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ABB, the control systems supplier for the Windoor Realfly venue, spoke to Anne Maxwell about her unusual career route to becoming Proflyer Manager at Windoor Realfly and her Olympic ambitions for indoor skydiving.
The Windoor Realfly facility in Empuriabrava on Spain’s Costa Brava is one of the world’s leading indoor skydiving sites. It was constructed by Strojirna Litvinov, the Czech-based wind tunnel specialists and opened in 2012. The wind tunnel chamber, 4 meters in diameter and 15 meters high, can accommodate up to eight skydivers at a time. The upward flow of air that enables people to effectively freefall in the tunnel is provided by four massive electric fans. They are operated by four ABB variable speed drives (VSDs), that ensure precise and virtually instant control of wind speeds from 150 kmh up to 300 kmh to suit the specific needs of individual flyers from raw beginners to expert ‘Proflyers’.
Since ABB equipment is at the heart of the operation of the wind tunnel the company decided to become even more closely involved as sponsor of the Wind Games, the unofficial world championships that is held annually at the venue.
Before talking about the Wind Games in detail we asked Anne Maxwell to explain how she came to be Proflyer Manager:
“I started skydiving in 1990 in the UK, while working during the day as an accountant and as a trampolining instructor in the evenings. I took part in a charity skydiving event and became hooked. Within a year, I’d given up accountancy and moved to the US to become a professional skydiving instructor. It is probably one of the best jobs in the world and I did it for 22 years. When I stopped it was very difficult to find another profession that gave me the same freedom and variety. So I jumped at the opportunity to come to Windoor as Proflyer manager.”
Why is Windoor is different to other indoor skydiving facilities?
“It is our approach to the needs of Proflyers that makes Windoor unique in the world of indoor skydiving, because we are predominantly a Proflyer tunnel. 75 percent of the people who fly with us are Proflyers and we only have a 25 percent stake in the first-time flyer leisure market, which is the exact opposite of most other tunnels in the world. It’s hard to say how many Proflyers there are in the world, it is an easy sport to get into and the numbers are growing every day. In the past, it used to be just skydivers who would convert and become indoor skydivers. Now with the number of indoor tunnels worldwide there are many competitors who have never done a skydive.
“It is important to recognize the role of our investors in helping us to take our unique path as a Proflyer venue. Naturally, they need to see a return on their investment. But they have a vision that goes beyond that. They want to see this established as a recognized professional sport. So we are encouraged to spend time on competitions, on scoring systems, on developing new ways of doing things that have not been done in other tunnels before. They believe in us as a team and they understand that what we are doing will further improve our image.
“Basically, we are selling a dream. Proflyers have to believe that they are coming to the coolest place in the world. And that is why the reliability and control provided by ABB’s systems is so vital. Because the reality of our operation has to match the dream.”
Anne then told us how well the Wind Games 2018 had gone:
“Currently, the Wind Games is the world’s biggest indoor skydiving competition. We have been running it for five years now. This year we had over 200 competitors from the US, Russia, Australia, Europe, South Africa, Asia and the Middle East – and more than half a million people watched it on line.
“We always plan something different. Part of the beauty of the competition is that we have the freedom to create our own events, such as putting routines to music.”
Please tell us about your own dream is for indoor skydiving to become an Olympic sport:
“Traditionally, the Olympics has been a very difficult sport for skydivers to get into. The weather plays an enormous factor, as does the fact that you need to be close to an airfield. That has all changed with indoor skydiving. Now you can hold a competition in some of the largest cities in the world, the weather is no longer an issue and the sport can easily be captured by TV in order to make it accessible to a bigger audience.
“We now have many of the elements necessary to hold an international sporting competition but indoor skydiving is a very, very new sport. That means there is still a lot of hard work to be done in convincing the Olympic Committee. It is also vital to establish a fair and non-subjective scoring system in the artistic disciplines, which is why at Windoor we have devoted so much time on developing computerized scoring.
“Paris in 2024 has been put forward as a possibility for indoor skydiving to make its Olympic debut and the early signs are favorable.”
Anne rounded off our conversation by telling us how great it is to work at Windoor Realfly:
“I really like working here. There are a lot of creative people in the company. It’s also an unusual setup as so many of the management are women. I find that it’s a very open place to work. We welcome new ideas and welcome creativity, but we are also incredibly organized. There’s a lot of respect within the team for each other and then when it comes to running a really major competition, you know that you can rely on everybody else around you.”
Since doing this interview Anne has changed position and is now working as a freelance collaborator with Windoor for the Wind Games and special projects. She says it gives her the freedom to explore some new creative paths, but also allows her to continue to work with the Wind tunnel on new exciting projects.