By Simon Repton
Wind tunnels hold a very special place in my skydive heart; in fact, without them I probably wouldn’t be enjoying life as a wingsuiter. I couldn’t pass AFF Level 4 in 1997 due to an unexplained built-in turn when I was released by my instructors. I paid for a video guy to jump with me and even that wouldn’t explain the problem, so I gave up. Eight years later in 2006 I decided to try AFF again, only this time I was able to use the new tunnel in Denver to figure out what the turn was all about. Eight minutes with my AFF instructor helped me understand and resolve the leg issue and the rest, as they say, is history. Those eight minutes made all the difference and without them I wouldn’t have been able to travel and meet so many great people in this unique sport.
Without wingsuiting I wouldn’t have remained a skydiver. Frankly I was a bit bored of just falling out of planes but when I got a chance to try a wingsuit in 2008, I was hooked! Seeing the ground move below me and being able to fly to a destination and then to another and then to another was what, I felt, skydiving was all about.
So, tunnels are special to me and wingsuiting is special to me. Imagine my excitement when I heard there was a wingsuit tunnel in the works. I had to see and feel for myself if it could be even similar to the feeling of flying.
During our years running Wicked Wingsuits, we often got calls from people who wanted to simply try wingsuiting for the weekend. We would start by explaining they needed to be a skydiver with 200 skydives before they could try it and we would guide them to a local drop zone where they could first experience a tandem. Believe it or not, a few people called us back a year or two later and had their 200 skydives! However, most people just didn’t have the time or money to commit to becoming a skydiver.
I wondered if this new tunnel could offer the non-skydiver a true wingsuiting experience.
Located in Sweden and originally built in 1940, the aircraft tunnel was repurposed as an indoor wingsuit environment in late 2017. Could it really be a place to fly?
I packed my bags and left on a jet plane for Stockholm, which turned out to be a very easy city to arrive at. People in Sweden all seem to happily speak great English. A very easy 45-minute bus ride from the airport got me to Bromma, the location of the tunnel and the hotel I would be staying at. There are a couple of very affordable hotels within walking distance of the tunnel; one of them doesn’t even have an in-person reception and instead you use an app on your smartphone to gain access to the building and room. So easy.
The tunnel itself is tucked away in an industrial-type development but is quite easy to find thanks to Google maps. I booked 90 minutes over a two-day period and just like a vertical tunnel the time is flown in small blocks to prevent body failure. I was less tired than I had expected to be but there are some reports of people getting very sore. It’s a good idea to do some pushups and planks in the weeks approaching a visit. I was surprised to find my hips were sorer than my shoulders!
Unlike a vertical tunnel there is a bit more equipment used during the initial stages of your progression. A standard wingsuit is used—nothing special there—but a harness-and-pulley system is employed to ensure the initial flight doesn’t include bouncing off walls. The ropes simply help keep the flyer centered in the tunnel while the coach helps with body position. Most experienced wingsuiters will graduate off the ropes quickly and onto the leash tether. The leash gives the flyer more freedom to explore the tunnel but allows the coach to quickly reign them in if needed.
Once the flyer has graduated off the leash, it is time for business-as-usual wingsuiting! (Only, in the tunnel a lot more attention to detail is needed.) I was both amazed and excited at how real this was. It isn’t pretend flying, it is flying! I learned more about the technical details of flying a wingsuit in 30 minutes of “inside” flying than I have the last few years of “outside” wingsuiting. Such subtle head and shoulder adjustments are all it takes—very different from the huge leg and arm movements I have been used to making in the sky. I believe there is room for both when skydive wingsuiting but understanding the technical details as a foundation is valuable indeed.
Within the first 60 minutes I was able to start refining my back flying: something I have always struggled with in the sky because I prefer to see where I am going. A few points here and there from my coach Jenna Gygli and I was backflying like a pro, moving around the tunnel just by thinking about it and making very small head position adjustments.
I’ve had a chance to do some outdoor wingsuiting since my indoor experience. I am more aware my body part positions than I was before. I am not using anything new but a more detailed and subtle approach. I’ve been able to play with some of the techniques that I learned in the tunnel and I believe they will build a foundation for much smoother and more accurate carving and transitions.
What about our non-skydiving friends? This is the solution for tasting flight without having to earn it through 200 jumps over months and years. I would encourage—and already have encouraged—some of my friends to book their tickets and experience flight. It isn’t cheap but just like the rest of the sport we do, per minute it is huge value.
But about that tunnel: don’t overthink it, just go and experience it.
Check out flywingsuit.se for more information.
About the author: Simon Repton is a wingsuit coach, organizer and promoter. Celebrating his tenth year of wingsuiting in 2018 he is an avid traveler who is starting a new venture to take wingsuit boogies to exotic locations.
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