Many skydivers and wind tunnel flyers are drawn to the idea of becoming a wind tunnel instructor. Once we start in the sport, whether it’s tunnel flying or skydiving. We notice tunnel instructors improving their flying skills at a rapid pace. We see that they are inside the wind tunnel every day, giving people the opportunity of flight and topping it off, finishing with a sweet demo. At some point, many of us in the sport have stopped and thought, “maybe I should become a tunnel instructor.” In fact, I myself asked this question at one point, and now I am a tunnel instructor. Often myself, and fellow instructors get asked the question of how to do it. How to become a tunnel instructor? How do I get ready for the wind tunnel course?
Of course, I thought the same thing myself when I became a skydiver. How do I become a tunnel instructor? Now I know first hand what it takes to pursue this goal. Currently, I am working at an amazing wind tunnel, and I think to myself, how lucky am I? I get to do what I love and share flying with others as my profession! It’s worth all the sacrifices I have made pursuing this goal, and I cannot imagine stopping anytime soon.
Tunnel Instructor rating
There are two leading organizations for obtaining your tunnel instructor rating. Mainly for Europe, Tunnel Instructor Org. (TI) is used, and for North America, the International Bodyflight Association (IBA) is used. Yes, there are differences between the two rating training systems. However, they are managed with the same ultimate goal. The rating systems have been constructed to allow aspiring instructors and current instructors to reach levels/ratings. Which training is completed by adhering to the safety regulations of the industry. There are different levels of ratings that instructors can get within each organization. Instructors gain more experience and are able to advance to the next levels/ratings. Further ratings, for example, include taxi flying first-timers and spotting at high speeds.
The training program
More or less, the training program for each organization can take anywhere between 2 and 4 weeks. Over this time, you will be working outside the tunnel on theory and covering instructors’ procedures and duties. As well, you will obviously be spending a great deal of time training inside of the tunnel.
You do not need previous experience as a flyer inside the tunnel to be an instructor. It’s great if you are comfortable in the wind already. However, it doesn’t matter, and you can take the course, with or without previous flying experience.
The instructor training course will consist of the qualifications required by each organization to be a first-level rated tunnel instructor. Both organizations have their own individual instructor level tiers. This first initial course and rating will teach instructors the most efficient techniques for handling someone in the wind. As well as how to use to wind to their advantage.
There will be a fitness test before beginning any theory or tunnel training. For each organization, the fitness test is a bit different. So be sure to prepare for the test you will perform. It is not a secret fitness test, and you will be told what is expected of you. Prepare ahead of time, and be ready when you show up. Personally, I trained for quite a few months prior to my course. I could not do any pull-ups; however, we all need to start somewhere. After months of training, I had no issues passing my fitness test on the first try.
Outside the tunnel
There will be both, theory outside the tunnel and training inside the tunnel. Theory outside tunnel will include the briefings and debriefings of each training session in the tunnel. You will cover basic driving instructions. Driving is referring to the person who is operating the tunnel while flyers are inside. As an instructor, you will be both inside the tunnel instructing as well as taking turns controlling/driving the tunnel. Training outside the tunnel will also include preparing and briefing classes, tunnel maintenance, emergency procedures, and safety checks.
Inside the tunnel
During your training in the tunnel, you will spend a lot of time walking! Yes, walking around the net. As an instructor, when you take first-timers, you will be standing on your feet. Therefore the beginning of your training will require a lot of time walking in circles, forward and backward, slow and fast. It is drilled into you, so you really get a feeling for the airflow.
Depending on whether or not others are in the course with you, this time, practicing walking in the tunnel will be shared with the other classmates. If you are financing the course yourself, this is a great way to save a bit by sharing this part of the tunnel time.
After walking drills, you will move on to learning specific techniques, which are also called spots. The objective is learning the conditions, techniques, and procedures for keeping flyers safe within the tunnel. After practicing these techniques or spots, the idea is that they will become automated responses to everyday situations in the tunnel. Keep in mind, this is going to take some time.
The course is physically demanding, and you could be going over the same spot many times before you can move forward. It is up to your examiner if they feel comfortable moving you onwards in the course. Others in your group can move ahead faster than you, or vice versa. In fact, your examiner can actually remove you from the training if they do not believe you are capable of completing the standard requirements. So prepare yourself and do not expect it to be a leisurely walk in the park. It is not; it is intense!
Pass an examination
After the theory and tunnel training has been completed, you will still not be a rated tunnel instructor. There is an exam that everyone must pass. The examiner of your course will take you in the tunnel to test your skills and knowledge. You will be subject to a test of all the things you have learned over the course. However, situations will be presented at random, and you must react adequately and use the correct techniques to keep the “flyer” (the examiner) safe. It’s an intense test; it’s non-stop, physically pushing you to the edge of your abilities. To pass the test, you will need to satisfy the examiner. Once you have completed the test, your examiner can now sign you off as a rated tunnel instructor! Yahoo, this is a moment of celebration! But you are not done yet!
Putting your new rating to use, you must now complete a full 30 minute first-timer class. It goes from gear preparation to the class briefing, flying the customers, and finally debriefing the group. This is an excellent opportunity to put your new skills into a real-life situation with real first-timers. For me, this was the most challenging part of the training course because I felt so stressed. My body was so tense for the whole class, and I think I was sorer physically from my first class, then I was during my entire training course!
Do you have what it takes?
Being a tunnel instructor really does not have anything to do with how fantastic flyer and shredder you are. However, an instructor’s job is to provide a safe environment and opportunity for people to fly their bodies in the airflow. There are many more factors of a higher value that contribute to you being an employable tunnel instructor. Having great customer service, time management skills, and being an active team player is very important. This dream job requires a lot of sacrifices of your time, money, and energy. Is it worth it for you? Do you have what it takes?
Good customer service
The job of an instructor requires us to have incredible customer service skills. Dealing with the public is our job all day. Regardless if it is first-timers or pro flyer clients. We need to have good communication skills. New flyers can be scared or nervous or very excited. Being able to acknowledge and react professionally to the emotions of customers is essential. Communicating in an understanding and professional manner to pro flyers is also very important. Although it’s a cool, laid back job. Customers are paying a lot to fly in the tunnel. We need to be presenting ourselves professionally and representing the wind tunnel to our best abilities.
Physically you need to be in good shape. The hours are long and require flexibility, so your body and mind need to be in a good state. In general, the job will require daily physical activity. Be sure to consider this when making your decision. Can you keep up with a physical job, with long and scattered hours? Can you maintain quality customer service throughout your shifts while being under physical pressure?
Flexible work schedule
Working in a tunnel means you are going to need to be flexible in your working availability. The tunnel can have extended hours and require many different start and finish times. You will need to be flexible to be a good teammate. This is a super fun job; teaching others to fly and getting time in the air yourself is fantastic. For many of us, the flexible hours required is not a problem because the job is worth it. However, if you are used to or wanting more structured hours, working at a tunnel will not be agreeable with you. Being a flexible teammate is okay, though. When everyone is working together, we don’t mind helping each other out and swap shifts, work more, etc.
Tunnels are often made up of a small close group of workers. The instructor team and the rest of the wind tunnel staff will be people you spend A LOT of time with. Be a good teammate; do your daily duties that are required. Attend meetings and social events. If you can get along well with the instructor team and the rest of the staff, you will have no issues.
When getting hired at a tunnel, this is a huge part of what managers are looking for. Will this person be a good teammate? Will they get along with the other staff, have fun and keep a good mood and atmosphere? You are part of a team as an instructor, so be an excellent contribution to maintaining a great work environment. Tunnel instructing is a fun job, and we are lucky to get to work with others who enjoy our same passion!
How do you find a job?
There are different approaches to finding a job as a tunnel instructor. Many of us have very different and unique stories of how we got employed by our tunnel. It is not a guarantee that you will land your dream job as a tunnel instructor just because you have completed your rating.
Pursuing and financing the course yourself
In Europe, with the Tunnel Instructor Organization, it is popular to take the course through your own pursual. People either contact an examiner and set up a course with them. Or they sign up for a course that is organized by a tunnel. In these situations, you are paying for your own course. When you finish the course, you are rated and now able to apply at any tunnel. This is where it can get tricky, though.
Wind tunnels want to hire people who know will fit their team well. So networking is a good idea. Talk to friends you already know in the industry, or go to the tunnel you want to work at, and spend lots of time around. Talk to the instructors working there, meet the management, and make yourself known. It’s more likely to be hired once they know you would fit the team. Although maybe you made a good impression at the tunnel you did your course at, this may be a good tunnel job to pursue as they are already familiar with you!
Getting hired prior to taking your course.
Another way to become employed by a tunnel is to look for wind tunnels under construction and opening soon. These tunnels are often looking for a mix of experienced AND inexperienced instructors. There is a good chance they will hire and make a course for the instructors before opening the wind tunnel. This is an ideal situation financially because the tunnel covers the tunnel training cost. However, you will now need to sign a contract committing you to work there for a certain amount of time. Which covers their investment in your course.
Many of the North American wind tunnels operate in the way I just mentioned. iFly is operating in a lot of locations around the USA. When looking for new instructors, they put on training courses in one location and then transport all the potential instructors to this location. The instructors complete their course and then return to their home tunnels across the country. The course’s cost is covered by the company, but you will be required to sign a contract to work for a certain amount of time. To protect the wind tunnel company investment on you.
Keep coming back
Becoming a tunnel instructor is an exciting accomplishment. Hopefully, soon you can start to work in the wonderful world of wind tunnel flying. Getting to see people’s emotions as they experience body flight for the first time is amazing. And we get to do this every day! Not to mention the demo time and staff flying time. Which is obviously something we are all stoked on. Although it can be a physically challenging job some days, it is a truly unique and fun job! Wishing you the best of luck on your journey. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out!
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