Indeed, the wind tunnel is a useful tool for learning how to fly your body in freefall, and it presents a world – class training tool for skydivers of every level. The wind tunnel is used to hone the flying skills of every type of jumper–from beginner skydivers straight on up to the world’s top skydiving teams–allowing groups and individuals to practice the complicated moves that they will soon go on to perform in the sky.

Indoor skydiving has been around for decades in some form or another. According to reports, the original designs were more like re-purposed aircraft engines – upturned and covered with a net to provide a rudimentary flying area. Even though some saw the potential, there was resistance from “proper” skydivers that the whole thing was a novelty and should not be credited as having anything really useful to add when it came to the business of jumping out of airplanes.

However, things change. Indoor skydiving in recent times has proven both highly profitable as leisure business and incredibly substantive as a training tool. Simply put, people who used a wind tunnel or fans to practice their flying skills got good – really good. Without doubt, there remains a symbiotic relationship between indoor and outdoor skydiving that would only become stronger as the tunnel industry continued to grow.

Presently, there are so many wind tunnel facilities around the world, and training procedure has developed to the point where some countries – especially the USA – allow for indoor time (when trained by a suitable qualified USPA instructor) to be counted formally and progress the point of entry to skydiving.

Inside these facilities, air travels at a speed that matches the terminal velocity of a skydiver (about 200 kilometres/120 miles per hour), and produces a column of air up to five metres (16 feet) wide. Note that a skydive typically lasts no longer than seven minutes, so the goal of a wind tunnel is to create a smooth, laminar flow of air which enables skydivers to practice for several hours at a time.

Major Designs of a Wind Tunnel

Howbeit, there are two major designs currently in use. Open – circuit wind tunnels leverage a steady stream of new air, drawn in at the bottom and expelled at the top. These powerful fans direct the air upwards, producing a jet upon which people can float.

These tunnels can be made in portable form and used outdoors too for a more natural skydiving experience. Meanwhile, recirculating wind tunnels reuse air in a loop to conserve energy and provide more uniform airflow. Normally, four fans positioned above the tunnel circulate air around a series of tubes in an aerodynamic loop.

Then this air is ‘turned’ through the tubes using vanes, moves up through the flight chamber and is then recirculated to the bottom again. Friction in the mechanism causes the air to become very warm, so most times cool fresh air is incorporated in order to make the experience more comfortable for the flyer.

4 Types of Fans That Prepare You for Skydiving and Their Examples

Right from the onset of indoor wind tunnels and fans, the technology involved has taken large steps forward making indoor skydiving an enjoyable and safe sport. Here is a list of fans that enable you prepare for outdoor Skydiving.

  1. Recirculating

Recirculating wind fans are the latest in indoor wind tunnel designs. These tunnel fans have been around for over 10 years, and are seen to be the standard in modern wind tunnel fan design. Note that the idea is using an enclosed system; the moving air is passed through a course which includes a flight chamber, turning vanes, and engines.

According to reports, this closed circuit has the advantage of keeping the outside elements from interfering with the airflow, but also had the downside of creating air friction causing the wind to heat up. However, this problem is remedied in a few different ways. First, by adding louver doors to the air system, allowing a small amount of outside air to enter the recirculating airflow.

Another way is by adding air conditioning which cools the air as it passes through the recirculating system. In addition, recirculating tunnel fans come in two main designs. It can be a one sided recirculating tunnel or a two sided recirculating tunnel. Note that this refers to the air splitting into one or two channels after it passes through the flight chamber.

Examples

  • Indoor Skydiving Bottrop
  • iFly Austin
  • Skydive Arena
  1. Propeller Below

Note that vertical wind tunnel flying has its roots in propeller below fan systems. Many of the earliest tunnels used a propeller below fan system for the simplicity and low cost. Have it in mind that the basic idea behind the propeller below fan system is a large prop spinning below a net creating a vertical wind flow after the propeller.

Also note that many tunnels of this type use loud engines like old DC3 airplane engines. This system is the simplest vertical wind tunnel design, but comes with some disadvantages. By flying on the air flow after the prop, you are flying in turbulent air. You are also exposed to the heat from outside/the engine powering the prop.

Examples

  • Aerodium Sigulda
  • Vegas Indoor Skydiving
  1. Propeller Above

The propeller above Fan systems use the same concept of using a prop to move wind, but rather than placing the chamber after a single prop in relation to the airflow, the chamber comes before the prop. Note that this could also be described as the air being pulled through the flight chamber rather than pushed through.

Examples

  • Aerotruba
  • FlyZone
  1. Open Flow

Open flow fan systems are similar in design to propeller above fan systems above; the only difference is that they utilize multiple engines at the top to pull air through the flight chamber. Note that these tunnels are open to the elements and there are only a few in the world located in areas with temperate climates. Owing to the multiple motor design, these fans can be powerful enough to supply a fast wind flow for free fly training, although not all active open flow tunnels are powerful.

Examples

  • iFly Orlando
  • SkyVenture Arizona

Conclusion

Getting some tunnel training under your belt is the ideal thing you can do to prepare for your first skydives. Although not every skydiver is into tunnel flying and not every tunnel flyer is into skydiving but the crossover percentage is super high, and you will soon find yourself hanging out with the same faces at both the drop zone and the tunnel – having the time of your life.

However, aside from the fan systems mentioned above, there are other tunnels out there that have unique systems which may include one or more of the functional concepts above, or it may be something entirely unique.

Ajaero Tony Martins