The Story of the Biggest Open-Air Wind Tunnel in the World

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“Your Mission – should you choose to accept it – is to build the Biggest Open-Air Wind Tunnel in the World”

World’s largest open-air wind tunnel, built for Tom Cruise’s movie “Mission: Impossible – Fallout”, London, UK, 2017.
Photo courtesy of Aerodium

Tom Cruise laid down the challenge and thus began the biggest adventure Aerodium faced until now. We got the full story from their General Manager, Ivars Beitāns. But first, a bit of background…

Aerodium History

Aerodium is the original inventor of vertical wind tunnels for public entertainment. In 1979 the Canadian Jean Saint-Germain came up with the idea of the first vertical wind tunnel for bodyflight. Jean owned two parachute schools and had the idea that a wind tunnel would help his students practice freefall. The first commercial wind tunnel, Aerodium, was opened in Saint Simon de Bagot, 50 miles east of Montreal in 1979.

In 2006, the closing ceremony of the Winters Olympics in Turin, Italy, featured the first flying acrobat show ever, flown in a custom-built wind tunnel – a milestone in tunnel history.

Next steps in this innovative journey were:

  • the world’s first recirculation wind tunnel with a fully tempered glass flight chamber – built for “World EXPO 2010”, China
  • the world’s first wind tunnel with an indoor BASE jump chamber – at “Sirius Sport Resort”, Finland in 2013
  • the world’s first flight amphitheater for shows and public flying – Dengfeng, China, 2015
  • the wind tunnel with the tallest glass chamber in the world (12m) – at “Gravity Indoor Skydiving”, Bahrain, 2016  
Amazing perspective with skydivers training at Gravity Indoor Skydiving, Bahrain
Photo courtesy of Aerodium
  • the world’s first open recirculation wind tunnel for shows at “Shanghai Disney Resort”, China, 2016
  • and the building in 2018 of Aerodium Peryton – the world’s largest open-air wind tunnel with 6,5m x 3,5m (21,3ft x 11,5ft) large flight zone.

 And we’ll stop here and introduce you to Mr. Beitāns…

The “Flying Dream” – world’s first flight amphitheater for shows and public flying built in 2015 on the sacred Mount Shongshang (“The Centre of Heaven and Earth”) – Dengfeng, China
Photo courtesy of Aerodium

Mr Beitāns, how was the Peryton project idea born?

We were called by Tom Cruise’s team for the movie Mission Impossible 6. They wanted to rent a wind tunnel to see if they can use it for a movie. We sent a machine and it was rented for more than a month before Tom Cruise had the time to test it, because he has a busy schedule. When he did try it, he liked it but almost immediately asked if we could make a bigger one. We asked: “How big?”. He said, “How about the World’s biggest?”

What followed was like something you see in the movies… We basically made a sketch on a napkin in the studio’s canteen, then I went back home and convinced our team of engineers to try and design this machine in the scale that Tom Cruise wanted.

What were the main challenges of this project?

Firstly, the timescale, it was April and they wanted the machine up and running by August, an incredibly short deadline in this industry. Our final agreement had very tight conditions, so we basically refused all other projects in that period and we focused 100% on Peryton. If the tunnel wouldn’t have been ready by the end of August the penalty was 20,000 pounds per day! But I took the risk because I believed that this project will be very important for our business and for our industry. I remember our engineers would lock themselves in a room and nobody was allowed to disrupt them. It was like four weeks of complete isolation for them. After one month we opened the door and we had everything done. It was an interesting time ☺

Secondly, the air flow was a challenge, it had to be laminar (turbulence-free), but actually the noise was the biggest one because the machine was not isolated, so we could not wrap in the noise. We were exposed to the outside world. It was challenging but we achieved that. It’s the first tunnel that is so silent that you can actually talk to others while flying. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not completely silent, but we don’t even have to wear ear plugs. 

Open wind tunnels are harder to design than recirculating indoor tunnels, because of the safety issues. In the end it had to be not only bigger but also better than everything that we have done so far”       

Thirdly, safety; how to make the tunnel so big and keep it safe. In this machine you can fly very, very high, like 8-9 storey building high. If you lose control from that height and drop down, the cushions have to sustain this. You have to survive. Also, from that height the tunnel can look really small. You can get easily horizontal distance while flying, so we made a lot of tests to see how far a flyer could travel. Afterwards we changed the size of the cushions, we made them bigger… and bigger again when they started the filming for the movie.

Open wind tunnels are harder to design than recirculating indoor tunnels, because of the safety issues. In the end it had to be not only bigger but also better than everything that we have done so far.       

Testing the flying environment
Photo courtesy of Aerodium

Where do you fit into Aerodium?

I am the 3rd generation of management after the original inventor and his son. My involvement in this company dates back from 2005 – I bought my first open tunnel from Aerodium Canada as a customer. Then I brought Aerodium to stage of Olympics 2006 to perform unforgettable flying acrobat’s show. Since 2009 I am in charge of this company and we did quite a few innovations, we have some patents on safety features, like our special cushions. In the past I was a stunts coordinator and producer for shows. My job was to keep people safe while doing sometimes very dangerous stunts, so this expertise was useful. I used a lot of things I learned working in the movie industry. The safety nets for example, it’s not simple. It is designed to absorb energy. In a normal wind tunnel you can bounce up and down on the net maybe half a meter maximum. Our net can bounce 1.5 meters, a significant difference. If you fall from 20 meters, this can really help a flyer not get injured and probably save a life.

Is there a risk of coming out of the airflow and crash-landing on the ground?

No, because everything is calculated and everything is safe. We have never had a serious accident in an open wind tunnel. Never.  

The flyers say the airflow is ‘amazing’! – how did you make it so consistent?

We have a dedicated engineering team, and aerodynamic specialists, in our company. I think this is where we make a difference from other companies, because we take over these very difficult projects, challenges. We specialize in customized wind tunnels. The one we have in Disneyland, for example, is unique. The engineering team do the fine tuning, they predict all the wind streams and they know exactly what to expect. They are always almost 99% correct.

Sometimes we design even wind itself☺. For the Sochi Olympic Games, they wanted a big tornado to happen on a stage. We achieved that! Nobody was flying but it was the pure wind just dancing on a stage.

From our portfolio I think half of the tunnels we built were custom built. 

Sometimes we design… pure wind, just dancing on a stage”

The “small” tornado built for the Sochi Olympic Games

AERODIUM provided the creative tornado effect solution for the Sochi Olympic Games opening ceremony, from the flow simulations, design, production drawings to inception and implementation

What logistics were hardest for the filming of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout” scenes?

With Peryton the big challenge was timing, because the time frame was very tight and when we assembled it we had to make sure it would work with no problems from the start. We didn’t have time to test it, every bolt had to fit. When you make something that nobody else has done in history it’s always risky.

We delivered it to the UK in parts and pieces, some coming from Latvia, some from Sweden, US, Switzerland. All the parts came together in a studio in the UK and we had 3 weeks to put it together. And if something didn’t work, 20,000 pounds penalty per day… It was a logistical nightmare… But it went well and I think Tom Cruise filmed one week there. After that Peryton was used for 2 other big budget movies from different studios that will be released in the near future. I can’t name them ☺, but I think they will be great also!

I was very lucky to fly in the Aerodium Peryton tunnel, working with Tom Cruise on Mission Impossible 6. It was a totally different experience to indoor skydiving  – allowing us to fly outdoors. Although this doesn’t sound that different, I remember flying on my back and seeing birds around us and a Boeing 747 fly overhead”

Peryton proved invaluable for Tom’s training. We practiced almost all of the moves and skills he needed to perform his own stunts while skydiving. Every scene and stunt he did was broken down in the tunnel to build confidence and get repetition so he felt happy with the manoeuvres. We also managed to establish a lot of the angles and shots needed. The shape of the tunnel meant we could fly sometimes over 40 feet up in the air, and enabled us to do tracking, having the ability to fly out of the tunnel, onto soft bouncy mats. Peryton made a massive difference to the success of the skydiving scenes”

MILKO HODGKINSON, Tom Cruise’s skydiving coach for Mission Impossible 6

The Peryton STORY – a MUST watch!

How AERODIUM built the World’s biggest open wind tunnel exclusively for Tom Cruise‘s Mission Impossible 6 movie

What do you prefer to build – outdoor or indoor tunnels?

I am very much in show business, I like it very much. We have worked many times with World Wide Shows, Disney, all the big guys, so my personal preference is for sure the open wind tunnels. Also I like flying more in the open wind tunnels, it’s more exciting, especially in the big ones like Peryton – you are outdoors, you are completely free, you have plenty of room to fly and you don’t hit any edges. Everyone who tried it said that it was simply more fun.

The disadvantage of open tunnels is that they consume more energy because they are not using the advantage of inercy  when you just move the air in a loop and by doing so you save energy. But when you consider everything, electricity is not a game-changer, electricity expenses represent only 5-15 % from a tunnel’s running costs. The big expenses are labor-related costs, capital expense, marketing and so on.

Open tunnels are becoming more and more popular. In the last years we sold more open tunnels than indoor ones. Also now, with this COVID situation, the open tunnels are opened for public, while many of the indoor ones stayed closed.

Where can we find these open tunnels?

We have them everywhere – 2 in the USA and 3 more are coming next year. In China and other Asian states. In Europe we have them in Latvia, France, Spain, and Peryton in the UK. Not many of them are permanent. As they are modular they are easy to move.



Photo courtesy of Aerodium

How difficult is it to move an open wind tunnel?

We have special machines built for events that are designed to travel, and we can assemble in one day. For the big machines the time required is longer because they are more complicated.

Why did you invite the British 8-way team, Microclim8, to fly in it?

I believe Peryton is amazing machine and breakthrough technology which due to it’s primary users has been hidden in the movie studios were very few people had chance to try it out. So, we paid Marvel Studios a fee to use our machine for invited guests for one day when we had teams to fly in it and test it. The goal was to get a video so other people will see what it can do. It was really important for us to have feedback from really experienced skydivers. We were very happy that they were so enthusiastic.

It was a totally amazing tunnel. You feel so free, flying in the open without any walls, no distractions. You really feel like you have so much room. The tunnel is already so far off the ground, when you fly high enough you can almost feel like you are in free fall”

ROSALIND AYLING, Microclim8 member – UK 8-way team

The awesome experience of flying in Peryton

British National 8-way Skydiving Team MicroClim8 rocking the skies
in the Peryton

Will regular skydivers be able to fly in Peryton?

We had plans to organize skydiving camps in this tunnel but because of the COVID situation every plan changed. But in future, next summer we hope, we still have this plan to open it for the public.

How do you see the future for Aerodium?

I believe open and smaller budget tunnels will be the trend in the next 5-10 years. We are already selling these new generation open wind tunnels. Yes, smaller than Peryton, but the same low noise, great air flow. The next one is going to LA next year.

Peryton is our best business card. We proved that the technology works, we proved what we can achieve – consistent air flow, low noise, great safety and an amazing environment at a fraction of the cost of what an indoor tunnel would mean.

Take into consideration that the investment for an indoor tunnel will start probably from 3-7 million Euro, while an open tunnel can be built with lower that 1 million Euro. It’s a big difference. You can get your money back in 2-3 years instead of 10 years. The capital needed for investment is much lower. And at the end of the day, if you decide to, it’s easy to resell. The tunnels are modular, every part can be loaded in containers and moved easily.

Anyway, as we managed to break the 90s preconception on open-air wind tunnels (loud, inefficient and turbulent) we are happy to have some big show production companies already looking for something bigger. Some even 10 times bigger☺. We are already working on some designs in this area so I hope soon will have a tunnel bigger than Peryton. Something crazy will come out☺. 

Peryton is our best business card. We proved that the technology works, we proved what we can achieve – consistent air flow, low noise, great safety and an amazing environment at a fraction of the cost of what an indoor tunnel would mean”


In case you are still “hungry” for some AERODIUM magic you can watch also:

The first wind tunnel flight show in the World – including snowboard flying – Closing Ceremony of the Torino Olympics

Artistic culmination during the Winter Olympic Games Closing ceremony – flying acrobats’ show “The dream of flying”

The world’s first open recirculation wind tunnel for shows at “Shanghai Disney Resort”, China

Custom-built wind tunnel for the Pirates of the Caribbean show at Shanghai Disneyland

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Meet: Andreea Pistea

Andreea started skydiving at 16 years old and the step between hobby and passion was almost immediately made. Nothing changed in the years that passed.
She is a USPA coach, AFF Instructor, Multiple World Record holder in big-ways and former captain of Romanian TNT 4-way team. Andreea enjoys FS, wingsuiting and freefly.

Powered by the Romanian Airclub, ROMATSA, Dragon Star Curier, Easy Credit 4 All, Romanian Airport Services, RAS Aeroport Tuzla, AdWise Media Communication and TNT Brothers.

Andreea flyes Sun Path, Aerodyne, Squirrel, Cookie Helmets and Cypres.

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