Espen Fadnes reckons angled tunnels are going to change the face of wingsuiting, exactly as vertical tunnels did to skydiving!
Are Angled Wind Tunnels the future?
In 2005 the first high speed vertical wind tunnel with recirculated air was introduced to the world of skydiving. It took a few years before it truly took off, but looking back, we’ve seen freefall skills rocket throughout all disciplines. In fall 2018 the first angled tunnel was introduced. Five years later we see signs of a new game-changer. Indoor Wingsuit in Stockholm is now almost fully booked months ahead.
Here is all you need to know about the new tool on the block…
When you enter the facility at Bromma, Stockholm, you clearly see this is an old construction. The tunnel was originally made for military aviation R&D in the 1940s. A closer look at this unique angled tunnel shows several differences from what we are used to at modern vertical tunnels. The chamber is square, not circular, does not diffuse air at the top and has protective padding inside.
Are these design differences an unnecessary step back to the 90s (See the Hollywood blockbusters Vertical Limit and Cutaway for inspiration). Or are they part of a tunnel design so unique, that it cannot be compared to a modern vertical tunnel? We will dive into that question later. But, for now let’s look at the potential for you, as a customer.
The first 10-60 minutes are flown while you are strapped into a harness system (see photo). The reason is simple; when a customer is dressed in a wingsuit, the potential forces against the wind are greater than the ability for an instructor to keep the customer under control.
Before you can leave the harness system behind, you need to show ability to take off and land, as well as a basic belly flying control; up, down, forward, backward and sideways. From the moment you are finished with the harness system, the tunnel has unlimited and unknown potential. I say unknown, because history shows that five years is far from enough to see where a discipline and/or a training tool can take us.
There are two main components of progression in an angled wind tunnel; belly and back flying. All those other fancy tricks and moves in a wingsuit are determined by your lowest level of belly and back flying. At the wingsuit tunnel, you have a chance to truly improve these two components. You will have the chance to analyse every second of your flying from three different camera angles. An instructor will study your configuration down to the smallest detail and with enthusiasm help you to build improved muscle memory.
What we coaches observe, is that you want to control and fly your whole body, from top to toe, with grace and control, at all angles/directions, back and belly. If a customer joins the journey to refine their configuration, they will over time experience transitions, rolls, and carves, as calm, controlled and gentle movements achieved through deliberate asymmetry. We have seen customers arrive the tunnel with low experience and less than a year later perform dynamic wingsuit skydiving on a world-class level.
Staff instructors vs external coaches
When you decide to try out Indoor Wingsuit, you face two options: fly with freelance coaches or in-house instructors. There are pros and cons to both. Worth knowing when you read this, the author is 100% biased as a full time freelance coach.
The best indoor wingsuit pilots in the world are in-house instructors. Every day they arrive at the tunnel early, fly for their own learning or for coaching, before they go home in the evening. They fly small suits, big suits, ski jump suits, track suits, plastic bags and snowboards. They live and breathe this facility. If you want to master the tunnel, they are there to teach you state of the art indoor wingsuit. Their names are Patrick Kramer (Chief Instructor), Pilvi Juhonen (Deputy Chief Instructor), Arvid Endler, Flavien Mazzon, Alex Knaub, Phillipe Boisjoli and Rita Birindelli.
Among the external coaches, the most active ones are Dani Roman, Amber Forte and myself, Espen Fadnes. Just like most external coaches from the vertical tunnel business, we create income with a combination of skydive work and tunnel coaching. Most of us are also engaged professionally in wingsuit flying with single canopy systems. When we run camps we spend time in Stockholm together, living at the same hotel and having breakfasts and dinners as a group. The main advantage with external coaches is that we look at the tunnel as a tool to gain skills for somewhere else; the big open sky. Therefore, we focus on improving skills that are functional in a basejumping and skydiving environment. These camps do not happen all the time and often fill up, so you should book months in advance.
Is Indoor Wingsuit for everyone?
Did you notice early in the article flying on the harness system may take between 10-60 minutes? It is a fact that some find the tunnel environment fun and comfortable, causing a steep progression, while others get limited by stress and fear. 60 minutes at the tunnel equals about 30 wingsuit skydives. For some, 30 wingsuit skydives will bring greater joy and progression than an hour in this square glass box. But then again, in wingsuit skydiving we often spend a lot of time looking up at the clouds, while the weather is always perfect in a tunnel.
Just like in a vertical tunnel, you need to fly 6-7 hours before it makes a lasting and substantial difference in how you want to wingsuit skydive or basejump. If you can afford to do so in addition to skydiving, the tunnel will be very helpful. But if you have to severely limit your amount of skydives to go to the tunnel, it might be better to stay at your drop zone. After all, a tunnel, vertical or angled, is just a tool, while buzzing by ridges and clouds is the real deal.
Five years after Indoor Wingsuit opened, we are starting to see the effect of the tunnel on the wingsuit as a discipline. Precision in relative work have improved and the style and complexity of moves are on a different level. What we seeing now is a copy of what happened in free flying 10 years ago. So, is it for everyone? Perhaps not. But, if you are interested in keeping up with where wingsuiting as a discipline is going, then it’s definitely for you.
So, what is the future of angled tunnels?
If we closely look at the design of the Indoor Wingsuit tunnel, it may remind us of a pre-modern vertical tunnel design. Its maximum wind speed is 150kph and the air holds the same speed all the way through the flight chamber. They chose a square chamber, instead of the circular standard solution. The chamber is also a bit small compared to the 14ft standard we know from the vertical tunnel world. Very important, is that the flight chamber’s angle can be changed between 1.5 – 2.5 glide ratio (GR). This means customers can fly pretty much all types of wingsuits and one-piece track suits that are on the market.
Indoor Wingsuit in Stockholm cannot offer high speed wingsuit or tracking due to the way it is designed. At the same time the max speed (150 kph) and steepest angle (1.5GR) is not enough to offer angle flying. The global community of freeflyers and angle flyers holds more than ten times as many people compared to the wingsuit community. A future tunnel designed for speeds above 200kph with diffusing air at the top that could offer angles below 1.0GR would therefore attract ten times the number of customers.
The vertical tunnel designers in SkyVenture showed us already in the 90s what potential tunnel flying has. In 2008 Indoor Skydiving Germany (ISG) build Bottrop, the true game-changer of modern tunnel flying. Indoor Wingsuit in Stockholm, is in many ways a flashback to the early SkyVenture days: the beginning of an era.
And the future we are yet to see, is an angled Bottrop. A round or oval shaped 14ft chamber which can be angled from vertical to horizontal, offering up to 300kph wind with a diffusing system for safety. Whether the design is created by ISG, Indoor Wingsuit, iFLY or SkyVenture, does not matter to us. That said, my bet is on Indoor Wingsuit. We the angle addicts, just know that the angled Bottrop will revolutionise the world of horizontally-moving skydives.
And then, the million-dollar question: how do you keep that tunnel running 59 minutes an hour, while kids wearing superhero outfits experience flying for real? I’ll leave that question for the designers and engineers.
In the meantime. Come to Stockholm. It’s fun!
Espen and Amber having fun in the Indoor Wingsuit Tunnel, Stockholm