So, You Wannabe a Tunnel Instructor?

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Jonas Krasa, Tunnel Instructor Examiner

An interview with Jonas Krasa, founder of Tunnel School and Chief Examiner of Tunnel Instructor Organization, about what it takes to become a tunnel instructor. Jonas teaches instructors and flyers, runs coaching workshops and instructs at training courses for wind tunnel staff and several different Armies.

Jonas, who has a degree in physical education, was a developer of the tunnel instructor syllabus for the non-profit organization of tunnelinstructor.com (TI). He has been an instructor for more than 13 years, has over 5,000 flying hours and is a multiple world medallist. 

Which wind tunnel do you work from and why? 

I am currently located at Windoor Empuriabrava in Spain. This tunnel is placed in a beautiful coastal town and is next to the skydiving drop zone. It’s an ideal place to be as a flyer. Also, the tunnel is known for its good reputation, with some of the best flyers and coaches around the world, and hosting a world class competitions such as the Wind Games.

Tunnel Instructor organisation and Tunnel School also provide their services worldwide. 

Can anyone become a tunnel instructor? 

If you have a passion for flying and are interested in teaching and guiding others, you can become a wind tunnel instructor. While prior experience in a tunnel is not necessary, being physically fit is beneficial as the job requires strength and the course surely tests that.

Does experience as a skydiver help?

Being an experienced skydiver can provide a foundation in understanding the principles of free fall, body control and such, so I think theoretically it can help a little. However in practice, being a wind tunnel instructor is a different sport. Sometimes we face the opposite issue and need to unteach certain old habits from skydiving that are not necessarily good for a tunnel instructing. 

You need strong flying skills to stay in control of the students

Are most tunnel instructors self-employed or employed? 

The employment status of instructors can vary, but generally tunnels have an employed team of instructors, therefore most instructors are employed.

Do they mostly combine with something else, or work full time at the tunnel? 

Work arrangements for wind tunnel instructors depends on the individual. Some instructors may work full time at a wind tunnel facility, dedicating their entire work schedule to teaching and guiding participants in the tunnel. However, it’s also common for wind tunnel instructors to combine their work with other pursuits, such as being active skydivers, tunnel athletes, or involved in related fields like aviation or extreme sports. Specific circumstances depend on the instructor and the availability of opportunities within the industry.

What does someone need to do to achieve a tunnel instructor qualification? 

One has to successfully complete the Wind Tunnel Instructor Course and meet all the necessary standards. The final examination of the course is split into three parts. It consists of theoretical questions, a final examination inside the tunnel with a Chief Examiner or Examiner and a full 30-minute class with first time flyers from start to finish. After successful completion, one is signed off as a qualified wind tunnel instructor.

Can you tell me about the three different courses you offer

Yes, we have a three-level rating system. 

Course A is an entry-level course designed for individuals who want to enter the world of work as a wind tunnel instructor. It is a low wind speed course and it covers the fundamental principles of tunnel flying, safety protocols, instructional techniques, and teaching methodologies. This course aims to provide a solid foundation for aspiring instructors. After accomplishing this course, one is eligible to apply for a work position as a wind tunnel instructor.

Course A+ is an advanced-level course that builds upon the knowledge and skills gained in Course A. During this course we teach how to fly with a client, and specifically how to control someone’s flight while in flight ourselves, so called ‘Taxi-flying’ or ‘Twisters’.

Course B is a high speed freefly spotting course. It’s an advanced course designed for more experienced instructors. It focuses on advanced coaching methods, mentorship skills, specialised flying techniques, and in-depth knowledge of handling people and provide safety while learning freefly.

How long do the courses take? 

The Class A course takes approximately 10 hours of tunnel time, distributed into two weeks, with one hour of training session per day distributed in four 15-minute sessions.

The Class A+ takes about 6 hours of tunnel time, more or less one week to finish. The time is distributed into 45-minutes’ training time per day in three 15-minute sessions. It is important to note that it also depends on the current skills of belly flying of the participant.

The Class B course takes approximately 6 hours of tunnel time distributed into one week, where we train again one hour per day. 

The above hours are approximate, the exact amount can vary depending on the individual’s physical fitness and skills. There isn’t a fixed minimum number of hours, the course is designed to ensure participants gain the necessary proficiency and knowledge in the tunnel and the standards of TI are met.

Jonas, flying for fun

Do you run the courses with groups or as a one-on-one with the potential instructor? 

We run both. They each have their own advantages and disadvantages.

In a group course the main advantages are that the participants share some tunnel time together, which gives more time spent in the wind and learning from reflecting on each other’s mistakes. The disadvantage is that a group course is much more time-consuming. 

On the other hand, the one-on-one courses are at a much faster pace and have more individual approach.

How much does it cost to become qualified? 

The cost depends on the price of the tunnel time at the facility where the particular course is conducted. I wouldn’t like to point an exact number because the prices are frequently changing, depending on the price of electricity throughout the year, but as an example from Empuriabrava (Spain) at current pricing, the cost for a class A instructor course in summer 2023 is 6,995€.

What are the potential rewards?

The reward you get from the sensation of flying while you are working is priceless!

The financial rewards as a beginner instructor are not that attractive, we are talking the average monthly paycheck, but there are many ways to make much more money. For instance, selling tunnel time on commission and, as we progress in flying, we sell our coaching services and private lessons.

What are the differences and similarities between tunnelinstructor.com and the International Bodyflight Association coaching training system? 

Both Tunnel Instructor and the International Bodyflight Association share a common focus on training and certifying individuals as wind tunnel instructors. Their qualifications aim in the same direction; to provide the necessary skills set and knowledge to effectively teach and guide participants in the wind tunnel. The techniques used are very similar. 

I would say the main difference is that IBA is more used in USA and TI more in Europe. The rest of the world is probably like 50:50. It depends on the particular tunnel and its technology.

Are these the only two recognized systems in indoor skydiving? How would a wannabe instructor decide which of the systems to choose? 

Yes, these two systems are the only ones that I know of. The decision should depend on where the instructor wants to work. As mentioned above, IBA is more known in North America and TI in Europe. One should find out what system they follow in your most desirable tunnel and go for that. 

How important is physical fitness for a tunnel instructor? 

Physical fitness is essential. The tunnel instructor job requires active participation in the flying sessions with the clients.

What kind of toll does working in the wind place on the human body? 

It is true that the continuous exposure to the airflow and the conditions of the wind tunnel environment could take a toll on the human body in various ways, if not protected properly. But I am not aware of any study and I always protected myself adequately, so I will just speak for myself. I feel great and the only toll is that I get a workout!

What are the best points of being a tunnel instructor? 

I love many aspects of being a wind tunnel instructor. The best points are sharing the joy of flight with others and seeing their progression. That makes you proud because you were part of this progress. The work is full of diversity and you never stop learning new things. I also like the tiredness after work like after a good workout. The work is always a lot of fun, and I appreciate being able to combine work with pleasure. 

It can be so much fun to show others the joy of flying
Photo: instructing at Windoor Empuriabrava

How about the worst points?

We are talking about the best job in the world, so there are not many!

It is physically demanding: a tunnel instructor spends extended periods inside the wind tunnel, which may be tiring.

Work shift and irregular hours: wind tunnels usually operate throughout the week, including weekends and evenings when customers are more likely to be available. As an instructor, you may have to work non-traditional hours, which can disrupt balance in your life and social engagements.

What safety considerations do they have to bear in mind? 

Here I would say, that safety starts within you. You, as an instructor, need to be able to evaluate honestly your skills and fatigue while working to never jeopardise the safety of your client at the expense of your bad judgment. 

Of course, there are more safety considerations and we each how to prevent all sorts of risks.

How do you teach spotting? 

The main approach is active learning. We have already developed and are still developing new techniques that we teach in our Tunnel Instructor methodology. We always explain a specific move, in what situation we use it, and how to do it, followed by practice inside the airflow. We also review the potential dangers.

How would you describe the spotting skills shown in this video from your course?

I would describe them as a minimum set of tools that the new instructor can use to handle the first-time flyer and solve potentially dangerous situations that can occur. Please note, there are many more techniques that can be acquired outside of this course. I am not afraid to say that by when you finish this course, the learning begins. Whether spotting, coaching, flying or personal growth, there is always something to learn.

What advice would you give someone who wants to become a Tunnel Instructor? 

I am imagining a scenario where I traveled back in time and give advice to my younger self before becoming an instructor. I would say, “Are you crazy?!” 

No, I am joking. I would say, “Do it and never look back. You will not regret it and you will be happy doing what you love.” But this would be my advice to myself. Everybody has to think for themselves what actually makes them happy.

What problems might they encounter along the way and how can they overcome them? 

Every problem has a solution. One of the problems that can arise is frustration from not progressing in flying as fast as we would like to. Enjoy the process of learning and you will succeed. Don’t let the frustration take over. It just slows you down.

Other problems like injuries can happen. Keep in mind you have only one body. Take good care of it and always make sure you fully recover before you start pushing your body to the limits again.

Jonas flying in competition, at the Hurricane Factory

What qualities does a person need to be a great tunnel instructor? Is it important to be an awesome flyer?

The instructor should be able flying-wise to perform perfectly what he is teaching.

A good instructor should have these traits:

  • Strong Communication Skills: Effective communication is essential for providing clear instructions and feedback to students, ensuring they understand and can apply the techniques being taught.
  • Patience and Empathy: Being patient and empathetic helps instructors understand the challenges students may face and provide the support and encouragement needed for their progress.
  • Safety-Minded: Safety should be the top priority for a wind tunnel instructor. They must be highly vigilant in enforcing safety protocols and ensuring a secure learning environment.
  • Teaching Ability: The ability to break down complex manoeuvres and techniques into simple, understandable steps is crucial in helping students grasp and master skills effectively.
  • Adaptability: Every student is unique, and instructors should be adaptable in adjusting their teaching methods to suit individual learning styles and needs.
  • Physical Fitness: While being an exceptional flyer can be an advantage, a good level of physical fitness is essential for demonstrating techniques and providing hands-on assistance to students.
  • Problem-Solving Skills: Instructors should be quick thinkers who can assess situations and find solutions to any issues that may arise during sessions.
  • Passion for Teaching: A genuine passion for teaching and sharing the joy of wind tunnel flying is motivating and inspiring for students.
  • Continuous Learning: Great instructors are committed to their own professional development, continuously refining their skills, and staying updated with the latest techniques and best practices.

What’s the bottom line most important thing to remember?

Safety comes first.

Do they get loads of free tunnel time or is that a myth?

It’s not a myth. Tunnel instructors get free tunnel time for their own personal training. We call it the staff time. Sometimes it is considered as an extra part of the salary. The amount depends on each tunnel, but in every tunnel it’s a must. We don’t work without it. 🙂 But seriously, it is essential that the instructor keeps skills sharp and trains frequently to build up confidence.

Instructors get between 1 to 3 hours of staff time per month or more, plus there is always a good deal from the tunnel company for the instructors to buy time for a discounted price. It’s in the interest of the company to have great flying instructors.

How do you feel going to work in the morning?

I feel amazing. When I was little kid in primary school, my mom used to tell me in the morning to enjoy getting up to go to school. Because, after you finish school, you will have to wake up and go to work, so you better enjoy this now. It’s not true, I love getting up and going to work!

Anything to add?

Don’t hesitate to contact me with your questions if you want to become a wind tunnel instructor, or want to learn how to fly.

Let’s Master The Wind.

Interview with Jonas Krasa

Instructor Course run by TunnelSchool

Tunnel instructor Course, Class A

If you are interested in becoming a tunnel instructor, the next course is at Empuriabrava, Spain, 18-30 September 2023, more information here

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