Is tunnel a waste of time for skydivers?

Monday, January 17, 2022

I shake my head when I see a FB comment telling some beginner how the tunnel is completely different in the sky. But I also give a sigh when someone else decries you have to master the tunnel first. Spoiler alert: The tunnel is not a waste of time if you want to fly better. It is an awesome training tool!

 

The tunnel and the sky translate EXTREMELY WELL. That is why we spend hours and hours in the tube training. But they have their quirks, and knowing them can help you flip back and forth seamlessly.

 

Save your life dummy

First and obviously, the tunnel doesn’t require you to pull your parachute. There is a mess of safety stuff to worry about in the air – after all, you have a planet aimed at you. After absolutely acknowledging this critical point, let’s focus on the flying part for this article.

Fixed walls

The walls in the tunnel don’t move. When you slow down in the tunnel, you will shoot up relative to the walls because they are just sitting there at 0 mph. When you are in the sky, your friends are also falling.

So if your fall rate changes 10pmh in the tunnel, you’ll shoot up that fast! If your fall rate varies ten mph in the sky while underneath a formation, you’ll crawl up slowly.  The same body position stuff works; you make less progress in the sky because your reference is falling too.

You have less range with a rig

Your rig doesn’t let you move as much. You can’t arch or reach like you can without one. So if you ever find yourself with a rig in the tunnel, you’ll feel this difference immediately.

You have more momentum with a rig

Since you have the rig’s weight, it takes more energy to get going and stop. So you have to work harder to control your momentum.

Fall faster with rigs

You’ll fall a little faster with rigs. You’ll notice this wind speed change if you ever wear a rig in a tunnel. Relative to your teammates, your fall rate will also change because of the restrictions of a rig.

You can use the walls to cheat in the tunnel

If you are doing FS, you can use the walls as a reference. Teams can use the walls and net to stay close together. In the sky, you don’t have those barriers to stop you; therefore, you’ll get more distance.

The tunnel is harder for beginners

For beginners, the tunnel is stricter in the sky. They don’t demand precise fall rate control in the first jump course – because if you have a good body position, your instructors will match your speed. The tunnel, however, makes you aware of your fall rate as you move around. (This is why a lot of coaches wisely put AFF students on the net to start. The net removes fall rate as a factor and more closely matches the situation in the air)

Small movements in the tunnel have more of an effect. For example, if you turn stable but translate a few feet in the sky, you’ll still pass. Perfect centerpoint turns are for another day. However, in the tunnel, you’ll smack a wall, so more precision is necessary.

Instructional differences

Wind tunnel instructors (who are not AFF instructors or skydivers) favor a different beginning body position. To get you floating around and having fun, they teach a flat “X”-position in contrast to the strongly arched position skydiving instructors favor. While a big “X” is great for getting people floating at slower, safer wind speeds, it is too wobbly and unstable for the sky.

If you are an AFF student, fly with a tunnel coach or instructor who is an experienced skydiver (preferably an aff instructor) or an aff instructor with a lot of experience tunnel coaching. Either configuration will give you the best possible bridge between the two experiences.

The tunnel is more forgiving for experienced skydivers

For experienced flyers, the tunnel becomes more forgiving. Because of the extra references and walls, it is easy to stay close and understand your fall rate. An inch of distance in the tunnel will be a foot in the sky when doing a block.

And since the walls contain you, a mistake can get fixed quickly. It’s like bowling with bumpers; you get shoved back into the middle to keep the party going—more chances to practice.

The tunnel is forever

Sessions are longer in the tunnel, and you will do more of them. The effect here is that sometimes individuals will have a harder time staying arched. Fatigue is one reason many people use more lead in the tunnel than in the sky.

Exit and hill

Yes, captain obvious. You don’t have the exit or the hill in the tunnel. In real terms, this means team averages are significantly higher in the tunnel.

I’d love to tell you how much, but I tried to analyze this by looking at teams competing in both tunnel and sky competitions in a short period. I found a decent number of samples, but the variation was all over the map (10%-33% gap) without any pattern I could find.

Freak out factor

I get a fair amount of AFF students who want help in the tunnel. Often they are sent to me when they are struggling – and I can almost always get them sorted out. However, once in a blue moon, I’ll get an AFF student who flies like a champ but still can’t pass a skydive. I can teach you the physical motions in the tunnel, but I can’t pump you with adrenaline. The solution here is to address your mental game and learn how to stay calm.

 

Summary

In the tunnel:

  • Fixed references and boundaries
  • Different instructional methods
  • Less margin for movement error
  • Longer, more frequent flights

 

In the sky:

  • Hurdling towards a planet
  • More momentum
  • Restricted range because of rig
  • Faster fall rate
  • Exit and Hill

 

Skydiving is unbeatable fun. The tunnel is incredible too. The similarities outweigh the differences by far, but knowing the quirks will help you ninja both!

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I really like Christy's coaching style, it's a great mix of serious and fun, with the ratio adjusted as needed for each person/team. Great organizational skills to keep all the cats herded, and she is skilled and knowledgeable.

» Christine Deglau – Perris Quattro

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