What is a Vertical Wind Tunnel?
This simple device consists of an enclosed passage through which air is driven by a fan or any appropriate drive system. The heart of the wind tunnel is the test section, in which a scale model is supported in a carefully controlled airstream, which produces a flow of air about the model, duplicating that of the full-scale aircraft. The aerodynamic characteristics of the model and its flow field are directly measured by appropriate balances and test instrumentation.
What is Bodyflight?
Are all Vertical Wind Tunnels created equally?
Basically, there are two overall types
The first type of tunnel is non reliant on any external configurations and therefore can be used with walls or without, or perhaps even both, however walls are RARELY used. These tunnels have a variety of safety nets & air bags surrounding them, and others are simply open with a large airbags or catch-nets surrounding the air column. This type of tunnel is traditionally more challenging and requires solid flying skills. Flyers who learn in a wall-less environment are able to take their skills into any type of wind tunnel, however most seem to prefer flying outdoors as opposed to flying in a artifically lit 'tube'.
The second type of tunnel is completely reliant on the walls that surround the air column which work together with a fan or multiple fans above or below the flight area to create enough pressure/air speeds to allow people to fly. You don't normally see any padding or soft landing places at these facilities. This type of tunnel was popularized by Bill Kitchen's mid 1990's creation to solve the problem of "falling out" of the air column, as seen in traditional tunnels. Flyers who learn in a wall-to-wall environment often find that their skills are not sufficient for flying in a tunnel without walls and most feel that the additional challenge is simply "Too Hard".
Is one type of VWT better than the other?
As you become a more disciplined flyer you will likely become most proficient at the VWT located nearest to you, at which time we highly recommend investing some time & money into learning to fly at other facilities as well. It goes without saying that the more experience you have in a variety of environments the better skilled you will be as a flyer, and the more body awareness you will have. The worlds best bodyflyers do not limit themselves to only one machine, and can also appreciate the different skills required to maintain controlled flight under a variety of circumstances.
Is flying in vertical wind tunnels dangerous?
Honestly, the legal answer would be Yes, because the risk of injury can be great. The risks of injury include every injury you could sustain from a low impact sport injuries; strains, breaks, dislocations and in a severe case a bad fall could result in death. HOWEVER, it is important to note, that to our knowledge in over 20 years and countless millions of first time flyers, only 1 person has ever died as a result of participating in this sport.
Assessing the risks: You are at the greatest risk in the first 5 minutes you spend as a student learning to fly. As you are learning to fly, your brain is busy consuming the new information and therefore places you at an 'awareness level' that's below average. You have spent your entire life walking & being oriented vertically, and flying is done in a horizontal orientation and will take your brain a few minutes to comprehend. After a few minutes, your brain begins to settle down and process the flying just as it does anything else. Once you can understand what you are doing, and have learned the basic skills required, your risk of injury drop exponentially. At this point in time you are in control of your body, you are able begin performing maneuvers. Each time you learn a new maneuver your risk increases slightly and then decreases again with proficiency.
The risks involved with Wind Tunnel Flying should not be compared with the risk of death or injury possible when skydiving/parachuting. In fact Vertical Wind Tunnel flying bears little resemblance to the sport of skydiving, but is intertwined due to the benefits skydivers experience when practicing their freefall skills in the tunnel. They are able to realize the skills required to become expert skydivers in a fraction of the time and cost it would've taken them in the sky.
Understanding the Sport...
Vertical Wind Tunnel flying or bodyflying, is a sport open to everyone, not just the risk takers of the world. Children and adults both love the challenge it presents and physical skills required to fly. It is a great way to stay in shape and a fun way to spend time with your family. Once you know how, it's honestly as easy as toasting bread! The physical benefits you will receive from flying are countless, it's a fabulous cardio workout and would certainly be considered aerobic. But because of the low-impact nature of bodyflying, nearly anyone of every age can participate. The truly fun part of flying is the endless possibilities, the oddly relaxing act of bodyflying is therapeutic and enlightening like yoga, and for many becomes a way of life or at least a life changing experience. You'll find that it can be as extreme and risky as you would like it to be, or as safe, and low impact as a brisk stroll through the park, the only difference is the freedom of movement.