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09 May 2014

Paul DiFuccia: “I decided to learn from the best – so I came to HTC.”

Paul DiFuccia is an experienced decision-maker. He used his accounting degree to become Vice-President of General Mills, one of the world’s largest food companies, then he became President/Chief Operating Officer of an international company based in Manhattan, New York. When he retired, he decided to move back to Erie, Pennsylvania, his hometown, where he and his wife Janice are part owners of a winery.

Paul is also an experienced sailor, so he knows a thing or two about watercraft. “I grew up with powerboats and water skiing on Lake Erie and became a sailor. I’ve sailed all over mostly North America the last 47 years.”  As a Master License Captain, Paul explained, “I learned very quickly that you have ownership of people’s safety when they’re riding in your craft. So I decided to learn from the best. I want to be comfortable that I can control the hovercraft before I ever buy one or put someone I love in it. That’s why I’m here.”
After a morning of classroom training, HTC Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald (left) teaches Paul to conduct a preflight inspection before his pilot training begins on the Wabash River. In the background, a Tribune-Star reporter photographs the session for an article about HTC.
When Paul sold his sailboat last year, he and Janice were looking for a way to get back on the water, which they both love. He’d taken up golf, but discovered he was “terrible at it!” Ironically, he discovered hovercraft through golf in, of all places, a cigar shop. “I was having a cigar and reading a cigar aficionado magazine and there was an article about Bubba Watson and Neoteric’s hovercraft golf cart. So I decided ‘I’m gonna follow up on this!’”

Why a hovercraft? Again, it goes back to Paul’s love of decision-making. Before his HTC training course began, he explained, “Jet skis, for instance, are mindless. You get on and you just drive. For the first 15 to 20 minutes, they’re interesting; after that, they’re not. With sailing, as opposed to powerboats, you have to constantly be computing in your mind – the difference in the wind, sail trim, etc. I think hovercraft will probably be closer to sailing, in that you’ll need to make decisions based on wind forces, balance, trim and such. And I find that much more engaging. It keeps my interest, where on a jet ski you’re just going fast on the water. I always like to be challenged, to learn new things and be engaged. Hovercraft are much less ‘mindless’ than other things you can do on the water.

 Janice adds, “The thing he’s not telling you is he likes to be unique and do things that nobody else around is doing! 
Paul is about to learn how to ‘mindfully’ fly a hovercraft as Fitzgerald launches the craft onto the river
for his flight training session.
Paul and Janice also realized that, as an all-season vehicle, a hovercraft will expand the time they can spend outdoors. “In our climate a jet ski or sailboat is usable on Lake Erie only about three months of the year,” Paul explains. “I want to extend the season and a hovercraft will allow me to do that so I can go out in the fall and winter and when the bay freezes over on the lake I can zip across.

During his day of flight training with HTC Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald, Paul learned some new and challenging things about making decisions. Overall, he said, “It was exhilarating, a wonderful experience! It’s not unlike sailing in a lot of ways, except it’s in two more dimensions, so you’re very involved as you fly the machine. And with the reverse thrust, the spins are every little boy’s dream! It’s phenomenal!
Paul’s enjoyment of learning something new is apparent during his flight training.
 But he learned that the decisions you make in flying a hovercraft are a bit different than the decisions you make in operating other watercraft. “As a sailor you stay away from the shore, you stay away from floating objects. Chris took me into some very tight situations and a couple of times he was instructing me to steer into the shore and logs and debris and I wouldn’t; I told him ‘There’s something wrong with this!’”

Paul continues, “So we stopped and discussed my concern about getting close to obstacles and such because of my experience in sailing. Then we went into some very, very shallow areas, with large rocks and logs. The debris that a sailor or boater would steer clear of, we aimed for and flew right over it! We flew right OVER logs and debris! So it was counterintuitive in some ways.
Even though at first Paul thought Fitzgerald “was a little crazy” to steer right into obstacles, he soon learned that flying a hovercraft is different than sailing a boat.
At the end of the day, Paul concluded that his HTC training course was a wise decision. “This was a good investment of time, there’s no question about it; it’s proven from every perspective. To venture out on a hovercraft without training would be craziness. The only way to go if you’re going to do this, and do it safely, is to get the training.

Paul also observed that thorough training also increases the capabilities of your hovercraft. “If you’re going to spend the money for a hovercraft, training expands the use potential. Without it, you won’t get the full experience and will never fully understand the capabilities of the craft.  The things Chris taught me - by getting into some tight situations, flipping it around, doing some interesting things – if I were teaching myself, I never would have learned them. It was amazing what he did with the craft!
Paul DiFuccia (left) accompanied by his wife Janice (right) earns his hovercraft pilot certification from HTC Senior Instructor Chris Fitzgerald (center).

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