If you’ve got a thrill-seeking streak, chances are you’ve thought about going skydiving. The rising profile of adventure sports has made this pastime a top-ranking bucket list item for many adrenaline-junkies. But for many of us, the thought of throwing ourselves out of a plane at 15,000 feet can be a little daunting to say the least. Luckily, indoor skydiving can give you the thrill of freefall, with the reassurance of staying a maximum of ten to fifteen feet off the ground at all times! We’ll explore the facts about indoor skydiving (is indoor skydiving safe?), and look at how it compares to the real deal.
Walking on air
Indoor skydiving works by creating a magical floating environment by placing a gigantic fan at the base of a cylindrical flight chamber. The fan propels air through a vertical wind tunnel, creating a powerful lift force. The wind speed can reach 120mph – faster than a cheetah’s sprint. When you step into the wind tunnel, with an instructor to guide you, the force of the air pushes on your body, lifting you off the ground. The experience mimics the exhilarating rush of freefall- but in the controlled safety of an indoor environment.
Vertical wind tunnels were first designed for aerodynamics research. They were used to test helicopter blades, parachutes and the spin patterns of model aircraft to improve piloting techniques. By 1964 NASA was using a vertical wind tunnel on Wright-Patterson Airforce Base to test parachute clusters for the Apollo Space Programme. Eventually people realised what a fun opportunity vertical wind tunnels presented, and Jack Tiffany became the first person ever to fly in one.
However indoor skydiving didn’t truly take off as a commercial venture until a decade later. In Montreal, Canada, Aerodium Technologies custom-built the first vertical wind tunnel for human flight in 1978. The experience proved popular, with visitors paying $3 to hire a special flight suit, and $4 per minute’s flight in the open Aerodium enclosure. The air column was surrounded with padding to cushion flyers from any bumps and scrapes from accidentally flying out from the fan’s reach!
Luckily these days, advances in technology have streamlined flight chambers and improved safety features, giving them enclosed walls so you’re in no danger of floating away! Modern chambers which recirculate air and provide temperature control, were introduced in 2005. The total space available varies depending on the provider. Some provide vertical wind chambers up to 16 foot in diameter. However all are larger than 14 foot in diameter, as this is the minimum required for most skydiving sport disciplines. There are now over 100 vertical wind tunnels currently open to the public, and more in development.
Is indoor skydiving safe?
Indoor skydiving is a highly controlled and safe experience. Throughout the experience, you’ll only be suspended 10-15 feet from the ground at most. You’ll start slowly – hovering at a low altitude, so you can get used to the unique sensation of flight.
There will always be an instructor there with you in the flight chamber to guide your movement and assist if you need help. If there’s a power failure, the wind speed will decrease slowly, lowering you to the ground so you don’t fall.
Skydiving itself is also considered to be safe, although it does carry some level of risk. Very few injuries or fatalities are associated with it. However indoor skydiving provides an extra layer of reassurance as so many variables are accounted for. There’s no need to worry about parachutes failing or sudden gusts of wind knocking you off course. You’re in a controlled environment with qualified instructors, where very little can go wrong.
Why go indoor skydiving instead of the ‘real deal’?
If you’ve always wanted to try a skydive, but haven’t quite worked up the courage, indoor skydiving can be a reassuring trial run. You can learn how it feels to manoeuvre your body in freefall, and build up your confidence for making a real-life jump. You’ll be well on your way to checking that skydive off your bucket list! ‘Is skydiving safe’ is no longer a valid excuse.
Learn to fly
Indoor skydiving is also a valuable training tool for professional skydivers, and even military parachute troops. Skydivers around the world use vertical wind tunnels to train for their real jumps. They can practice mid-air manoeuvres without the cost and time of scheduling practice flights – all they need to do is book out a wind tunnel.
The wide availability of indoor skydiving facilities has even prompted the development of a whole new sport- bodyflight. Bodyflight athletes train in vertical wind tunnels to perform amazing acrobatic feats at indoor competitions, performing both freestyle and formation flights.
Fun for everyone
Finally indoor skydiving can be a great way for those who can’t access regular skydiving, such as young children, to experience the exhilaration of freefall. The minimum age is three years old- so it’s suitable for almost everyone.
Indoor skydiving is a safe, exhilarating way to experience free-fall and test out your wings! Find a facility near you to try it out yourself.
What do you think? Have you done it? Is indoor skydiving safe?