ARLINGTON — A parachute can be called a lot of things. Expensive, extra weight, cumbersome and, at times, a nuisance — until you really need to use it.
Dan Tarasievich, who manufacturers Softie Parachutes at the Arlington Airport, has more than 11,000 of his specialty-designed pro
ducts strapped on pilots around the world. He and his production crew have the good feeling that comes from knowing that 28 of their chutes have saved pilots’ lives.
“Those are just the ones we know about,” he said, “like the fellow in Oregon who was flying the Columbi
a River one day. We’d shipped his chute to him on a Thursday and the next Wednesday he called to thank me, said it worked just fine. I told him I was glad he was using it. He said he didn’t just mean he was wearing it regularly. He’d been flight testing a plane that wouldn’t come out of a spin, so he had actually used it and said it worked great for him.
“I asked him when that was. There was a long pause and then he said, ‘Well, to put it in perspective, I haven’t called my mom yet.’ Now we have his photo on our wall, holding our used chute and standing in front of the wreckage of his aircraft.”
In Para-Phernalia Inc.’s small metal building adjacent to the airport’s flight line, Tarasievich and his six chute riggers, harness designers, sewers and shippers produce Softie Parachutes, an industry leader in a specialized field.
“Everyone has been here for years and we all get along so well that I’m not comfortable with just calling them employees,” Tarasievich said. “We work hard to keep them employed and they’re very dedicated to always making a great product. We shorten our hours if the work is slow and go to overtime if it’s really busy. We’re all local, with three of us in Arlington, the others in Marysville and Snohomish.”
In the U.S., there are only four other companies that build pilot emergency gear, as the chutes are officially designated. Like Para-Phernalia, all of the other chute makers are privately owned, he said.
“You can’t get production numbers out of any of them and we all lie to each other anyway,” Tarasievich said, laughing. “But we know about the 11,000 or so that we’ve shipped. We often get our chutes back for required periodic inspections. After 20 years we retire them anyway, but in the meantime you need to check them regularly for wear and tear, torn stitching or damage from wetness or ultraviolet light.”
What makes Softie Parachutes so different are the varieties of styles and the customized sizing. The company has designed and manufactured their products since 1979.
Tarasievich said the prototype of today’s Softie Parachute was designed more than 30 years ago by Jimmy Lowe, who was well known among Northwest sky divers. He packed a surplus U.S. Army parachute into a far more comfortable harness than the military used.
Para-Phernalia began building and marketing those chutes in 1979 in Issaquah at the airport where sky divers like Tarasievich spent a lot of their time.
“I was heavily into sky-diving back then,” he said, “but I was also working for corporate America, at a company doing nondestructive testing of aircraft frames. Then I got tired of that and decided to buy Para-Phernalia when it was five years old. In 1992, I moved the company to the Arlington airport, which is a great place to do business.”
Business continued to be good for Softie products, but it got even better when Tarasievich went international.
“We already had a lot of exposure worldwide and reps in difference countries, most of them parachute riggers who sold chutes to glider and aerobatic pilots,” he said. “We’ve marketed in New Zealand, Germany, England and 10 other countries, as well as selling a lot of our products at Sun ‘n Fun airshow in Florida and the EAA’s AirVenture show, in Oshkosh, Wis.”
Today, there are seven models, each priced at roughly $2,000, that make up the Softie product line. The Mini Softie is a small, lightweight backpack designed for tight cockpits. The Micro Softie is a smaller version of the Mini.
The Wedge Softie adds lumbar and sacral support for pilots in aerobatic aircraft. The Long Softie is built to maximize the comfort of contoured seats found in gliders and aerobatic aircraft.
“Many of the aerobatic pilots in the world wear our parachutes,” said Tarasievich, who has a poster on his wall showing famed aerobatic pilot Sean Tucker holding his used Softie parachute and grinning in front of his plane’s wreckage after a 2006 crash in Florida.
The Seatpack Softie is for use in aircraft that have no room for a backpack-style parachute.
The growing popularity of flying ex-military aircraft led to the design of the Warbird Seatpack Softie and the Warbird Wedge.
Tarasievich has built parachute equipment for some military contracts.
“We’ve built a few systems for the U.S. Air Force and the Army’s special ops guys, not necessarily chutes but sometimes some custom flight suits. We like supporting those guys a lot. You can’t do enough for them,” he said.
For more information, go to www.softieparachutes.com, call 360-877-9584 or visit Para-Phernalia Inc. at 19018 59th Drive NE, Arlington.