The Vertical Wind Tunnel Home Page Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

What is "Body Flight"?

What is "Terminal Velocity"?

Who would want to fly in a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

Is it difficult to learn to fly?

What is "Relative Work"?

Is Body Flight good exercise?

Who cannot fly in a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

Where can I fly?

What factors determine the quality of a VWT?

Where can I purchase a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

How much do Vertical Wind Tunnels cost?



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What is a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

A Vertical Wind Tunnel is a machine which produces a vertical stream or column of air. If this column of air is moving at a sufficient rate (see: Terminal Velocity) a person entering it can be lifted up into it, suspended in mid-air.

Also referred to as Free Fall Simulators, Human Floatation chambers and Levitationariums, these facilities provide human beings the opportunity to experience the sensation of flight. Not the sensation one gets from flying in an airplane. But flying free of the machine, unencumbered, much as birds do. They allow non-skydivers to experience free fall and advanced flyers to perform amazing acrobatics.

While the vast majority of Vertical Wind Tunnels were created for recreational use, some of the earliest were produced for the purpose of aerodynamic testing. Vertical Wind Tunnels should not be confused with their horizontal cousins as all horizontal wind tunnels are used for this purpose.

There are many differences between the various Vertical Wind Tunnels now in use. The size of their air columns, and their maximum velocities all vary. Some are housed within specially designed buildings, while others are portable structures, able to be transported by truck. Another distinction is between indoor and outdoor wind tunnels. An indoor VWT has it's column of air enclosed in a cylindrical structure or "chamber", while in contrast, an outdoor VWT's air stream is projected upward into the open sky.

Today, the recreational value of Vertical Wind Tunnels aside, many of the world's top ranked competitive skydivers train in them. The military also uses them to teach skydiving to it's elite troops.
 

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"What is Body Flight"?

Body Flight is the art of controlled human floatation in a column of air produced by a Vertical Wind Tunnel or after reaching Terminal Velocity during a sky dive.

Skilled and dedicated people have taken Body Flight to the level of an extreme sport. The aerobatics performed resemble a combination of gymnastics, ballet and figure skating. In recent years competitions have been held and more can be expected as the sport gains in popularity.

Body Flight is also the name of a Video production about Vertical Wind Tunnels!
 

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What is "Terminal Velocity"?

Terminal Velocity is dependent upon two opposing forces: Gravity and Aerodynamic Drag. During a skydive, the force of gravity causes a person to accelerate, to fall faster and faster toward the ground. His/her speed increases by 32 feet per second for each second he/she falls. Aerodynamic Drag will first act to slow, and eventually stop this acceleration. This is not to say the person will stop falling (unless he/she has wings to flap!) only that the speed at which he/she is falling will become constant.

Terminal Velocity is the speed attained when this balance of forces is reached. The typical Terminal Velocity reached during free fall is around 120 mph.

In a Vertical Wind Tunnel, if the speed of the air stream is equal to a persons Terminal Velocity then that person will be able to hover. It is also possible to increase and decrease aerodynamic drag through the use of controlled body positioning. If the speed of the air stream remains constant the flyer will be able to hover, soar up or drop down all just by changing the position of his/her arms, legs and body.
 

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Who would want to fly in a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

Anyone who is "into" active sports such as water or snow skiing, snow boarding, swimming, diving, roller skating, Kung Fu or skateboarding etc. will immediately fall in love with the sensation of Body Flight. For beginning skydivers it's a "must do" and for experienced skydivers it's an invaluable training tool.

It really is the answer to the age old dream of flight, but most of all, it's just plain FUN!
 

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Is it difficult to learn to fly?

Not really, in fact it's easier than many other sports such as skiing or roller skating. Why? Because the body motions are very basic at the beginning level. Also, all these facilities provide hands on instruction and some utilize mechanical training aids ( harnesses etc.) as well. Later, you will find yourself advancing to more difficult acrobatics with confidence.
 

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What is "Relative Work"?

Relative Work is a term coined by skydivers that refers to two or more skydivers falling or performing maneuvers in close proximity (Relative) to each other.
When used in the context of a VWT it means that more than one person is flying in the airstream at a given time.
 

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Is Body Flight good exercise?

Yes, it's extremely good exercise. Advanced flying requires balance, stamina, flexibility and agility. It's a true full body work out in every sense.
 

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Who cannot fly in a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

Most Vertical Wind Tunnels have minimum and maximum weight restrictions for safety reasons and because of air speed limitations. Typically, if you weigh more than 250 lbs. or less than 90 lbs. you may not be allowed to fly. Also, those with serious health problems will likely be excluded.
 

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Where can I fly?

There are now many Vertical Wind Tunnels, with more under construction or in the planning stage. While not all are open to the public (such as those owned by the military or government) most are.

Click here to see a list of all the Vertical Wind Tunnels World Wide as they are known to us. Please feel free to check back with us as more are added and if you have any additional information to share please Email us at: highwind@primeline.com
 

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What factors determine the quality of a VWT?

How do you judge the quality of a Vertical Wind Tunnel? Specifications are not usually available. An experienced flyer can tell a lot about the quality of the jet (air column) by direct comparison. When available specifications should include:

Airspeed

usually specified in feet per second, on this web site we used miles per hour. This is the highest airspeed found in the flight area. In a perfect jet, the airspeed should be the same anywhere in the jet from edge to edge. However, most existing VWT's have highly variable airspeed from place to place and moment to moment.

The specifications for a well documented VWT will have a graph showing the airspeed plotted at many points across the jet from edge to edge. Each point might be six inches apart. The location of the measurement point is plotted horizontally, and the airspeed is plotted vertically such that If the airspeed measures the same at each point you will have a flat line. If the jet is stronger in the middle and weaker at the edges you will have a "hill". In other words, the smoother and higher in quality the VWT, the flatter the line.

Also, a graph should be provided for several heights above the net, perhaps every five fee, up to about 20 feet.

Diameter

For the purposes of this web site, diameter is defined as that flight area where the airspeed is greater at full power than 78 mph. A better specification from a manufacturer would be the area within the jet where the airspeed is at least 90% of the highest airspeed measured.

Turbulence

Is specified as a percentage. It is a measure of how consistent the airspeed is from point to point, moment to moment. I am told that the VWT at Wright Patterson A.F.B. measures 6% and Fort Bragg (Matos) 12%. Most Vertical Wind Tunnels in operation today measure several times higher (worse) than this.

Efficiency

is a measure of how much energy is consumed, versus how much air is moved at what airspeed. This Information is rarely published.

Safety

Extremely important. A design should be examined with an eye towards its safety considerations such as:

How well cushioned is the landing area? Is it possible for a out of control flyer to overfly the cushions or net, striking some hard object? Could Machine parts or blades rotating at high speed present a hazard in the event of a failure?

These are only the most obvious safety considerations.

Acoustics

Some designs are so loud that earplugs alone are not enough to prevent hearing loss in fliers. Most outdoor designs are as loud as an airplane or a helicopter. Local authorities often ban portable VTW's due to noise considerations alone.

Reliability

A potential buyer should review the maintenance history of the design when available. Many designs are "make-shift" in nature and are plagued with high maintenance costs and frequent breakdowns.
 

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Where can I purchase a Vertical Wind Tunnel?

Many people ask us where they can purchase a Vertical Wind Tunnel.. For a list of active Vertical Wind Tunnel Manufacturers, please visit our Links Page.


 

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How much do Vertical Wind Tunnels cost?

The cost varies from $100,000 for a used, portable unit (when available), up to $5,000,000 (thats five million!) for a unit like the Matos Facility.

Fuel (or electricity) can run anywhere from $30 to $300 per Hour depending on the diameter, speed and efficiency of the system.

Add to this the direct operational costs for maintenance, staffing (including experienced instructors), training videos, supplies and flight equipment (flight suits, goggles and helmets), and the insurance and it's easy to see why most Vertical Wind Tunnels charge between $5 and $20 per minute for flight time.

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