Flying in a Wind Tunnel
A Skydiver Training in a Vertical Wind Tunnel - Orlando, Florida
I Want to Fly in a Wind Tunnel!
What to Expect for First Time Tunnel Flyers
Maybe you decided that Skydiving is not for you. However you are still curious and just have to get somewhat of an idea of what human flight is like.
Welcome to the wind tunnel.
A wind tunnel or Vertical Wind Tunnel is basically a tall tunnel with a very large and very powerful fan(s) below it or above it depending on the type of tunnel. The fan(s) then blows air through a complex system of tunnels and vents which channel the air from below creating a cushion of air to fly on. This in turn lifts the indoor skydiver off of the ground and flying freely into the air.
Some wind tunnels are more powerful then others. A large wind tunnel can have up to 8 indoor skydivers flying head down. That is upside down and head first. This type of body flight requires a very large tunnel and an extremely powerful fan. It also requires a great amount of time and training to fly competently and safely at that level. Especially if you are flying with 7 others head down in such a tight and confined space.
As a first time indoor skydiver or tunnel flyer will not be flying head down in the tunnel. For your first time in the tunnel you will be assisted by a tunnel instructor or 'Tunnel Rat'. The instructor will hold on to you for your safety. They will help you get stable and fly stable while you are spending your time in the tunnel. Depending on how much time you purchased (blocks) you will probably only fly for 2 to 10 minutes. This will most likely be more then enough time if it is your first time in the tunnel.
It can be quite overwhelming for some if you have never flown in a tunnel before. Even though you are not jumping from a not so perfectly good airplane. First time tunnel flyers have mentioned that they have had at least some level of nerves before they actually entered the tunnel. It can be quite intimidating when you are standing at the door and have air rushing up in front of your face at 120MPH.
For your very first time in the tunnel you won't be flying un assisted. If you do fly unassisted it will most likely only be very briefly. You might find that while you are not being held onto by your instructor you will be flying somewhat erratically. Forwards and backwards, perhaps side to side and feeling a little wobbly. Maybe even coming close to the side of the tunnel. You might even bump into the side of the 'fishbowl'. That's okay and is totally natural for any first time tunnel newbie. To learn how to fly in the tunnel independently and safely takes a lot of time and practice as well as a lot of money. Tunnel flying is an expensive sport. Although most tunnels are still less expensive then an actual skydive.
Don't worry though. Towards the end of your scheduled tunnel time your instructor will give you a taste of some real flying. They will hold on to your side and fly you up close to the top of the tunnel and fly you back down to the bottom just stopping short of the net. If you are lucky they will even spin you around a little. All done safely of course.
What do I bring?
Nothing. Just bring yourself and your friends. All the equipment is provided by the wind tunnel staff. You get a short 10 to 15 minute brief on what to expect and how to fly in the tunnel. You get to gear up and wear a nifty tunnel jump suit. Of course no tunnel flyer giddy up is complete until you pop your ear plugs in, strap your goggles on, and equip your helmet to protect your noggin.
Yes. Ear plugs. The wind tunnel is very loud. Hearing protection is necessary.
For first time flyers it is most likely not necessary to make a booking. However it is a good practice and polite to call up the day before or at least a few hours before showing up. Sometimes the tunnel can be booked out to experienced flyers an hour or more at a time for training.
While flying in the tunnel is a great taste of what skydiving is like. It is not the same and is no substitute for the real thing. For one a wind tunnel has very limited space. Most tunnels are about 8 to 10 feet in diameter. While currently as of the time of this writing the largest is the Paraclete Wind Tunnel which is located in Raeford, North Carolina. Paraclete's tunnel dimensions are a staggering 16'4" in diameter and 51 feet tall. Yes, experienced flyers can fly to the top of the tunnel.
Your first time at experiencing body flight may be limited to your location or whether you are traveling or not. Not everybody has a wind tunnel in their back yard or down the road from them. If you are lucky enough to live near a wind tunnel then definitely take advantage of it. Treat yourself and splurge a little. Live a little. It is well worth the money. You may find that you really enjoy it and pick it up as a hobby or even a sport. Flying in a wind tunnel is also great exercise and is a very good workout for your body as well as your core muscles.
If yet again you find that you do not want to take the wind tunnel plunge then at least take a little time out of your day to watch. Watching people fly in the tunnel is also very entertaining.
It sure to bring a smile to your face.