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International, independent, e-magazine on skydiving, BASE & tunnel


by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen
by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen

Tunnel to freefall – how to make the jump… There is surely no doubt in anyone's mind by now that the wind tunnel is a useful tool for learning how to fly your body in freefall. However most of us are also aware that the transition from performing those skills in the tunnel as opposed to taking your act into freefall can be an interesting ride.

This article is to share with you some of the lessons that we have learnt from coaching teams and individuals over the years, lessons that have helped make the most efficient use the use of the tunnel, making the most out of it, with the objective of turning out better skydivers.

Doing tunnel before AFF can help avoid sensory overload&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by <a href='' class='captionLink'>Danny Jacobs</a>
Doing tunnel before AFF can help avoid sensory overload — by Danny Jacobs

AFF and beyond

When I made my first jump in 1979, had someone explained to me that it would be possible to learn how to fly my body before actually stepping into free-fall, I would have grabbed the chance. In fact when I taught my daughter her AFF course, I made absolutely sure that she could fall stable, do dummy pulls, move forward, backward and perform basic turns before her level 1.

However there is a big difference between readying someone for their level 1 AFF and giving them the first-time tunnel flight/experience that is normally sold at wind tunnels. For instance the level 1 AFF student should be more concerned with a good arch, symmetrical position and stable dummy pulls than the use of the legs in turns or more advanced flying techniques. Quite often the 'tunnel rat' will not be a skydiver and, although she may be able to fly rings around most AFF instructors in the tunnel, she might not necessarily know what is critical to the first time jumper. If you ask at the tunnel prior to flying you may be able to hook up with a tunnel rat who is also a skydiver.

There are some tunnels that have a simulated rig that the flyer can check out for the change in balance, the positioning of the pilot-chute and other handles.

If you plan to make use of the tunnel prior to your AFF, you would be wise to talk to your instructor and ask what would be the best things to work on.

One-on-one coaching gives immediate feedback&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen
One-on-one coaching gives immediate feedback — by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen


One major objective of teaching 1-on-1 is that the student should understand the body flight dynamics necessary to perform controlled manoeuvres: up, down, forward, back, turns and sideways. There really is no better tool to teach these basics in a controlled environment than the wind tunnel; the student receives immediate feedback and is able to correct errors and build good habits from the beginning. A good coach will start with the fundamentals and steadily increase the level of difficulty.

However, being able to perform these skills in freefall also requires you to exit the aircraft stable from various positions and approach from some distance, as well as safely separate at the correct altitude, track and open. Also the tunnel has one major limiting factor; you cannot get very far from and lose contact with the people that you are flying with!

For those team flyers that are investing massive amounts of money in their jump training, the tunnel offers a useful environment in which to brush up on the basics, as it is easy to pick up bad habits that can limit your performance in 4- and 8-way.

FS 4-way Dubai Ladies training in Windoor&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Vania Da Rui
FS 4-way Dubai Ladies training in Windoor — by Vania Da Rui

4-way teams

There is not one top level 4 way team in the world that does not train in a tunnel. The tunnel allows teams the level of repetition that is practised in other sports but up until now has not been available due to the extremely short duration of a training jump.

Similar to setting up a training plan for any other sport, it is critical to nail down the fundamentals first. A team wanting to buy a chunk of tunnel time should ensure that each individual has solid body-flight skills. It is often worth investing a part of your team time to refresh those basics. With a new team you can also repeat those skills in a 4-way environment in the air or tunnel before moving on to the randoms.

Because of the various categories now open to new 4-way teams, we are able to learn the intricacies of the event in logical order from simple to complex, starting with the randoms in the Rookie event and then steadily working through the blocks in A, AA and AAA.

Given the addictive nature of flying in a room with your friends, it is easy to bite off more than you can chew when booking tunnel time

Given the addictive nature of flying in a room with your friends, it is easy to bite off more than you can chew when booking tunnel time. Discuss with your coach, or someone who has been through the process before, how much tunnel time is suitable for your budget, time factor and relationships. Over a weekend, or two day period, it is feasible to comfortably fly for 2 team hours and with the increase in stamina extend that to 3, otherwise evening sessions of 30 minutes once a week, once a month or whatever your limitations, priorities and desire allow!

There are many ways to maximise your time in the tunnel with your team. The first is coaching; without some guidance you can easily learn bad habits that will haunt you as the speed and difficulty of the dives increase.

2 on 2 is also a great way to learn the ropes. Having an experienced 4 way flyer as your piece-partner and cross-partner will show you how the job is done and give you a visual and tactile reference for flying together as a team.

No-contact flying is a great tool for learning the correct set-ups for randoms, first points and even blocks.

by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen
by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen

Taking your 4-way act into freefall!

Now for the important bit, going into the sky! Many things are easier to do in the tunnel than in freefall, for example the weight of a rig means more mass to start and stop when making moves. The lack of flexibility that a rig creates will also reduce the effectiveness of your inputs with legs and arms. Wearing a rig will change your centre of gravity, so not only does the rig obstruct your view behind you but it will also put your head lower. The result is that you have a smaller range of motion, you have more weight to move and you can see less!

Many teams are wearing their rigs in the tunnel. If you choose to do this the rig covers must be checked by the tunnel staff before using them. It does not bear thinking about the result of an accidental deployment in the tunnel… Some tunnels offer false rigs but nothing is as effective as using your own rig.

Flying with a rig on in the tunnel is considerably more work than without so you may want to build up steadily rather than committing to a full hour with rigs straight away.

A common mistake on the transition is to forget that you actually have to look at each other when in free-fall to maintain communication and distance, especially on block moves

It is not 100% necessary to train with rigs but be careful that your inputs and speed of movement is at a level that you can repeat in free-fall. We have seen many teams with a 15+ average in the tunnel, struggle to accept that they are unable to fly at a 10 or 12 in freefall.

Tunnels have walls… A common mistake on the transition is to forget that you actually have to look at each other when in freefall to maintain communication and distance, especially on block moves.

Maintaining good eye contact in the tunnel helps transfer to the sky&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen
Maintaining good eye contact in the tunnel helps transfer to the sky — by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen

When flying in the tunnel make sure that you are not crawling around on the net, fly at least 1.5 – 2m above the mesh to give you a more freefall-like experience and the ability to share the vertical blocks rather than forcing the 'over' pair to do all the work.

Remember that the tunnel is a training tool and simulator, it is not necessary to fly at 100% speed and competition style on every session. Start slow, get the moves right first; then repeat; then repeat again and again; and then steadily increase the intensity as you move closer to your event.

Camera Flyers

Over the past few years I have been approached by a couple of team cameraflyers that have asked me for specific exercises that they can do to improve their skills. My first response is always tell them to jump as much as possible, as the exit is THE most critical element of their job. The next step is to have excellent core skills, as it is very easy to get lazy when observing others. Most core skills can be worked in free-fall as well as in the tunnel. The one drill that lends itself to the tunnel is learning to fly close or inside a group's turbulent air. Due to the hazardous nature of flying above someone whilst with rigs on, this is a drill that can be practised relatively safely within the walls of a tunnel and with a very experienced tunnel coach.

Dave Clarke filming Team Elite over Langar&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Gary Wainwright
Dave Clarke filming Team Elite over Langar — by Gary Wainwright

Big-way skydivers

The skills needed for flying well during a big-way event are the same as any other; a good body position and the understanding of the dynamics of body flight. These skills will help you as much as the ability to exit the aircraft and dive to approach. When you get to the formation you then need to bring your 'A game' with you.

There are various drills that will improve your ability to take knocks when flying in your slot or maintaining the various challenging fall rates or body positions whilst a formation goes through its ups and downs.

Staying current

If you have been laid off jumping for a while, whether through injury or finances, the tunnel can offer you a halfway step or motivator to get back into freefall. Getting a few minutes under your belt, a reminder of the basics and the fun that can be had in the air, will then allow you to focus on survival skills when you get back into freefall and under canopy.

Pete not having any fun at all ;-)&nbsp;&mdash;&nbsp;by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen
Pete not having any fun at all ;-) — by Robby Jorge Van Hulsen

Have fun!

This article is aimed at novices and FS jumpers, I am sure that there is a similar set of transition steps for the free flyer but as I am still very much a student of that discipline, I will leave someone else to write those words! If you have some time left over after all that serious stuff, learn how to 'bootie fly' and 'back fly'; it's a mellow introduction to freeflying as well as useful if you find yourself on your back after an exit or a block move, oh yes and it's fun too! :)