Tunnels are very busy places. Try and book as early as possible. Weekends and evenings are obviously the most popular so you may find some time if you can make midweek daytime slots. If you haven’t flown in a tunnel before, or are fairly low experience, do not book a lot of flying in one go. Tunnel fitness is acquired; if you overdo it, you will just waste your time as you will be too tired to fly properly. Ten minutes is a good starting point, build up the duration gradually each visit.
Remember that you just buy blocks of time. If you book 30 minutes, that’s what you get – in one big lump! Unless you are a masochist, you will want to split the session up! Usually two minutes in, two minutes out; or 90 seconds in, 90 seconds Rotations such as these are the most common way of getting the most out of your time but it’s your responsibility to tell the tunnel you’d like to rotate. They will do what they can to accommodate you but, if they don’t know beforehand, then it can be tricky to organise at the last minute. The best way to sort out rotations is to find someone who wants to fly the same amount as you on the same day, and book together.
Arrive early, allow lots of time, 1 to 2 hours before your actual flying time. This gives you plenty of time to get kitted up and plan the session. It also takes away lateness anxiety, as if you arrive later than your booking you will lose your time – an expensive traffic jam! Take your own suit and equipment if you want. Make sure the tunnel staff are happy with what you want to fly in. That Go-Pro mount may not be appropriate for this environment, and the Go-Pro itself certainly won't be. If you wear lead, take some extra, many people find they use more in the tunnel.
The single most important factor in learning to fly is coaching. As a beginner, the tunnel will be able to provide basic coaching, just ask. For more advanced techniques, ask them for names of coaches, you pay extra on top of your flight time but the benefits are huge. Talk to your coach about what you want to achieve. Think about your goals before you get to the tunnel. Be realistic and pick one or two areas you would like to improve. This can be anything from increased leg awareness to better in-place turns. Make sure that you understand fully what you have been briefed to do then, when the session is over, review your flight picking out two things you really liked and two things you want to improve on. This will help your progression and give you some guidelines for future sessions or jumps.
As a student skydiver, it’s easy to put yourself under pressure on your early jumps. You have a limited time to learn the skill you’ve been briefed on and you’re also dealing with the whole ‘jumping out of a plane’ thing. The tunnel provides a low stress environment of concentrated time for you to hone your skills enabling you to perform better when you go skydiving again.
Get in the tunnel and have your body position analysed. Correct it and really lock the feeling into your muscle memory. This may mean unlearning bad habits but this is why you’re here! Once in a better position, note how little you need to do to sit still. The best way to describe the feeling of control you should have is like the steering wheel grip required whilst driving. Not so tight that movement is awkward and erratic; not so loose you are weaving all over the place. Practising this skill alone will help your flying hugely.
Lay solid foundations
Skydiving is the art of deflecting the air to achieve your aim. When learning a move watch what is being demonstrated and try to understand what is going on. When it’s your go, emulate as closely as possible. You won’t get everything right first time, it’s a fact! So persevere – watch what feedback you are being given and act upon it as best you can. If you don’t crack something then repeat it on your next go. A common mistake is to move onto the second drill when the first wasn’t exactly great. The foundations laid by solid flying skills pay dividends many times over for more advanced stuff like 4-way, so put in the time now and get the basics right. It’s better to learn one thing really well, than cover five things and perfect none.
Respect the tunnel
At the risk of stating the obvious, the sky is big, the tunnel is small! I know that tunnels come in many different sizes but, compared to what mother nature has to offer, they are all minuscule. When experienced skydivers try tunnel flying for the first time, some are amazed that the flying position they’ve had for years does not actually fall straight down. They can skid around the tunnel trying hard not to bounce off the walls! Respecting the tunnel means just that. Realise you aren’t in the sky and calm your flying down accordingly. Leave the powerful big moves until next time you’re at altitude. It will save you a lot of aches and pains, and stop the tunnel rat having a heart attack trying to save you.
Both tunnels have viewing galleries that enable pretty much anyone to come and watch. When you are learning, there is a certain sense of pride that most people have that can make them feel awkward about making mistakes for all to see. You aren’t going to do everything perfectly first time. Just concentrate on what you and your coach are doing, block out everything else. Non-skydivers don’t really know what you’re trying to do anyway, and your fellow flyers waiting to have their go are more concerned about their own turn. Whilst learning to backfly, I have had some useless sessions in front of some really experienced freeflyers! Far from being an object of ridicule, I’ve found that fellow flyers are more than keen to offer you tips and, when you finally crack something, they are just as pleased as you!
Somewhere in your skydiving career, an instructor will have told you to relax, I guarantee it. The tunnel is the perfect place to practise this. Free from the stresses of parachutes, aircraft and all that goes with an actual skydive, all your brain power can be focused on your flying. Your mental state plays a big part in this. The late, great Adrian Nicholas used to get his freefly students doing breathing exercises and working on their sense of calm all the way to altitude. Approach your tunnel time in the same way; relax, control your breathing and smile. If one specific move isn’t going well, the reaction of most people is to try harder, they get frustrated and it just gets worse. Learn to recognise the symptoms of tension and combat them by having a 'reset switch'. If you’re the sort of person to spend valuable tunnel time in a frustrated state that leaves you feeling wound up when the time-up lights come on, then this is the technique for you.
Your reset switch can be triggered most effectively by a big deep breath. Feel the previous frustration ebb away and tell yourself you are calmer and going to start again. Smile at yourself and banish that sense of anger. Sitting still and taking a breath can be as effective as starting from scratch – that’s the point! Tunnel time is not cheap. The quicker you can get back into your relaxed state the sooner you can resume learning and banish those red mist sessions forever! This technique can also be used highly effectively in the air, even during competition dives where things do not go exactly as expected. Practice now, it will become your secret weapon and pay you back one day.
With the right planning and attitude, tunnel flying is a brilliant learning tool for skydivers of any ability. Enjoy your time and I hope it makes your skydives all the more successful.