Indoor Skydiving is an aerial sport involving a closed vertical flight chamber with fast winds blowing up from the floor. Vertical tunnels enable flyers to levitate above the ground in a horizontal belly-to-earth or vertical head/feet-to-earth orientation, and carve into the wind with their bodies to perform various tricks. Many skydivers used the wind tunnel to train for outdoor freefall, but indoor skydiving has evolved into a sport with a competitive format of its own.
The earliest tunnels were developed by the military and for other industrial purposes. However, the first instance of a wind tunnel being used for fun was when Jean St. Germain built one for his kids. The “aerodium” was the first vertical tunnel designed for human flight. The chamber had padded walls and the wind was powered by a DC-3 aircraft propellor. Two U.S. entrepreneurs separately bought the designs from St. Germain and opened commercial tunnels in the early 1980s, one in Las Vegas, Nevada and another in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Both were opened under the brand Flyaway Indoor Skydiving and laid the foundation for the sport.
In the U.S., iFly and SkyVenture are the two largest tunnel operators. SkyVenture launched in 1997 and offered the first patented tunnel design that extended the airflow evenly throughout the chamber. Now, it operates as the manufacturer, while iFly the commercial brand.
The sport is divided into several competition formats based on speed, style and position points.
• Formation Skydiving:
Athletes compete on teams in a belly-to-earth orientation. Teams can range between two and five people, earning points based on a sequence of touches and turns in a timed period.
• Vertical Formation Skydiving:
Vertical Formation is the discipline where competitors fly in vertical positions either in feet-to-earth or head-to-earth orientation. The 2-way and 4-way teams replicate a sequence during a timed period and earn points based accuracy and speed.
• Dynamic Flying:
There are 2-way and 4-way categories in this creative follow-the-leader discipline. Unlike formation skydiving that relies on turning points, dynamic flying is comprised of routines judged on speed, precision and creativity. Fastest times win.
This is the only individual competition currently, and it is arguably the most artistic. Often compared to figure skating and gymnastics for its style, freestyle athletes perform aesthetic aerial routines that are typically 90 seconds long.