Image by Wolfgang Lienbacher
When it comes to the windytube, Vince Arnone has a few solid miles under his belt. He’s worked in the wind tunnel industry since 2010 (and in the skydiving world for a few more years before even that). He runs Indoor Skydiving Source, a community-based resource for indoor skydiving and bodyflight.
During his many years as a tunnel instructor--working with first-time flyers and skydivers alike--he has constantly been approached by wanna-be tunnel rats. If you’re one of them, he has some advice to share with you. I asked him some questions about it, and here’s what he had to say.
Q: What’s the first step? Are there prerequisites?
Vince: Just apply!
At the end of the day, great timing and a solid application really is the key to working in the wind tunnel. Beyond that, there are a few important factors to consider before filling out that app.
The physical requirements of the job should be the first thing you consider before seriously looking at getting a job as a wind tunnel instructor. Being a tunnel instructor, and especially working with first-time flyers, is a physically demanding job. Sometimes you work with children, but sometimes a 250lb man walks through the door. They are both your responsibility, and bothcan kick your ass!
Both the IBA and Tunnel Instructor rating programs administer a physical fitness test that you must pass in order to be an instructor. The test normally includes pull-ups, sit-ups and running. You don't need to be superhuman, but being generally in shape is a good starter.
Q: Do you need a lot of previous tunnel experience? Is it, like, only shredders need apply?
Vince: No. The training will be part of the job, and it’s an investment. It goes like this.
In order to work in a wind tunnel with first-time flyers, you need a tunnel instructor rating. Earning this rating requires a 3-4 week course which teaches you how to safely introduce and monitor a flyer's first flight. Most wind tunnels include this as part of your initial hiring period.
You might have to sign a contract or have some money withheld from your paychecks to pay for the training, but rarely do you have to pay out-of-pocket for it. Training programs like this are designed to take anyone off the street with no previous experience and set them up with the key skills they need for the job.
Q: Do you have any insider tips that might give an application the edge?
Vince: If you remember one thing from this article, remember this: a staff at a wind tunnel is a close-knit team, and the team has to work well together. Because of this fact, knowing and having a standing relationship with other instructors or managers can make the difference when applying.
A hiring manager is always looking for a good fit to the team, not just a skilled individual. This means they are looking for someone who will mesh well with the other instructors on the staff and work hard. This is the most important thing to remember when applying.
If you don't know anyone, but you know the job is for you, don't worry! I don't mean that you have to be long-time buddies with someone at the tunnel in order to get a job. Hang around. Get to know the staff at the tunnel you want to work in. Show interest. Small acts like this will go a long way, and you just might learn about the tunnel and bodyflight in the process.
Q: What should a potential tunnel employee do to prepare for the interview?
Vince: Treat it like a “real interview.” Don’t be too casual about it. All the standard job application best practices apply.
The opportunity to work in the wind tunnel is a unique -- and possibly life-changing -- one. Approach it with a good attitude and tons of passion, and see where it might take you. Good luck!
Q: What are the major differences between tunnels for flyers with an eye on growth?
Vince: Back when I first started--I guess I’m sounding old now--there were just so few tunnel jobs out there. The number of tunnels from 1982 to the year 2011 was around 40. From 2012 to 2015, that number jumped to around 80. Today, looking at the database, there are 113.
So rather than jumping at ANY possibility--as someone who sees the tunnel job as an opportunity to grow their personal skills and maybe even start coaching--it really matters which tunnel you land at.
The days where everyone would flock to a single tunnel because it was the only tunnel, only high speed tunnel, or only 14 ft tunnel, are long gone. There are more coming, too; since 2013, the number of tunnels opening each year has also exploded. This also means the number of instructor positions has grown. Just by the numbers, setting out to get an instructor job is more likely to end successfully. This also means that the experienced flying community has spread out.
Consider working at a tunnel that mainly serves first-time clientele. There will be lower experienced flyer traffic, and the other instructors might not be flying- and coaching-focused. That’s a much different environment than a tunnel that sees experienced flyers as a larger percentage of their business.
Working with experienced flyers and other coaches will play a big role in your personal progression. Surrounding yourself with people who have similar goals will immerse you in the culture. Consider the location and culture of the tunnel you land at. A location that will support your flying goals will help you reach them much quicker--and this is about you going all-in for personal development, isn’t it?