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Sport Matters More

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

SESSION III | Sunday 2 February 2020 | 11:45 - 12:45 | Santa Clara | Panel Discussion |

Sporting aspects were first considered when the two commercial operators in the USA had to define their staffing policies. What were the appropriate prerequisites for someone to qualify as an instructor? Did an applicant have to have skydiving experience? Was it possible to train non-skydivers to become proficient instructors with tunnel time alone?

Tunnel instructor, junior flyer © Windoor

One of the first-generation instructors was the American John Glenn Suiter, who started his career in 1982 at the Pigeon Forge Flyaway and at the age of 14, too young to skydive in the outdoors. As a young man of the first hour, John very ably demonstrated that no aircraft would ever be needed to develop the full skill set of a tunnel instructor.

From Tennessee John soon set out to travel the world and to train the staff at other tunnels in the chronological order that these started to pop up almost everywhere: in Switzerland, in Japan and across the USA. I had met John in the mid-80s, while he was working in Pigeon Forge, and I got to appreciate his flying as well as pedagogic skills. That the Smokey Mountains Flyaway seemed to have a steady flow of clients and a solid repeat business – at least over the few days I spent there – was probably thanks to both.

More than anyone else involved in the operation, the instructors are capable of influencing a tunnel’s success very directly. In order to do that they need two things – aside from the pleasant personality and demeanor: excellent flying skills and a matching aptitude for teaching.

In the nearly four decades of indoor skydiving’s evolutionary history, two separate organizations have taken on the responsibility for the training of instructors, of continuously screening them for proficiency, and of providing them with a minimum syllabus for different levels of training.

The International Body Flight Association (IBA) was first. It was founded in 2003 and started with the process immediately, defining standards for safety and authoring the correspondent protocols. The authors were Craig Buxton, Rusty Lewis and Axel Zohmann, staff members of SkyVentures, a tunnel manufacturing business that soon started to assume a second brand identity as iFLY. A first IBA Instructor Manual was published in 2004.

The second organization started to emerge in 2010, with a small group of highly experienced tunnel instructors (and tunnel operators) in Europe starting on a process similar to the one of their American colleagues in the IBA. The Tunnel Instructor Organization (TIO) was founded by Paul Mayer, Brendan O’Rafferty and Alberto Fuertes. The first edition of THE TUNNEL BOOK, the TIO “Manual for Instructors and Flyers,” was published in 2013, Alberto Fuertes and Lou David given credit as the authors.

Both concepts – that of the IBA as well as that of the TIO – go beyond the training and rating of the instructors alone. As in other, comparable sports – scuba diving, skiing and climbing come to mind first – it extends to a separate syllabus defining precise performance requirements for the students at different levels of proficiency: from basic to advanced – and on to expert.

Recommended Readings

Sport matters more! Session III looks at the training and rating of the instructors as well as the people who are taught by them. A prerequisite for any sport. And something that needs to be taken seriously, all the more so if there is a considerable risk factor involved. Panel discussion involving three panelists with unique experience and qualifications in wind tunnel training. One moderator.

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