Indoor skydiving seems to have hit a critical mass. Suddenly, dozens of shiny new windytubes are popping up in cities all over the world, and they're taking freefall by storm. They're turbocharging skydiver training, creating whole new bodyflight disciplines and raising a new generation of freefall athletes to fly head-down before they can even ride a bicycle--but what are they, exactly? Here's the lowdown.
How Are These Wind Tunnels Different From the Aerospace Kind?
Aerospace wind tunnels are tools used in aerodynamic research. They are usually built in a horizontal configuration, and they use the airflow to test the action of aerodynamic forces on vehicles in development.
As opposed to these, recreational wind tunnels for human bodyflight are vertical instead of horizontal. Like aerospace tunnels, bodyflight tunnels use fans to generate a powerful airstream that can be controlled by an operator. However, that airflow is directed up from the bottom of the “tube,” simulating the aerodynamic forces of relative wind on a body in freefall.
Depending on the model, age and manufacturer, various propellers and fan types are to move air through the bodyflight area. Typically, these create a vertical column of air that measures between 6 and 16 feet wide (though tunnels are now being built that measure in excess of 20 feet in diameter).
Air speed is controlled from a unit in a room separated from the flight area by a glass. There, a controller watches sign language from the experienced flyer or bodyflight instructor to make adjustments. The controller can turn the airspeed up for more lift or down for less. These adjustments are done “on the fly,” and are based on the size, skill level and flying style of the tunnel flyer.
Though bodyflight wind tunnels are sometimes referred to as “skydiving simulators,” that’s a misnomer: since flyers do not wear or deploy a parachute in a bodyflight wind tunnel, the wind tunnel experience is not a full, true simulation of the skydiving experience.
Why “Skydive” Indoors?
Wind tunnels support year-round training for a variety of freefall disciplines (when they’re not playing host to kids’ birthday parties, corporate team-building exercises and unique date nights, that is). They are great training aids, allowing both students and experienced jumpers to practice freefall procedures and maneuvers even when the inclement weather does not permit comfortable, consistent skydiving.
Tunnels are also popular with new skydivers working towards their licenses. New and aspiring skydivers visit the wind tunnel to prepare for their AFF skydiving license progression, so they can practice skydiving procedures and maneuvers without the stress of the fast-approaching ground. Tunnel training is also an excellent tool for returning skydivers to build confidence in their freefall skills before tackling a stressful recurrency jump.
Even the most experienced skydivers in the world frequent the wind tunnel. World-class athletes visit the windytube to work on their most advanced moves in a controlled, precise environment--and vie to book the best tunnel coaching they can afford to achieve this end.*
How Much Does It Cost?
Indoor skydiving is not cheap. Though it's often cheaper, minute-for-minute, than skydiving freefall, rates generally start at about $10USD per minute and go up from there--often, way up. Coaching is charged additionally, and often makes the difference between a fun money-wasting time and a productive skill-building session.
Not All Tunnels Are Created Equal
If you're looking at wind tunnels as an introduction to skydiving--or a way to improve your general fitness and agility--you need to know a little more about what kinds of tunnels exist, and how they work. Read on to learn about the three different types (and how to choose between them).
* This high-level training has resulted in the Dynamic bodyflight disciplines, which are definitely worth a Google.