As a tunnel instructor, one of the most common questions that I receive is if “indoor skydiving feels the same as real skydiving”? To answer in the simplest way, yes indoor skydiving does feel quiet similar to real skydiving in terms of free fall. However, I always am sure to let the person know that there is so many more differences between the two. And so for me, I do not like to simply say, “yes indoor skydiving feels like real skydiving”. Personally, I love both regular skydiving and indoor skydiving, and advocate for everyone to try both! If you want to learn about the main differences between the two, and also how they are similar, then this article will be for you. And surely if you haven’t tried one yet (or both), after this you will be eager to go for it!
Indoor skydiving, also referred to as a wind tunnel, is an artificial free fall simulator. It is a vertical column of wind, in which the technology allows for a controlled wind speed. Which means the speed can be increased or decreased by the person operating the machine. So the feeling of free fall is replicated by the wind tunnel. However, one must remember during a skydive freefall, no one is operating/making changes to the wind speed.
The two main customers for a wind tunnel is first time flyers, who consist of the general public wanting to experience the feeling of free fall. The other customer for indoor skydiving is skydivers! Skydivers use wind tunnels to practise their body flight skills in more condensed free fall time.
First time flyers
Indoor skydiving is available for the general public to try out without requiring much training. The customer is placed with an instructor who explains to them the process of flying and how to communicate between each other within the wind tunnel. First time flyers are briefed very basic, because the experience is about having the feeling of free fall and flying. As opposed to learning the perfect body positions and manoeuvres, they learn just the basic belly flying position.
First time flyers usually purchase packages of short time, from 2 – 6 minutes. Considering real skydiving free fall is only about 60 seconds, with indoor skydiving, a customer is already getting more time in free fall then a normal skydive experience.
Although an instructor is bringing them into the wind tunnel. The customer is being encouraged to fly their body by themselves, with the help of the instructor. The instructor will use pre-discussed hand signals to correct the flyers position, and try to enable to first timer to fly by themselves. This is a big difference with a persons first time doing a skydive, which will likely be a tandem skydive. During a tandem skydive, the customer is attached to an instructor, who will always be in control of the flight. The passenger just hangs out for the ride. But in indoor skydiving, the customer is encouraged to fly their body by themselves in the free fall simulator. So this is a big difference between a first time flyer in the wind tunnel and a tandem skydive customer.
So for skydivers, the free fall experience of skydiving and indoor skydiving will be more similar. But of course, many aspects of a skydiving cannot be replicated in a wind tunnel. Which I will get into after. Skydivers will use the wind tunnel to refine their body flying skills in a more time-convenient environment. What this means is, during an actual skydive, the freefall is only about 50-60 seconds. Which isn’t a lot of time to practise body flight skills. Not to mention that there is a plane ride, a canopy ride to the ground, and packing up the parachute afterwards. So a lot of time goes into only getting 50-60 seconds to practise your free fall flying skills.
And so this is where the indoor skydiving comes in. Skydivers are able to fly as much time as they want, and fly time consecutively in order to speed up the learning process and get more practise. However, in a wind tunnel, the wind speed is controlled. This can really help dial down correct body positions. Which in the sky, there is no one controlling the wind speed to suit you.
Of course I believe the most obvious difference between skydiving and indoor skydiving is the airplane ride and actual act of jumping from an aircraft. So when people ask to me, “does indoor skydiving feel like real skydiving?”, for me the answer is “not exactly”. The feeling of jumping out of an airplane at an altitude of 10,000 feet or higher, is unparalleled. For those new or experienced, the act of jumping from an airplane is a challenge to ourselves – our body and our mind. And this feeling of achievement or completing this crazy mental obstacle, is not something you will feel from going indoor skydiving.
Jumping from the airplane
When it is your first time making a skydive, its probably going to be a tandem skydive. There is sometime magical and terrifying about making that a plane ride to altitude. This aspect alone makes indoor skydiving and skydiving extremely different experiences. It takes about 15-20 minutes for an aircraft to bring skydivers to jumping altitude, which is usually between 10,000 ft and 14,000 ft. During that plane ride, a tandem passengers mind can go wild thinking of all the possibilities of what is about to happen.
The adrenaline during that plane ride is always there for everyone, even experienced skydivers. However, for tandem passengers, its going to be more intense. Of course I remember my first tandem, the plane ride made me loose my breath from anxiety, I couldn’t speak. The feeling during this plane ride is a mixture of excitement, anxiety, and fear. This feeling is impossible to recreate with indoor skydiving. The mind is not going to be pushed to that extreme, as it would when your riding in a plane, knowing you are about to leap out and into the sky. Even now as an experienced skydiver, the plane ride gives me an incredible exciting adrenaline spike, which I do not get a all when entering the wind tunnel.
Flying under a parachute
We cannot forget that during a real skydive, you get to experience flying under a parachute! This is another aspect of skydiving that indoor skydiving just will not be able to replicate. Simply speaking, indoor skydiving is focusing on free fall and not canopy flight. Deploying your own parachute and having it open above you also touches back to my above point, that you feel like you have achieved something. Which you obviously have! By deploying your canopy above your head, you are saving your own life! Its amazing to feel so in control and focused.
As a tandem passenger, your instructor will make sure the parachute is deployed and opened safely above you guys. However, the tandem passenger gets to enjoy the experience of flying a parachute too! Often instructors allow the tandem passenger to make the inputs on the canopy to make it turn in circles and dive down through the air. Canopy flight is a whole other amazing experience of skydiving outside of the plane ride and free fall portions. It is so quiet and peaceful underneath the parachute, as opposed to the loud and fast action of free fall. This is also a time when you can enjoy the view in front of you! A spectacular view from above, that unless you make another skydive, you will not experience again. Being suspended under fabric, with the wind brushing your face, taking in the views as if you were free like a bird! Of course this is something we can never experience from indoor skydiving.
So which one is better?
Personally, I don’t really enjoy answering this and having to choose one or the other. I think both skydiving and indoor skydiving are amazing opportunities that we are able to participate in. There are reasons why someone might prefer one over the other, yet they are both fantastic experiences. Although there are many people who will instantly say that the real deal skydiving is much better than indoor skydiving. Yet I am not so impartial, and I truly love both experiences.
Also, I think it is important to understand just how amazing it is to have the technology to have indoor skydiving. There are many reasons that someone might not be able to participate in real skydiving. Perhaps due to age, fears, injuries, or medical issues. However, these limitations are not as detrimental within indoor skydiving. The age limit for indoor skydiving is usually 4 years old, so little ones can enjoy the feeling or learning process of body flying. Those who are afraid of heights, can now get the feeling of flying. And most importantly those who have medical issues or handicaps, have a much easier time trying indoor skydiving as opposed to regular skydiving. And this is a very beautiful moment for those particular customers, to get to experience the feeling of human flight.
Keep coming back
So now in theory you know the difference between indoor skydiving vs skydiving. Are you ready to experience the differences for yourself? I hope that if you haven’t tried skydiving or indoor skydiving yet, you are considering it now. And if you do, let me know what you think! Is indoor skydiving just like real skydiving to you?
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