A boy smiles, as he enjoys an in-house flight, at the high-tech flying chamber set up by the Inflight Dubai. — Photo by Rahul Gajjar
Skydivers are twirling and twisting through the air, performing complicated manoeuvres. But they aren’t falling through the sky — they’re inside an air-conditioned building in Dubai, which houses the world’s largest vertical wind tunnel, allowing people to experience the thrill of free-fall without jumping out of an aircraft.
Inflight Dubai’s high-tech flying chamber — which is over 20 metres tall and five metres across — is built around four electric-motor powered fans, which produce a total force of 2,000 horsepower, the equivalent to two Formula 1 race cars.
After a safety briefing on proper body position and hand signals, participants step into the tunnel, where they are immediately struck by the full force of the fans. But under the careful supervision of an instructor, even beginners are able to quickly hover in place, move forward and backwards, and turn left and right. More advanced participants are able to fly with their backs facing downwards, go higher, and conduct complicated flips and manoeuvres.
Iain Scott Macdonald, Inflight Dubai’s operations manager, explained that advances in flying chamber technology have opened up the sport to people who might have been unable or unwilling to take part in skydiving.
“The tunnel industry has been out there for 10 to 15 years. It was a very small industry at first and very unknown,” he said.
“But now with the development of new tunnel technology, it’s very much open to the whole world.”
“It’s one of these activities that’s fun, and not dangerous. Although it looks extreme, it’s very safe, and the whole family can participate,” he added.
“We can take in people from the ages of three to 103, if they’re fit enough. We can also fly people who maybe couldn’t enjoy sports like this, like paraplegic people, handicapped people and blind people. The wind tunnel opens a lot of doors.”
Macdonald noted that Inflight’s wind tunnel flyers come from diverse backgrounds and for various reasons.
“Our business out here is predominantly skydivers and military groups, but we also have quite a lot of first time flyers, which can be just you and your buddy or a family of four coming here with mum and dad with two kids coming to have fun on a Saturday morning,” he said.
“That’s something we encourage. We’re open to all fields.”
With regards to military clients, Macdonald noted that the flying chamber provides an effective training tool for units, which conduct demonstrations or military free-fall operations.
“We have military competition teams that go in there and are flying just with a jumpsuit and helmet on. We also allow, with certain selective controls, military groups to come in and fly limited military equipment,” he said.
“It’s an excellent tool because it’s a much safer environment for them to be testing out the extra weight they have to carry in free-fall. It’s much safer to learn the control of it in the wind tunnel before they take it out of a plane.”
“It’s the same with skydivers in general,” he added.
“It’s a much safer for a skydiver or someone beginning to sky dive to use a wind tunnel to build their skills and build confidence. We always recommend that people that are going to learn to skydive come to a wind tunnel for 10 minutes, and suddenly they’ll feel comfortable with the basics down, such as body position, how to fly and how to do basic maneuvers in a very short time.”
Among Inflight’s multinational team of instructors is Hinda Salih, a young Moroccan woman who says she spends up to eight hours in the tunnel every day.
“I get to deal with different people. Children, families, girls, skydivers, experienced people, first-time flyers,” Salih said.
“When you fly someone for the first time and you see the smile on their face, that’s the best feeling in the world. They are always happy. The first time, it’s normal for everyone to be a little scared, tense. But I’m always remembering the first moment I flew in the tunnel. It was crazy and I was so scared. But you get used to it.”
Salih, however, has a favorite sort of person she likes to coach in the flying tunnel.
“Kids are my favorite, definitely. They enjoy it a lot. The kids and the girls fly better, because they are always relaxed. Boys sometimes use their muscles and sometimes it’s hard for them,” she added.
“You have to feel the wind on your body, relax, and enjoy flying.”— email@example.com
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