Anytime I am required to take part in a cheesy icebreaker and I am asked: “if you could have one super power what would it be?” There isn’t a doubt in my mind: “to fly!”
England’s skydiving community has a new a challenge – the first UK wind tunnel. In September, Bodyflight, the largest wind tunnel in the world revealed itself. Transformed from an old military facility, the prior missile test site is now a 16 ft wide practice centre offering wind speeds of up to 150 miles per hour. It was 150 mph of wind that held me up this past Wednesday night.
As a member of the Nottingham University skydive club, I had the opportunity to experience this massive vertical windstorm. (Not only did I have the chance to experience it, but I won a raffle to receive the experience at half price. Yay!) There was a handful of us from the skydive club of which only one had previous experience in the tunnel. I was the only two members who had never experienced freefall before. The remainder of the group had experienced freefall and therefore knew how to position themselves in the air. As they frolicked off to get suited up, we received an extensive brief on what to expect and how to handle the situation. I was starting to get very nervous. I hadn’t a clue what to expect.
We witnessed the others one by one fall onto the air. It was a first time for most so the instructor helped them in and had to hold them down for the first round. For me he had an exceptionally difficult time. I was up and down and all around. The instructor who helped us during our first round worked for the facility was able to stand on the bottom net as he held on to the grips on our jumpsuits to keep us from flying away. When he got bored of standing, he lifted his legs and flew into the air to keep us under control. Wow!!!
When entering the wind tunnel you must stand in the doorway, hold your arms out with your elbows bent at a 90 angle and fall… just fall onto the air. The experience ‘tunnelers’ jumped up onto the air; the mental ability to accept that you are jumping into a vertical position with nothing visual to hold you seems like a lot to overcome. The wind will hold you but if your body position isn’t correct, you will fall to the net on the bottom. It’s a soft, slow, painless fall, but a confidence crusher nonetheless. After the first round, an instructor from our airfield called Milko (rumor has it he used to be a milkman?) took over. Milko has approximately 10,000 jumps under his belt and has spent over 40 hours in the wind tunnel instructing and practicing since its opening. He is very impressive to watch. He could tract you around the tunnel – up and down, on and off the net, right to left. When his legs got tired in mid air, he would stand on the wall at a 45 degree angle. Very cool!
We had the tunnel scheduled for two hours allowing each of us a total of about 10 minutes, rotating every two minutes. It is tiring to spend any longer then a few minutes in there. We watched the experienced guys fly back and forth. We watched very experienced flyers spin in place and tract vertical circles. It all looks very easy but experiencing it is the only way you can truly admire the ability these people have.
After a few rounds, I gained some control over my body and was able to hover right above the ground for a bit. I even stayed hovering as I turned a circle or two- woo hoo! Being on the lighter side I found it very difficult to hover. The slightest movement of my body would send me flying 26 feet up to the ceiling or leave me to plummet to the bottom. But I got the hang of it and considering I have no freefall experience, I think I did pretty damn well for my first time in a wind tunnel. Go me! The wind tunnel allows you to train your body and practice positioning without the concern of “if I don’t open my parachute soon I might die.” Considering you only get as much as one-minute freefall time in a jump, your ability can skyrocket with tunnel practice. I am relying on the assumption that if I can nail my body positions in the wind tunnel, I will find it easier and more innate when I progress to a freefall level. If not… then it was just a whole lot of fun!
With my enthusiasm booming from this experience, we trooped down to the airfield Saturday morning to try to get one or two jumps in before god turned on the faucet he had installed above Britain. No luck! He had the fan cranked up and students weren’t allowed to jump. Another week wasted on shit weather. I’m not sure if England’s strict requirements and policies for skydiving are a result of the bad weather or just an ironic joke. Either way, I should have waited to do this when I move to Australia – another dream come true.
The wind tunnel is an exciting experience; I would it recommend to anyone who has an open mind to abnormal body sensations.
Since the opening of Bodyflight, a second wind tunnel has opened nearby. With only a 12 ft diameter, it can’t compete on size, but maybe smaller is cheaper? I’ll check it out!
For England’s skydiving community it is a dream come true; for me, it was the chance to be a super hero!