Indoor skydiving is all the rage, especially for those who’d like to experience the thrill of skydiving without the fear of jumping out of a plane. Skydive wind tunnels allow you to do just that, and our wind tunnel experience at Skyventure New Hampshire was a hoot!
History of Skydive Wind Tunnels
Indoor skydiving is done in vertical wind tunnels (VWT), which are different than the type of wind tunnels used for scientific experimentation such as testing aerodynamics.
The first person to fly in a VWT was Jack Tiffany in 1964 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Based in Ohio, pioneering a whole new recreational activity. In 1978, the first public VWT was built by Jean St. Germain. Originally known as the “Aérodium,” it was patented as the “Levitationarium” by St. Germain in the USA in 1984. Today’s wind tunnels are quieter and smoother than the prior prototypes and have transparent walls for fun viewing.
Milestone Publicity for Vertical Wind Tunnels
- 1979 – Canadian Sport Parachuting Magazine
- 2006 – Wind Machine” at the closing ceremony Torino Winter Olympics
- 2009 – preview in Moscow’s Red Square of 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics
- 2010 – Latvian exhibition at Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China
- 2014 – indoor skydiving recognized by World Air Sports Federation (FAI)
- Now – FAI competitions are taking place around the world
How Does Wind Tunnel Flying Work?
Indoor skydiving enables human beings to defy gravity without a parachute or plane in an enclosed vertical chamber with an airflow of up to 120 MPH.
“Unlike some other wind tunnels such as the non-circulating types, the propellers and fans at Skyventure do not push the air up from the bottom,” said Laurie Greer, co-owner of Skyventure, explaining how a recirculating wind tunnel forms an aerodynamic loop. “We have a very high fan at the top of the column that sucks the air upwards.”
Because of the cold climate during much of the year in New Hampshire, a recirculating wind tunnel works best for year-round use.
At the bottom of the chamber is a trampoline-style net that repels inexperienced flyers back up should their buoyancy decline. There’s also a controller outside of the see-through tunnel who can adjust the wind speed to accommodate the ability and body drag of each flyer.
As first flyers, we were guided through the entire experience. It began with Alex, our flight safety instructor giving a class, teaching about the sensation, rules, hand signals, and any questions the participants might have. We were told an instructor would be in the wind tunnel with each flyer, one-on-one, to help them control their bodies as the air creates buoyancy.
For safety, each person was fitted for a flight suit, helmet, goggles, earplugs, and closed-toe, tie shoes. Gloves were dispensed for people whose rings could not be removed.
The only limitations for flying are to be within specific weight parameters and having incurred no previous shoulder dislocations. While wind tunnel flying is considered a low impact activity, it does exert some strain on the flier’s back, neck, and shoulders.
Important note! Secure your hair! And I mean as tightly as you can. I French braided my hair halfway down, but the braids and ends stuck out of the bottom of my helmet. The force of the wind was so strong that it took me about 30 minutes to get out the most horrific knots I’ve ever had! Make sure all your hair is up under your helmet.
Unlike outdoor skydiving, the wind tunnel environment is very controlled compared to the traditional type of freefall, so it appeals to a far wider range of people of all ages.
Our group of around 10 people was seated on a bench just outside the wind tunnel to wait our turn. It was very noisy!
Doing Indoor Skydiving!
We chose the 2-minute session, which was broken down into two 1-minute flights. While two minutes might not seem like a long time, it is actually a pretty significant length of time to be inside a wind tunnel for beginners. Due to the arched position your body is in, a lot of muscle strength is required (between my shoulder blades and the outside of my gluts were a little sore the next day, but for someone more athletic that might not happen).
When instructor Alex signaled that it was my turn, I stood at the open doorway of the wind tunnel and lunged in. It was thrilling beyond belief! There was a split second of hilarity as my partially-braided hair flew into my face. It’s loud in the wind tunnel and I had earplugs in my ears, but I heard Alex laugh.
Alex held on to my arm, then my leg as I discovered my own path to weightless stabilization. I already knew to arch my back, extend my arms and raise my legs, but Alex gave me some hand signals to lift my chin and spread my fingers to help me maintain the floating Superman position, complete with the skin rippling effect on my face from the force of the wind. Then he let go and gave the thumbs up to everyone watching (see photo above) as I maintained my weightless position for the rest of the flight. #InstagramMoment
Since I’d chosen the optional “Fly High” upgrade, in my second entry into the wind tunnel, after getting stabilized, Alex hooked my arm and leg and up we soared, spiraling high into the airstream of the tunnel! Without time to get re-oriented, we zoomed back down again, just feet above the net. We spun around 360 degrees, then up we went again.
We did this thrill ride five times. I was laughing so hard I could feel a little drool leaking out!
Outdoor vs. Indoor Skydiving
I’ve done both indoor and outdoor skydiving (as well as hang gliding and paragliding). Yes, there are some disadvantages to indoor, but it’s purely subjective as to whether jumping out of a plane is worth it. Outdoors, I experienced the thrill of seeing the gorgeous Oahu shore from 14,000 feet above the stratosphere.
On the other hand, with indoor skydiving, you’re not strapped tightly in tandem to another person, so with slight tweaking of your body, you can maneuverer yourself to ascend a little, stay away from the walls, even land on your feet to exit the tunnel.
- To Ascend: Look up
- To Descend: Look down
- To Steer: Angle of palms, the spread of fingers
Inside skydiving is also not dependent on the weather or seasonal.
You don’t have the freefall sensation with indoor skydiving – that can be interpreted as either a pro or con, depending on the adrenaline level of the participant.
Of course, if you’re acrophobic, a skydiving simulator may be the only way to enjoy skydiving…. or with practice, may even get you over your fear of heights.
Why Skydive Wind Tunnels?
Floating weightless in a column of wind is one of the purest forms of flight there is. It allows you to fly your body effortlessly by control your position and movement.
- $55 – 2-minute flight
- $95 – 4-minute flight
- $10 – High Fly upgrade
Other Experiences at Skyventure NH
Rock Climbing Wall – beginning, intermediate, and expert
Fishpipe – the world’s first rotating barrel ride
Surf’s Up – the largest indoor surfing facility in North America
Oasis Café – open daily for breakfast, lunch, and refreshments
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Disclosure: The author was honored to be the guest of SkyventureNH for her skydive wind tunnel experience, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.