Skydiving and the Impact of Tunnel

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Wind tunnels have obviously grown in popularity with the last few years. Personally, I started skydiving in 2013 which I feel was the start of a mass movement towards tunnel training. Now that tunnels are abundant, there is a “fast track” option for learning freefall skills.

However, tunnel also introduced a “pay to play” or “keep up with the jones” sort of vibe. I did an hour of tunnel a few years back, but in the end, dropped out because of the cost. As much as I enjoyed it, I couldn’t justify $800 an hour to learn flight skills. So, I committed myself to tracking/angle because it was the least tunnel impacted discipline.

I’ve seen many people become highly skilled in a short period of time due to tunnel. I’ve also seen the quantity and attendance of fun jumpers decline. I feel on any given weekend back in 2014, my home drop zone was bustling. You could just show up and find an abundance of people to jump with. Now, it’s hard to just show up and expect a group to be there. I’ve seen a decrease in competition for load organizing. I’ve also seen a trend locally where smaller aircraft are being utilized more often than larger aircraft. All these things indicate to me that there is a decline in attendance; at least locally.

My observation is this. Tunnel has been a brilliant tool in helping those committed to the art of flight experiment and learn. It’s fun, but it can be expensive. Skydiving, which has always been kind of niche, seems to have gotten even more niche due to the introduction of tunnel. I would assume, that the post A- license dropout rate has gone up as well. This is an assumption, but I’d imagine that if a student feels like tunnel is a cost barrier that is required progress (on top of buying gear), it could feel out of reach for them. It also seems that there is a growing separation in overall skill levels as well. 

I’d like to hear the community’s thoughts and observations on the subject. In specific, are the trends I’m noticing accurate? What trends are you noticing in your area? What does the future of skydiving look like?

**Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece based on observation. It comes from a fun jumpers perspective. Southern California. **


Edited by BobxMarley
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If I had a wind tunnel near me the only reason I would skydive is for wingsuiting. Which, honestly is all I do when I'm not chucking drogues anyway. The tunnel may seem like it costs more up front but really you're actually saving money. 800 $/hr comes out to about 13 $/jump (Assuming 1 min/jump) Additionally, your time spent is much more efficient. You don't need to gear up as much, ride in the plane, pack, and repeat. It is possible that the tunnel would even be a shorter drive depending on where you live. I would also argue that the tunnel is safer. Most skydiving incidence are canopy related. Lastly all the money spent on skydiving gear could be spent on time if the person isn't interested in skydiving ever. 

Edited by meat.missile

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Tunnel is just the freefall. Skydiving is more than just the freefall.

While tunnel is fun and educational, it's not the DZ and it's not jumping.

General observations:
Freefall (and freefly) skills are well up. 
Gear knowledge, airplane procedure knowledge and canopy skills are not.

My DZ still has a good fun jumper base, although the freeflyers are becoming more prevalent. Finding other belly fliers can be challenging sometimes.

A lot of this is dependent on the DZ and it's 'vibe'. The DZO where I jump is an active jumper (competes in vert at nationals) and the DZ sponsors several teams. The 'fun jumper community' is actively supported. Events, classes (instructional rating and canopy courses), even 'after hours' stuff, like potluck dinners and the annual chili cookoff. That sort of action by the DZ makes all the difference in the world. 

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