For me personally, and I imagine for a great many of you out there, the variety and diversity provided by skydiving and air sports in general holds a huge amount of appeal. There are great rewards to be found in the interconnectedness of the different disciplines we practice and the overlapping skill sets formed from the way we apply physics to our bodies so we can zoom about with our friends. Someone wise who probably had a big white beard and a toga once claimed that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know. Is there a better example of this to be had than with skydiving and its brothers, sisters and cousins? There is so much to learn and such dedication is required to get to the top, that although there are a few that perhaps come close, you can never be master of it all.
Skydiving and tunnel flying are connected on a genetic level. While they are not exactly the same thing, the more you do of both the more you will learn about and respect the differences between the two. Either thing is not required by the other, and there are plenty skydivers out there that have never set foot in an indoor skydiving facility nor are bothered about doing so and their jumping careers suffered not a tiny bit because of it. There are even those that decry the use of tunnels and say that it is teaching new skydivers the wrong stuff in the wrong order. These detractors might say that tunnel flying is simply not skydiving, that it is not proper.
Yet for every freefly hero scorpioning their way face down across the grass in front of the spectators area because they got no canopy skills there is a student at the beginning of their career with greater skill and better awareness than had previously been, or even been thought possible. For every carefully planned freefall formation scotched by some tunnel guy who didn’t turn up for the practice jumps because he forgot to remember that even after all that time in the tube that the sky is still a little different, there are records broken, envelopes raised and bars pushed because of what the tunnel can do for your abilities.
I reckon it is safe to assume that we are now way past the point where any argument against wind tunnels is hopelessly outmanoeuvred by what these machines have to offer when applied correctly.
The indoor skydiving industry appears to work economically too. Proven examples from throughout the last decade have led to interest the world over and the list of cities looking at having a tube is long indeed. In this last year we have new facilities opening their doors as far and wide as Dubai, Sydney and Dallas. Some Belgians are currently pulling the plastic wrapping off and putting the stickers on their new one next to Brussels’ Charleroi airport, and the French have got as far as digging the enormous hole these things require underneath a shiny new Parisian shopping centre. Coming after those are likely to be New Zealand, more for Australia, another in the UK, additional locations list for the U.S. and China who are circling a deal for a whole set. This is before even mentioning the motley assortment of re-purposed and re-structured relative-wind generating contraptions around the world, ranging from awful to immense and every stop in between.
For now, most of the tunnels being built are 14ft in diameter. There are a few 16ft examples around the world, with the current record for total flyable space held by state-of-the art Inflight at the Skydive Dubai desert campus which is 16.5 feet across and 68 to the top. The first generation of true wall-to-wall airflow tunnels were a little smaller, but advancements in technology and ambition, and the fact that in a 12ft tunnel a four-way team spend a little too much time kicking each other in the face mean these slightly larger designs make the most practical and economical sense. There is even talk of a warehouse somewhere in Dubai that contains all the parts for a 22ft behemoth that will go up next to the Palm Jumeirah sometime in the near future. A 22ft diameter tunnel, rumoured to have an internal height of over 100ft once constructed. A grand palace of movement. A place of worship for disciples of the zoom.
Humans being humans meant that tunnel competitions were inevitable. Flat flying didn’t change much, and while there is something impressive in the refinement and sophistication on show in a discipline that has heritage stretching back down the years, the truly exciting stuff was happening to freefly. People got good, they got gob-smackingly jaw-droppingly head-scratchingly good. Seeing one of the top teams performing a free routine was something to behold - two flyers using every inch of the space available, set free from function and form by training and practice and limited only by what can be imagined.
Yet after the seasons went round a few times there was the growing sense that there was more to be seen. Much more. Some of the sauciest flyers in the world started to get together to construct and choreograph routines featuring four people. It looked great and the possibilities now seemed endless, the lines around the tunnel that could be flown and switched and reversed, and the scope for tricks engineered and constructed with four players positively boggles the mind.
Skip to now and our need as humans to quantify, qualify and compare has us competing again. It needed a snappy name and Dynamic Four-Way is as good as any. With one eye on the marketability and external appeal of this most impressive aspect of indoor skydiving a few well connected freeflyers began to examine the format for this new way of, as they say, getting it on.
Germany was first, in the tail end of 2012. The tunnel at Bottrop had been open a few years and had the right scene and backing for this kind of thing. One of the ideas behind this new competition is that it all happened in one go over the space of a few hours. The Norwegian team Voss Ventus from Bottrop’s sister tunnel won. Voss had it’s own tunnel at this point and they is good.
The next setting was the World Challenge at Bodyflight Bedford in the UK. Not a D4W competition in the way that had been introduced in Germany but incorporated into the already established World Challenge format including dozens of teams in many categories over multiple days. Skydive Dubai were in town for this one, competing in almost every category. Maktoum took the D4W gold easily and planted their flag as being the best competitive tunnel team in game.
Then Summer took everyone to Norway for Voss Valhalla during the annual Extreme Week. The self contained format of competition just for Dynamic teams was used in much the same way, with some attention being spent on the scoring system with a look to making it as immediate and vital as possible. A young team from the U.S. that grew from several years of two way competition took the top spot: AntiGravity XP.
Most recently the Czech Republic played host to the teams for the Knights of Prague. This again was won buy Antigravity XP, looking for all they are worth like they are going to be very difficult to beat.
So where does this position us going into 2014?
Maktoum are quite possibly the most important team on the planet right now, and as their recent output has shown they spent 2013 organising and executing some of the most impressive skydiving ever performed. Yet have they done so at the expense of their position on the highest step of the podium that they earned at the World Challenge early on in the year? AntiGravity XP are a different beast. They have comparatively low skydiving experience and represent a brand new tunnel flying generation by having a couple of members that don’t skydive, but some members that have been flying in the tunnel since they were children. They have the talent and the support they need from their home at Paraclete, and very look difficult to beat. Both teams brought home gold medals from international competitions last year, but they have not yet faced each other…
Competition is not all things to all folk, nor should it be. It would be quite an achievement if we could learn as a species to evolve at our best rate without having to draw lines in the sand. Yet it often seems that only when we form up against each other do we attain our highest level of motivation, and only when the knives are out do we hit our greatest potential for creativity, and for brilliance.
Dynamic Four-Way is where the boundaries of bodyflight are being pushed out into the unknown, and the symbiosis between it and everything that we do means we all stand to gain on some level. With teams like Maktoum and Antigravity XP flying the flag for what is possible, whatever happens next should be too good to miss.
Cookie Composites hit it pretty big with the G3. Going back a few years the full face helmet was largely a flat flying concern, but was gradually being adopted by VFS teams to defend their squishy parts against the sharp edges of swiftly moving humans. Flying with your face covered felt good too. It felt good on the cold days, the kind where you get icicles on the end of your nose. It also felt good in the tunnel, especially in the tunnel, where once you are flying on the zoomy wind speeds the dribble really dribbles.
So much of successful skydiving is about communication, and this new helmet from Cookie was lower at the front with a bigger visor, allowing you to see the wearer’s whole face. The eyes alone can only convey so much emotion, but with the G3 you could now see your friends grinning maniacally back at you. It also looked good. Cookie gear has never been cheap and this new helmet was definitely from the posh end of the scale, but it was not so flash and shiny that your friends would tease you about it.
It became cool. Better than that, it became necessary. The phrasing of questions relating to headgear and the G3 went from why you should get one to why haven’t you got one?
However. There are many people out there who prefer an open face helmet. Not everybody is bothered about flying in the tunnel, and quite often there is nothing better than skydiving on a glorious day with the wind on your face.
Cookie Composites seem to have investigated the formula that made the G3 such a success and are aiming for it again with the Fuel. It is nice too. It looks good without being overly much and there is a healthy variety of thingumys available to adapt it for your personal skydiving needs. You may select the correct plastic mounts to array your beeping devices facing inward or outward on either or indeed both sides, and there are also some camera mounts for a Sony or a Contour or a whatever.
The best features available are the low profile cutaway system and the GoPro shoe. The days of needing a big old chip cup to clamp your helmet tight enough to your head to prevent house brick sized cameras from flopping about are pretty much done. There is one available if you need it, but the cameras the majority of us use now are tiny and the cutaway strap is sturdy and inventive, which means you can do away with having to explain about that dubious system you constructed from bits of metal you found in the hangar and a strap you nicked off one of the student helmets.
Snag hazards concern some people more than others and it is for each of us to see to our own safety, but getting a vital piece of your parachuting assemblage wrapped around a GoPro has killed at least one person for sure, and that cannot be ignored. The shoe mount Cookie have devised looks to eliminate this as a potential problem, and you can change the angle easy peasy.
So, does Cookie Composites win again?
The Fuel didn’t need to be invented the way the G3 did, but the formula has been repeated to good effect. It looks great and is assuredly posh, but it is not so swanky that it will buy you any ridicule. The configuration options are properly thought out and it covers up your brain like a good helmet should.