CEO of Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG and inventor of the X-GLOO Tent System
Herr Kistler, you are one of the founders of Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG and come from the paragliding branch. In 2001, did you ever think that you would one day be selling event tents?
„When we founded the company, we had no idea that the exciting products of the X-GLOO line would ever exist. But this is exactly what we thrive on: creativity and an open attitude for new things. We are always looking beyond our existing range of products! The development of X-GLOO was necessary to present our brands in a professional and innovative manner on the beach, in the mountains, or at a tradeshow, no matter what the weather conditions. We love developing new products that impress!”
How would you describe your professional background?
„It was apparent early on for me that I would make my passion for paragliding into a career. Shortly after getting my pilot’s license in 1988, I designed, sewed and tested my own parafoil. It was a great feeling to lift off with a flying machine that I had constructed myself! I was able to deepen my basic knowledge with an apprenticeship as an aircraft mechanic and subsequent aircraft engineering studies. During this time, I learned to focus my attention on quality and accuracy – things which would later prove to be deciding factors at Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG….. So no wonder that I landed at paragliding company as constructor and test pilot after completing my diploma thesis. I was there for seven years, during which the company grew to market leader. Many of my inventions made this possible. And then came the founding of Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG in 2001. I can scarcely believe that 10 years have now gone by…“
If you look more closely at your background, it is clear that the fascination for flying is in your blood. As CEO, don’t you miss the adrenaline kick?
„Truthfully, no. I had so many ‘kicks’ in my flying days, I think it was sufficient to last for decades. Aside from that, developing new products has its own kind of excitement, watching the product go from development to the initial „roll out“ to customer reaction.“
Looking back, would you take the same path again, or are there decisions that you regret?
„There are certainly some things which I would do differently in retrospect. I would have developed X-GLOO much earlier, but I believe that the basic decisions were sound ones.”
What drives you?
„I love to work on new developments. Whether they are just details or completely new products does not matter. It is really motivating to see ideas become reality. Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG is the ideal breeding ground for this: we are flexible and agile, and can quickly react to new ideas.”
Where did the idea of X-GLOO come from? Can you give us a brief synopsis of how it came to be.
„Sure. Since the founding of Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG, we attended many tradeshows and outdoor events where our paragliders and surfkites were presented. We used a normal pole tent for all of the presentations. This quickly became too laborious so we designed our own tent with aluminum poles. In the beginning we were a small team and it was quite stressful during the events and tradeshows. The complex transport and tedious setup costed nerves. At some outdoor events we had only teams of 2 people. With each event, the wish grew for a user-friendly tent, easy to transport and set up. And so it became our goal to build a tent ourselves, until we finally developed the X-GLOO into its present form! Finding the right material for the tent skin was no problem. We already had lightweight, robust material from our paraglider construction. For the aerodynamic form, I stuck to the centuries-old proven form of the igloo. After all,
the tent has to stand up to wind and weather on the beach and in the mountains. After 2-3 prototypes, the X-GLOO was born in its basic form. The name X-GLOO, derived from igloo, seemed ideal to us for the name of the system.“
How did you get the idea to make the tent „inflatable“?
„As mentioned before, we used the pole tents for years and had a lot of negative experiences. I knew about the so-called tube kites from the kitesurfing scene – inflatable kites with a hose-shell-system as a structure supporting element. This construction seemed to me a sound principle to base a tent design with four legs on. In this way, the “inflatable” idea came to light. But the challenges presented themselves immediately: we wanted to avoid the permanent noise from blowers and the need for a permanent power
source. Our tent had to have a very simple setup using only a hand pump and remain stable for extended periods of time.“
What were the biggest challenges of developing the X-GLOO?
„First and foremost, achieving long-lasting impermeability with light weight. It is easy to build a life raft tent, but in my opinion, the weight is unacceptable. Think about a tradeshow if two women have to set up a tent…to build this kind of lightweight construction like the X-GLOO and make it impermeable as well is no walk in the park. It took a lot of know-how and testing and in the end we were successful! During the development, we were able to make various patent claims and thereby protect the X-GLOO from being
The fire protection certification according to B1 or CPAI84 norms certainly kept us up at night. There are plenty of waterproof PVC tarpaulins with fire protection, but constructing the same thing in lightweight form with a small packing dimension, that is absurd. Along with all of the technical challenges, the visuals of the tent also had high priority. We wanted to retain the character of the textile, because though the visual effect was important for us, it is even more important for the client! After some setbacks, we had a breakthrough and our intensive design process was rewarded with the red dot design award.”
How did you achieve the enormous stability?
„From the aerodynamic design – under heavy wind load, the tent simply ducks down out of the way of the wind and from the geometry: the cross-supporting arches have existed for hundreds of years: old church vaults have a very similar construction. We measured the X-GLOO in the wind tunnel and were able to optimise it even further. It can withstand windspeeds of up to 60 km/h with optimal bracing. In addition, the X-GLOO gets its stability from a double-tube construction: the solidity of the material is safeguarded by the inner Tubes and the pure strength from the encircling, stretch-poor cover material.“
The tent material was developed in-house for surfkites – what happened when you implemented it into the tents? Where there problems?
„Yes, for example the kites do not have to conform to a fire protection norm, so development work was still necessary. So we worked together with some cloth manufacturers and tried out different things until we landed where we wanted.”
Did you ever have doubts concerning a product?
„Honestly? After the first prototypes, which leaked after only a few hours, had unsuitable valves, etc… I did not believe that this system could grow to be an interesting product worldwide…so I have to honestly answer the question with „yes“. On the other hand, we were impressed from the get-go with the light weight and construction form – our senses were ignited! In this respect, giving up was never an option and goes against our spirit of invention!”
What is the future of X-GLOO? Do you have new product ideas for the future?
„Tons! We are currently working on an 8x8m X-GLOO. Since we spoke earlier of church vaults, this is going in that direction, impressive! Furthermore, we now have an order to build a free-standing tent construction with an enormous span and completely new design. Only the inflatable X-GLOO-Technology remains – it seems there are no limits….currently we have more ideas than capacity, so it will be exciting what the future holds in store for us.“
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
„I hope that I will still be realizing dreams out of cloth, together with the team from Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG!“
Thank you for the interview Herr Kistler!
About Manfred Kistler
Born in 1966, Manfred Kistler completed his paragliding pilot instruction during his aircraft mechanic training. Already in 1989 he was developing, building and testing his own glider designs. After his aircraft engineering studies were completed, he joined Swing as a constructor and test pilot. Driven to develop new products and take the rudder into his own hands, he founded Skywalk GmbH & Co. KG. in 2001 together with his partners.