The Importance of Not Giving a F!
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For the first time, Indoor Wingsuit flying is possible, using a horizontal tunnel adapted for human flight. The LT1 wind tunnel in Stockholm, completed in 1940 for military testing of combat aircraft, has been converted by adding an inclined tunnel section. The work was masterminded by aeronautical enthusiasts Peter Georén and Anton Westman, who thus became the first humans to fly with a wingsuit in a horizontal tunnel.
LT1 is a low speed tunnel, with an interesting history. Its fan capacity is 1.4 MW, power supply 6.6 KV and a wind speed of up to 290 km/h. The Indoor Wingsuit Flying wind tunnel is projected to open in September 2017, and will be 16.5 ft in diameter and 33 ft long. Inclined wind tunnel will offer wingsuit flights to complete beginners as well as coaching for advanced pilots.
The video [above] announcing this exciting project went viral with half a million views in the first 48 hours. We spoke to wingsuit expert Jarno Cordia, who’s heavily involved with the project, for more details…
It has been in the works for quite a few years already. 2012 saw the conception of the idea, but it took up to January 2016 to get to a practical test setup that could actually be flown. Flying and exploring in the test setup for almost a full year, it's been a hard secret to keep for everyone involved. It's such an exciting new project, presenting so many fun new challenges and pioneering needed in design, organisation as well as the actual flying itself.
4 Swedish friends that lovingly dubbed themselves 'The Crazy Ones' came up with the ingenious idea of trying to create the indoor wingsuit wind tunnel. They set about designing a test setup inside an old horizontal wind tunnel, normally used for testing airplanes.
Robert Pecnik of Phoenix-Fly became involved at that point as well supplying the wingsuits as well as practical feedback and coaching, based on his 18 year experience designing and especially flying wingsuits.
Channeling the airflow involved designing a whole new system, as simply putting an angled tunnel on a motor creates a tube mostly filled with turbulence that can't be flown. It's also not a static object like normal tunnels, as it can actually dynamically alter its angle to create glide ratios varying from 1:1 all the way past maximum glide performance of big suits. On top of that the airflow can be adjusted in speed as well.
The brilliant minds at work developed a system that will no doubt become the patented basis for many new wingsuit tunnels worldwide.
I had an easier role and became involved after that difficult development stage, coming into the picture as an advanced wingsuit pilot, to fly and assess what would be possible in the future. And another job description was looking at how this could translate into coaching, in technique as well as sourcing the future talent needed as staff.
At a personal level it was just amazing being one of the first experienced pilots allowed to fly indoors. Though it might not come across as such, to me personally it had the same sense of achievement Armstrong must have felt stepping down to the surface of the moon for the first time. It’s an amazing and strange feeling to fly like you always do, but do it proxy flying with the walls and ceiling indoors.
The experience was unbelievable. Flying inside the small space of the test setup already gave me so much feedback on my flying. Seeing the tiny adjustments affect your position, it allowed even me at 4000+ wingsuit jumps to experience a level of refinement in my technique that is almost impossible to train in base or skydiving. Robert and I already played a bit with backflying as well, and in the bigger tunnel for sure, with time, the whole divepool from the acrobatic competition should be well possible. And where we take it beyond that…. I think looking at what tunnel has done for freeflying, for sure we will see a same progression.
Coaching is going to be incredible. In only 20 minutes I managed to take someone who had zero experience, and got him flying in a smooth and controlled way that I have not seen people with several hundred wingsuit skydives do. The feedback the actual room around you creates is amazing, but on top of that I, as a coach, get to walk all around a person. Adjust arm and leg positions, or showing by example by flying next to a person myself.
The tunnel will be an amazing tool for technique for those who embrace it. For those who don't like it, skydive and basejumping are still out there as they always have been. But to me personally, the fact that I can take my wife, my father and my brother into the windtunnel to have them share the experience of flying a wingsuit is just incredible.
But for jumpers fresh off AFF or starting out with wingsuit, it will also be a training method that can put an incredible boost, on top of the normal training everyone goes through.
Flights can be of any length of course, though 2-minute sessions will probably be the norm to avoid fatigue and keep focus. We actually did many 5-minute sessions, and some even stretched into 8 minutes due to having too much fun. Robert Pecnik and I are used to flying a lot though, so we might not be the best measure on how much flying one can take per session.
For PPC pilots, I can also see this being an amazing tool to train maximum flight, steep angle flight at high speeds or flying close to lowest possible horizontal speed (amazing fun). And of course stamina will be easiest to train, doing 5 minute sessions. Advanced users will be able to customize the length of their sessions to fit their needs.
Though all of the above will of course need a lot of testing and development, the coaching team will be flying many hours before the tunnel actually opens to explore all possibilities.
The similarities are mostly speed wise. The tunnel can do speeds from a light breeze up to full nuclear blast. But in terms of tunnel entry, touchdowns and more, the whole concept varies a lot from normal vertical tunnels.
I think the only potential obstacle would have been the skydiving community and non-jumpers not embracing the concept. But we seem to have struck a chord, as the feedback has been incredible, and we're already pushing towards half a million views only 48 hours into the launch. Seeing how big the interest has been in getting a job coaching in the tunnel, for sure people see the potential, and of course everyone is eager to explore what’s possible.
Safety is a big factor. Also in the way we've outlined coaching. There is a special 'assisted flight' mode that allows pilots to fly freely, but without any danger of collision or tumbles. We will explain this more later, but as a lot of this stuff is quite new and innovative, we can't show everything publicly yet. There is so much more to come.
But watch the promo [above], and realize a lot of the people you see are non-jumpers flying. All of them learnt to fly with the assisted flight system, and are doing amazing things 100% safe, with less than an hour of flight experience.
The facility will also be used to train ski-jumpers with the same setup, and in terms of flying will be usable for anything flying at a glide of 1:1 and up. A non-jumper has already flown the PF onesie tracksuit in the tunnel successfully. Which is a testament to the stability of both the suit itself, but even more so to the potential of the tunnel. Another big role will of course be as an R&D center for wingsuit tech.
Like many people who sent us thousands of comments and feedback, the brain is exploding thinking about the potential. With the coaching we'll have in the tunnel, for sure we'll be working hard to explore and teach, so everyone gets to utilize that potential to the max.
We are surrounded by an incredible group of talented pilots within Phoenix-Fly who all fly and coach with incredible precision when it comes to acrobatics and control, and with these people as coaches we'll be exploring what’s possible and help push all visiting pilots towards a new level in their skill come 2017. Anyone will be able to come and fly, in any suit, and we'll have the coaches ready to train them. The future looks bright!
This is just the start. When the project proves successful, we will see other tunnels popping up. Being able to teach non-jumpers to experience flying is something that's already proven to touch the imagination and interest of many. The tech and design are both available to licence, and there has been a lot of interest from around the globe, including potential investors of future locations. So for sure it’s the start of something beautiful for everyone involved.
I'm not sure wingsuit became cutting edge just now. In terms of design and performance we're improving, but baby steps compared to the big strides made many years ago. For sure the sport is slowly maturing, but doing so, building on design and flying techniques pioneered over the last 18 years. It's easy for some to get carried away in self-praise for what we're doing today, but we should never forget and respect that we're standing on the shoulders of giants with what we do. Names in the WS history books like De Gayardon, Pecnik, Jean-Albert and Kuosma should be engraved in our minds. They shaped modern wingsuit flying into what it is, and are the only reason we are actually able to do what we do now.
Seeing all Robert Pecnik did for the sport so far, in wingsuit design, but also helping shape (base) rig and (base) canopy design towards what they are today, it’s incredible seeing him support and work with 'the crazy ones', and again be at the cradle of something amazing that will expand into another, no doubt, wildly successful aspect of our sport. Being invited to be part of that ride, both as a shareholder as well as helping shape coaching at the tunnel through Phoenix-Fly, is just an incredible opportunity and experience I can't thank him and the crazy ones enough for. Being able to invite any person on the street to come fly, and being able to coach experienced pilots to incredible levels with an amazing team of friends. I can't wait. And I hope to see you all in Stockholm, and make you never want to leave again.
Stockholm syndrome… it’s real!