Warwick Skydive’s 2008 Tunnel Camp took place this week, and it was incredible. Despite all those jumps from real aeroplanes, this was the point where I actually learned to fly. (That’s me, in the fetching light-blue-with-yellow-piping number.)
It was my first time in a vertical wind tunnel, and – whoa. I’d expected something resembling a garage; when we got close, I realised we seemed to be homing in on what looks like a nuclear missile storage facility. The ex-MOD tunnel is a privatised military site, a cylinder fifteen metres wide and forty high, with an inner ‘core’ five metres wide that goes most of the way up, topped with a vast aeronautical engine running at 750rpm, all day, every day. That’s where you fly. It’s the biggest indoor skydiving facility in the world, and next to it, little tourist attractions like the one at Milton Keynes look like Fisher Price toys.
The construction quality is amazing. I’d estimate the steel cylinder is eight centimetres thick, and the tunnel itself is brick and concrete lined. Of course it’s noisy in the chamber, but outside conversation is still possible, and in the outer ring, where you relax between flights, it’s barely more than traffic noise; there’s not even vibration. Doors are oval and made of thick steel, like a submarine’s. The site makes excellent use of technology – cams and screens everywhere, plus electronic timetabling – and you can download the vids onto a handy USB. It’s terrific.
I had 23 minutes spread over the day, and went from nervously floating at ground level to hovering confidently two metres up, spinning reasonable 360s, and moving forwards and backwards, balancing on the 120mph updraft and turning my body into a wing. Brilliant. I can’t wait to get back there.