You just graduated AFF or you got your A license. You can execute all the skills required of you in the sky. Now it is time to take it to the next level. Tunnel flight can help you hone your skills that you have already, and most definitely help you learn some new skills. The wind tunnel can give you confidence, awareness and much needed experience at a time when it is hard to come by any of those things.
The wind tunnel is perfect for anybody. Wind tunnel coaching through the whole AFF and A-license experience is standard issue for all Central Florida drop zones. Coordinating the circle of awareness, motion, fall rate, turns, docking and practice pulls are all possible in the wind tunnel.
The first thing that you should learn is the relative work position. The position is the root for all movement. The reason is every time you want to move; you always start and stop in the learned belly position. Your chin should be up. Your eyes should be focused in front of you, not looking down. Your arms should be relaxed so they do not cup air or carry stiffness. You should have pressure on your shins so you do not back slide. You should be bent slightly at the knees so you do not constantly move forward. Your body should be symmetrical. Asymmetry causes turning. Your hip should be in its most arched position. Sometimes it takes a bit of moving down to actually get a good arch.
After the neutral position is learned then the 6 points of motion are taught down, forward, backward, up, and sidle siding left and right.
The first thing I teach after the standard position is to move down. The reason is the worst thing that can happen to a newbie in the wind tunnel is to catch air and ascend high up; so the instructor cannot reach you easily. Anything above 8ft high off the net makes it challenging for your instructor and dangerous for you at first. To move down, simply arch more. If that does not do the trick, take up less surface area by getting smaller. You should move right down to the net. Some times I keep first time students on the net for a rotation or two so they do not bounce around. In the lower wind speed it is easier to make mistakes and not fly up against the wall. Once general body awareness is attained, the controller can turn up the speed a little more. The first time student can fly off the net with a little more speed after they can go down. I also teach going down first, so if the student does get up a little higher than they like, they can easily come back down.
The next thing to learn is motion forward and backward. Most people come into the wind tunnel with built in movement in their technique. In order to stay perfectly still you must learn to go forward and backward first. Forward motion is accomplished by putting both feet back at the same time and then relaxing back into the neutral position and coasting to a stop. Moving backwards is done by putting both arms forward in front of you while you relax your legs towards your butt and coast back in to a neutral position for a stop.
I do not teach "braking" until the student can do the first 4 points of motion. The reason is for most students early on braking is too much to think about. Initiating subtle movements and coasting to a stop slowly is more effective in the beginning.
Flying in the sky is like flying on a football field, plenty of room to roam. Flying in the wind tunnel is like flying in a bottle, close proximal flying. Small movements are a necessity. Deep diaphragmatic breathing will lessen the tension carried in the body and relax your mind.
After a student can go down, forward and backward; I teach them how to go up. The two easiest ways to teach a student how to go up is by them taking up more surface area or de-arching with their hip. The easiest way to move up is to get longer with your arms and legs and flatten your torso. This cups air and pushes your body up like a board. The second way to move up is to de-arch at your hip. This will catch air in the pocket your hips and torso make and accelerate you upward.
Each method for going up works in different scenarios. If a person you were jumping with slowed up very quickly de-arching at the hip would be a good way to slow down in the sky. Keep eye contact with the person! If that same jump partner ascended relative to you very slowly then getting longer and flatter would be optimal.
Side sliding would be your next skill to learn. Side sliding is moving sideways while facing forward. It is very important to do this with a straight torso. Bending at the torso is inefficient and usually causes a turn. To keep your torso straight and move side ways, use your arm and leg at the same time to push you across the tunnel. The most popular rookie mistake is to push with just your hand. If you push with just your hand you will turn instead of side slide. You should push both your foot and your hand at the same time. Initiate the movement and then cost to a stop. This will create a seamless side slide.
Make sure to arch when you side slide to keep on the same level or plane that you initiated the motion on. Once you can go back and forth seamlessly both ways with out changing levels at all; then learning more advance side slide techniques would be warranted.
Turning is also a very important skill that can be learned in the wind tunnel. I start to teach turning usually right after the first 4 points of motion are learned. I progressively perfect my student's turn as side sliding is attained. The most important turning skill is to turn slowly in the wind tunnel. More often then not students like to "crank" turns out when they start. In the sky that might be all well and good, but most students are moving when they turn. If you turn with precision at first, then the progression will come easy.
Keep your head up and maintain a huge arch when you turn. Most students look down and de-arch when they turn. The sheer act of spinning creates lift. Coupled with de-arching spinning can send you up to the huge fans that power the wind tunnel. It is important to arch even harder when you turn to maintain your levels throughout.
Another popular mistake is to relax your legs on your butt when you turn. This makes for interesting times. Relaxing your legs will make you back slide while you are turning. Keep the shin pressure you have when you turn. Some students need to think of putting their feet out when they turn, just to keep the legs in the same place through out the completion of the turn.
The Mantis position is popular in more advanced relative work. We will cover it in the scope of this article because the vast majority of new fliers want to learn it. My opinion is that it should be learned after 6 points of motion, 90 degree turns and 360 degree turns. Early on in the progression, I believe that most students are too stiff to learn the Mantis properly.
Once a student can move their arms freely without causing instability or motion, then it is time to refine the basic relative work position into the Mantis. The student should try to bring their hands closer to their ears first to reduce drag on the arms. Remember the whole idea of the Mantis is to fly a more aero-dynamic position not to learn it because it looks cool. Most students press their elbows down at first. This usually causes tension. After a student can fly with hands closer to their ears instead of the basic relative work position, all the time, perfecting the Mantis position should be tackled. The hands should come closer together like you are hugging a small volley ball while laying your body on a flat surface. Dropping your elbows down into the standard Mantis position should be the last step to learning it.
It is very important to fly in the wind tunnel. The wind tunnel is the most revolutionary tool to be introduced to the sport of skydiving since the three ring system and tandem jumping. Now that wind tunnels are popping up all over the world, they will subject more and more people to our sport. Our numbers will grow in a prolific fashion and we will finally get the market penetration that our sport has long yearned for.
If you get frustrated in the tunnel keep trying. In all likelihood your frustration stems from only a few places. A bad instructor, people looking at you when you fly, the constant presence of glass or chicken wire and the inability to just go "buck wild" like you can in the air can lead to frustration. The wind tunnel is so much fun. With the right training regimen, repetition and a good instructor the sky is truly the limit to your skills.
Steven Blincoe is the founder and head coach of the New School Flight University in Orlando, Florida. He has 4,000 skydives and 500 hours of wind tunnel time. He specializes in wind tunnel camps and will scower the globe in the next few years to spread the art of tunnel coaching. Please feel free to contact him at www.blincoe.org or 530-412-2078.