger the better. Normal. And when a balloon is bigger, all efforts in innovating on small details for making it lighter and more foldable, have less sense: in any case big balloons are a working tool, they require ground crew, and one or more trailers to be transported, so... several technical details and materials are still as they were many years ago, outdated, without apparently having taken advantage of the technological evolution that has taken place in recent years, mainly driven by the momentum of the paragliding, kite-surf and other outdoor sport industries. And last but not least, any change you want to do when you have a fully certified company and product under national Civil Aviation Authorities surveillance, requires such an amount of paperwork and efforts, that when you ask yourself if it is worth to go through it, the answer might be "no, it is not". If you add the fact that the traditional aviation industry has no experience or deep knowledge of how ASTM standards work, you'll get the complete picture of why this was still a desert category before FlyDOO. But ASTM standards for Lighter than Air Light Sport Aircraft provide a wonderful opportunity for innovation to take place, and still deliver customers the assurance and peace of mind that products went to a serious and comprehensive design validation and testing procedure phase before going to market, and that manufacturers work with Quality Assurance and Continuous Airworthiness Monitoring practices in place. Make no mistake, purchasing and flying a Light Sport balloon is no dangerous affair and delivers high value: any solution we implement went also through serious calculation and test validation procedures before being implemented. But the advantage here is that we validate solutions ourselves internally, under guidance of publish standards, and we do not need to create a huge pile of papers for every product we create or upgrade we apply; we do not need officials to come, validate and stamp, and we do not have to cope with the cost of that external systematic auditing, and with the indirect cost that slowing down innovation and long time-to-market have for a start-up.
In conclusion, the market had nothing to offer to me: a common and innocent weekend flying enthusiast that wants to fly a small balloon 20 to 50 hours a year, but has no willing to cope with the cumbersome and costly ownership experience of having to maintain a fully certified balloon. Sorry what? We are being offered a new smartphone every week, a new range of paragliders in 3 or 4 categories and 5 size each, from every single manufacturer every year, and there is no sport balloon for me? Come-on, the first one flew in 1783, we didn't come a long way since then I'm afraid. At least if you think like I do, that it is not normal that the most ancient flying vehicle ever created, the absolutely simplest and safest one, is treated like a certified aircraft and a modern powerful tandem paramotor trike is not (lucky you, paramotor trike...).
Morning mist over lake Serre Poncon
motivation comes from its magic
At the same time that all the above thoughts took a clearer shape in my mind, that I started to conceive and design the products you see today in this website, I was going though one of the most benefical personal experiences I ever went through. Which is learning to fly a balloon, or just "flying it". What a magic! I don't know how to say that better than the images you see in the website can explain it, but... holy cow, what a magical experience! I've seen wildlife in the valleys around my house like I never saw before, I saw lights and shadows, early in the morning, like you cannot see if not from a balloon and early in the morning. I saw early day timid sunbeams going though the mist of a lake nearby... I could go on and on... No flight was like the previous one. And what about enjoying all of that with no noise, no window in between, and drinking a coffee at the same time? Because this is what ballooning has to offer. Pure magic.
All of that, together with the special relations that you build up with fellow students when you share similar backgrounds and moments, motivated me more day after day, and reinforced my belief that my efforts to create a product designed for me and for my fellow students (which are people like me, motivated from the leisure side of ballooning) was a worthwhile effort.
Ballooning is not only the flight itself, is the relations you build with the people you share the experience with, that make it so special.
Let me please highlight and share with you 2 of the other main points that for me make ballooning a special aviation disciplines compared for example with flying an airplane or any motorized aircraft:
1) Workload: actually when you are up there in your basket, beside managing your trajectory in a convenient way by exploring different wind directions at different altitudes and choosing the most suitable for your flight, you do not have a ton of more things to do. You control the machine by using your burner only, and when you land also your parachute vent. But that's all, 1 main single control, and another one for landing. And no more buttons around, no more instruments to look others than eventually an altimeter or vertical speed indicator, no long checklists. This means that more time is actually left to enjoy the real reason why you are actually up there, instead of dedicating a big fraction of your resources to manage the technical/procedurial needs of the machine.
Because I guess that when you dedicate space in your hectic life for a free time activity like this, in your weekend, you do not really want it to be a complex thing that absorbs a lot of your energy and resources, you rather expect to feel more relaxed and satisfied after having done it, rather than more stressed. So, workload is an important point in favour of ballooning, comparing it with many other disciplines.
2) The contact with nature: ballooning is an open-air activity, an outdoor sport. This means you go out in a field, not to an airport, and you put yourself in an open basket, you do not strap yourself in a seat, inside a cabin, and wear a helmet or headset to isolate you from noise or vibration. It is right the opposite. You can fly high or low, but you are always listening to the noise of nature. And you have a 360 degrees view, you can see also straight down, and there is no window to filtrate and diminish your connection with the background. You never feel the wind in your face, because you move and partner with it, being a special guest in the mass of air... And all happens slowly, leaving plenty of time to appreciate details of the landscape you cannot even see when you fly by on a light plane, it just goes too fast...
You do not need to fly a long distance in order to get benefit and pleasure from a flight, it is in fact about the quality of the time you spent up in the air; and believe me, balloon time is quality air time, spent in the nature. Which other machine allows you to fly so low and slow that your basket touches the tips of the trees? This is a common thing we do with our colorful envelopes filled with hot air... Or watching livestock looking at you with curiosity, and sometimes even following you along? And what about the people you cross along your journey? Suddenty it looks all of them are friends, as without exception they start looking at and greeting you.
And after landing? Well, you typically find yourself in a the middle of a field, no noise around, with your colorful enveloppe adding that special touch that remembers you that you come from right up there, from the sky... This is a special moment, when you realize how lucky and priviledged you are to have gone through the experience you just had, and how blessed we all are by nature; which by the way rises up a lot of other thoughts and revelations regarding our relation with the environment, that are ultimately very positive. The balloon leaves time to reflection, even during the flight, almost meditation I would say, and forces us to reconsider many things about our role here and our relation with nature. It is like a vehicle that empowers conscience. This has been at least my personal experience.
Floating along the village of Chorges
Time to innovate, time to action
This brings us closer to the end of the story. My vision has then been in some way to democratize flying balloons as a sport, having in my opinion an outstanding set of related advantages, and being relatively easy to master. So, my focus in order to achieve this, was to design and produce innovative and captivating products tailored for this specific segment of users (people like me), taking benefit (for the first time ever) of the existance of the ASTM Design Standard for Lighter Than Air Light Sport Aircrafts, in order to offer a product that is also easier to maintain, and far less expensive to own and operate.
For designing and producing this, I focused on 3 main aspects:
1) Minimize the machine, maximize the experience: the title says it all. All parts of the product, enveloppe, basket, VTU, burner, benefit from this approach, with a strong focus on making the equipment very practical, lightweight, compact, and easy to transport and store. At the end of the day, this will represent a big part of making the experience a better one.
2) Redesign from the ground up, question the status quo, innovate, but use only quality material: through a systematic approach to design, I analyzed every solution that was currently used in ballooning: about its function, real benefit, weight, aspect, and better alternatives. And there has been quite a bit of work to be done here! I've put at work my experience with paragliders technology to innovate on the enveloppe side, and in mechanical design for designing a functional foldable basket and the lightest and more compact burner available today. Every detail has been carefully considered for safety, reliability, durability, comfort of use, and look. And manufacturability of course. For the materials to be used, only high quality and proven fabrics and fibers produced in Europe are used, all with tracability and Statement of Compliance. We additionally carried out all necessary strength and tear tests as specified in the applicable standards: we wanted no compromise on the quality of materials, no matter the cost.
3) Partner with a major paragliding factory for the production of the enveloppe: people tend to point out that the reason behind this is a cost reason. Wrong. The actual status of things is that no single manufacturer of paragliders, kites or similar, currently produces in western countries. Originally, most probably, for cost reasons, but gradually, at least for us at FlyDOO today, the motivation is different: it is about their level of manufacturing technology and equipment, it is about competence, ability, quality of manufacturing, experience with dealing with exactly the same materials that we use in our products, and that accidentally they also stock already in big quantities. In fact, we had basically no alternative: where should we have gone in France? Or in our neighbour countries? To a certified balloon manufacturer? ;-) Should we have set up manufacturing ourselves? No way for now, too risky and too big investment to start, and we are already busy enough in focusing on internally producing baskets and burners ourselves, and dealing with assembly, flight testing, research and development and quality assurance of the whole thing.
Our choice turned out to be a great choice, having found a big, serious, reliable and socially responsible supplier. We, and ultimately our customers, are benefitting from a balloon produced with the best and lightest western made materials, assembled and quality checked to the highest standards, and delivered in the shortest time at the best price in the market. This is the result when you combine innovation, with top technology and big manufacturing capacity.
Putting the price down comparing to similar products has never been necessarily a design approach for us, but it turned out to be a positive consequence of all previous points together.
So, you know the rest of the story: we moved to action, people like me and you can now benefit from a new product and from practicing ballooning in an easier, cooler and more affordable way, better adapted to our lifestyle.
Oh, one last thing, that by now you clearly know: we thought that designing a little foldable electric vectored thrust unit would bring tremendous advantages to a hot air balloon... Well, we designed it, tested it and... I'm quite proud to say we were more than right on that! I never fly without my VTU now... Better to have it and not having to use it, than needing it and not having it!
As a company, want to grow and keep innovating to release more cool products to the market. We have a very exciting roadmap in front of us!
We will highly welcome your feedback, expectations and thoughts of any kind about the work we have done till now, about how to make ballooning still more attractive, and what you would do next if you were sitting at FlyDOO's drawing board ;-)
Thanks for visiting our website, stay tuned through our mailing list and social presence, and if you want to support us, please share our passion and story!
Founder & CEO