Is Indoor Skydiving Skydiving? USPA seeks member input

With the surge in popularity of wind tunnels among both skydivers and non-skydivers alike, USPA is faced with many questions regarding the sport of indoor skydiving. First and foremost, how involved should USPA be with the burgeoning sport? Is indoor skydiving actually skydiving, or is it only related to skydiving?

Should USPA remain entirely hands-off and consider it a different sport, just as it does with BASE jumping? Or should USPA completely incorporate indoor skydiving into the organization and issue memberships, licenses and records and select champions and U.S. Teams just as it would for jumpers of any other discipline? Or should we take some middle ground?

Although USPA had considered the issue for years, the topic came to a head in January 2014, when the International Parachuting Commission of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (sport parachuting’s international governing body) created a new category of competition called “indoor skydiving.” The IPC did not make this decision on the fly; it took many years of conversation between nearly 40 nations. USPA did not support the idea, but our position did not prevail.

Regardless of USPA’s position on the matter, by virtue of its letter of agreement with the National Aeronautic Association, USPA is the delegated authority for Class G air sports in the U.S. The IPC’s action in 2014 includes indoor skydiving under that mantle, and the FAI changed the title of the FAI Sporting Code Section 5 to read “Parachuting and Indoor Skydiving.” This is a truth regardless of whether you consider indoor skydiving to be skydiving (which, by USPA’s definition in the Skydiver’s Information Manual, requires an airplane and a parachute) or even whether you think indoor skydiving can really be considered an air sport. The FAI decided the latter for us when it recognized and sanctioned international competition.

Consequently, over the last three years, USPA made some changes to support members who are interested in this arena. We began to recognize national records set during FAI first-category events (such as world championships); we acknowledge the constitutional mandate to select the U.S. Team (a task we delegated to the International Bodyflight Association); and we nominate international judges to the indoor events. But there are problems with the current methods, and the USPA Board of Directors is seeking input about which, if any, elements of indoor skydiving USPA should take responsibility for.

USPA does have the option to decline its role in indoor skydiving competitions and leave it in the hands of the NAA. In fact, we did exactly that for the 1st FAI World Cup of Indoor Skydiving in Austin, Texas, in 2014. However, USPA doesn’t know whether the NAA—which has little to no modern experience with the practical mechanics of deploying an international team—would even be willing to take on the role going forward. 

Competition

Within the competition environment, indoor skydiving features two disciplines and several different events. Artistic events include 2-way dynamic and 4-way dynamic, as well as solo freestyle (similar to the USPA freestyle event but without the interactive camera). Both dynamic events are very popular with tunnel flyers but are difficult (if not impossible) to do outdoors in freefall. Formation skydiving features two familiar events: 4-way FS and 4-way vertical FS. However, there are also differences. In 4-way FS, jumpers launch from the tunnel door (to reproduce an aircraft exit as closely as possible), and in 4-way VFS, jumpers launch from standing on the net.

USPA could decide to fully incorporate these indoor skydiving competitions under its umbrella rather than delegate their governance to another organization as it currently does. However, doing so involves a host of issues that need to be resolved. USPA would need to host a USPA National Championships of Indoor Skydiving, a task USPA currently delegates to the IBA under IBA branding. To do this, USPA would need to solicit bids for hosting the events and adopt existing IPC rules (as it does for other skydiving competitions).

USPA would then use its Indoor Skydiving Nationals to select the U.S. Team. This then brings up the question of whether the U.S. Parachute Team Trust Fund, which partially funds U.S. Teams participating in World Championships, would also be used to fund indoor skydiving teams.

Membership

Integrating indoor skydiving into USPA also creates membership questions. Participation in FAI first-category events requires all competitors to possess an FAI Sporting License. In the U.S., these are issued by the NAA and require membership in the relevant air-sport association (USPA in this case). So, since 2014, all tunnel flyers in FAI first-category events have become members of USPA (although many already held memberships).

In a USPA Nationals, all U.S. jumpers must be USPA regular members. If USPA adopts indoor skydiving as a Nationals event, this would hold, as well. The questions are: Would those who are solely indoor skydivers see any benefit to having USPA membership for this purpose alone? Would USPA need to adopt a separate class of membership just for tunnel flying?

An additional consideration is that indoor skydiving competition includes junior categories, which allows the participation of those as young as 12 years old. The IPC introduced the junior category as a means of drawing younger people into skydiving (though this doesn’t seem to be occurring) and to address the Olympic Charter’s goals for youth participation in the hopes that skydiving will one day become an Olympic sport. This makes USPA membership mandatory for children who cannot legally exit an aircraft in flight. While this is not an issue with respect to USPA’s Basic Safety Requirements, it does place an additional financial burden on competitors. It also brings up the question of what USPA’s legal liability would be if a competitor were injured during competition.

Expanding further, if USPA completely incorporates tunnel flying as a discipline, should it require membership for all tunnel flyers after a student period? If USPA sanctions teams, is it obligated to make sure that they’re properly trained and able to safely compete? Should USPA then require some level of demonstrable skill in tunnel flying? Would USPA need to take on issuing licenses and ratings for tunnel flyers? Obviously, license requirements would be different (e.g., there’s no reason an indoor skydiver would need to take a canopy control course). Currently, the IBA has an instructional rating program that is similar to USPA’s. Could USPA adopt this program or would it need to reinvent the wheel? Would wind tunnel operators even agree to require USPA membership, licenses and ratings if they see no benefit in doing so?

Years ago, the Flyaway brand of wind tunnels coined the term “indoor skydiving” to attract tourists into its tunnels. After all, “simulated skydiving” just didn’t have the market punch they were looking for. Little did they know that the term would become so widespread that it would be used to expand the arena of international competition!

Should USPA embrace this new sport or not? The board discussed this topic in committee at its February meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee. It reached no definitive conclusions but recognized the need for input from the membership. Every member with an opinion on this topic should discuss their thoughts with their Regional Director so that USPA may come to a more definitive position and create a plan of action that meets the needs of our members. The question of whether USPA should fully incorporate indoor skydiving as a Nationals event or continue to farm out the task of selecting a U.S. Team to another entity is already on the agenda for the USPA Board meeting scheduled for July 21-23 in Seattle, Washington.

Randy Connell  | USPA Director of Competition

Comments

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Wendy Parrish
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 08:21

Tunnel flying is a standalone simulant of one portion of sport parachuting. As such, it is by no means skydiving. The safety portions are almost entirely different, as they don't involve impact with the ground or individual equipment. So I would see this as a means for USPA to expand its charter, and its size. It would get more and more involved in the competition aspect (because that's a significant part of tunnel flying), and less and less involved in things like airport access and canopy flying (which are more challenging, and apply only to skydiving).

Having a subcommittee, maybe. But using this as a new way to generate income, and therefore to dilute the mission of the USPA, nope.

If there were a tunnel flying association, I'd totally be in favor of there being a liaison. But the USPA has a three-part mission statement. Two of the parts have a subset that could potentially apply to indoor skydiving (promoting safety through instructor & JM certification -- but, again, it's a small subset of the skills involved in skydiving), and competition and records (competition mainly; I guess records could be timed, but, again, without the uncertainty of exiting, it's not apples to apples). Airport and airspace don't apply at all.

Around 40 years ago USPA disallowed any serious mention or advertising for BASE. I don't advocate this, but I could easily see tunnel flying taking more and more attention from actual parachuting, and therefore diluting the effectiveness of the USPA in its core charter.

Wendy Parrish
D6296

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 15:45

I and fundamentally opposed to the USPA involving itself in tunnel flying in any form. The overlap between the two sports is not sufficient to warrant an organization dedicated to guiding skydiving expanding to guide a very different sport.

Jon Aho
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 16:22

Just wanted to point out the obvious: The "P" in the USPA acronym stands for Parachute. Seems to me that getting involved with an activity that not include the use of a parachute is outside the organizations scope and purpose. My $0.02.

Alan Ye
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 16:38

USPA stands for United States Parachute Associatation. But there are no parachutes involved in tunnel flying.. anybody see a problem here?

Mart the Krow
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 03:09

If using a parachute is a criteria, then a skydive like Luke Aiken's who jumped out of a plane and landed without a parachute would not be governed by USPA? Then paragliding who use a form of parachute would be. I do not think using a parachute is a criteria.

Not saying that USPA should involve itself in tunnel flying as I am undecided on that. On the one hand, tunnels are the best practice method for learning body flying for students and for veterans.

On the other hand, does AIF involve itself in professional flight simulators?

Nick Halseth
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 19:44

You're right. Why would a jump like Aikens be covered under USPA? Yes, there's a lot of skydiving background there. But the jump itself really had nothing to do with skydiving for Aikens.

Rory J. Corrigan
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 19:18

I work in a wind tunnel and want to see no involvement by the USPA in this sport. There is overlap in the skill set, but it is entirely different and my dues to USPA should go nowhere near anything tunnel related.

Jim 9078
Thu, 07/06/2017 - 19:19

USPA should stay focused on representing and serving parachutists. After nearly 40 years in the sport and having made it a goal to experience parachuting in all of its various disciplines, including as an instructor, BASE, video... while the tunnel can be an excellent tool for training and improving competency in the freefall aspect of the sport, it is not parachuting. Even to call it, "indoor skydiving," is a mis-characterization; there is no sky in a tunnel.

USPA should focus on what USPA does, which is to represent its member parachutists in the outdoor, in the sky sport that it is. Not an indoor, artificial environment experience that is totally different from what we experience and are required to train for, mentally, emotionally, and physically, to jump out of a plane with a parachute.

Rick DeShano
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 08:21

By definition "Skydiving" states "the sport of jumping from an aircraft and performing acrobatic maneuvers in the air during free fall before landing by parachute.". I believe the indoor tunnel sport has signigficant growth and popularity and could easily be an activity for competition but not for USPA involvement. Perhaps an initiative can be made to classify the activity as Tunnel Flying rather than indoor skydiving.

Christopher Stephens
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 09:44

As a USA memeber, and active skydiver, I do not feel the USPA should manage tunnel flying nor it's competitions. Tunnel flying is just that, fast fan in the face, and other than simulate some of the aspects of free fall, it is not skydiving, thus should not be governed by USPA in its current state. Other than delegating governance to IBA, and maintaining a dialogue for positive training or other obvious reasons to communicate data between USPA and tunnEl flyers and the respective organizations.

Jon Yonke
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 13:27

While indoor skydiving is an excellent “air-skills” training tool for novice and experienced skydivers alike, it does not address the dynamics of exiting an aircraft, emergency procedures, or how to fly and land a parachute safely.

USPA should remain an association for “Parachuting”, and mentor the IBA, NAA or whatever association develops in the future where “indoor skydiving” governance and competitions are concerned. I see these organizations supporting and working with each other, but they should remain separate as the disciplines become quite different once exiting an aircraft is involved. On this path, any USPA funding of a U.S. TEAM would only be allocated to teams that exit an aircraft in flight for their competition discipline. Indoor Skydiving needs to have its own organization to govern training, indoor competitions and funding of the U.S. Indoor Skydiving Team. World Class competitors in “freefall” disciplines that have never exited a flying aircraft should be recognized for the applications of their acquired skills. The inherent element of danger that is introduced once you exit an aircraft in flight is a distinctive differentiator between the two disciplines.

Somehow the IBA should be the governing body for Indoor Skydiving and licenses issued by the IBA should be the accepted method of a sporting license to satisfy the FAI’s competition requirements.

I do think USPA should embrace the new sport of “indoor skydiving”, but from afar in a mentorship role, and continue to delegate the governance of the indoor discipline to the IBA, or whatever that organization morphs into.

Jon Yonke
D-8905

Emiiano Basile
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 15:52

This is easy, I think.
I'm gonna risk saying the obvious: Tunnel flying is... flying inside a tunnel :P. There's no sky involved, nor diving for that matter. So no, tunnel flying is not skydiving. USPA should stay out of it.

Nick Halseth
Fri, 07/07/2017 - 19:53

How much more simple can it get?

I consider that line that used to be popular. 'If riding in an airplane is flying. Then riding in a boat is swimming.' Apparently the update is, 'If tunnel flying is skydiving. Then what is skydiving?'

Wind tunnels teach a tiny part of what it takes to be a skydiver. Granted, the current drop zone trends make the act of skydiving as easy as they can. In so doing, they've taken away plenty of opportunities to learn, much less regularly practice, many skills. That does not mean the sport should be watered down even more.

Thomas Desmond
Sat, 07/08/2017 - 12:04

tunnel flying is not skydiving.Basically its indoor acrobatics in a man made wind tunnel. I don't believe the uspa had any business here. Just my opinion

Elisha Corliss
Sat, 07/08/2017 - 17:25

No.

chet aziah
Sun, 07/09/2017 - 10:02

Clearly tunnel flying is not skydiving. While one is a great way to practice for the other, the two have little in common except body control while penetrating wind and the "feeling" of free fall. Do you wear a parachute, that must be deployed in order to save your life, while practicing in the tunnel? Are emergency procedures and the routine practice of these procedures critical to tunnel flying? Is an aircraft involved and are you in the sky? No...Nuff said!!!

I agree that the name "indoor skydiving" is the problem first and foremost. Tunnel flying is a much better name. If it gets people interested in skydiving, due to their confidence growing through repeated practice in the tunnel, well that's great for the sport of skydiving. The more the merrier when it comes to people entering the sport. But let's not confuse the two as being related. Clearly you can't equate 14 hours of tunnel time into 840 skydives.

I believe the USPA should actively take part in promoting tunnel competitions, promoting the safe practice of tunnel training as related to the sport of skydiving, and encouraging tunnel flying as a separate sub division of the sport. Why not? It's fun, its effective as a training tool and it should be used to promote awareness in regards to the sport of skydiving. Blue Skies!

Patrick Shields
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:19

I think that tunnel flying should not be incorporated into the USPA. I feel that doing so would dilute the efforts of the organization. The potential benefits of a small increase in membership numbers seem to be greatly outweighed by the risks of losing ground on the continued efforts that have long been very important to skydiving. Efforts such as airport and airspace access, and a strong relationship with the FAA. I would rather have the efforts of the USPA and my membership dollars to stay focused on these efforts. This focus is particularly important in light of current concerns over ATC privatization.
- "Plan the dive, dive the plan!"

Daniel Arnett
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 13:41

I agree with the people saying the USPA should not be involved in regulating indoor skydiving. The USPA should however determine what role they want indoor skydiving to play in training.

Should someone with 1000 hours of tunnel time be expected to perform the same AFF progression as others? Should tunnel time contribute towards a portion of total freefall time? Should instructors teaching tunnel rats be trained to temper the student's expectations in freefall? What about students who completely fail the freefall portion of their jump, should those students be allowed to continue on condition of some indoor training?

Indoor skydiving is its own sport and community. But when it comes to training our instructors should have some procedure in place for dealing with students who have indoor experience, and maybe the USPA should consider rewarding those students who come prepared with bodyflight experience.

scotty lyle
Tue, 07/11/2017 - 19:26

tunnel time is not skydiving the same as non alchoholic beer is not beer!

where's the buzz??

FREEFALL!

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 15:44

Despite tunnel flying being called 'indoor skydiving' it is really the best name for marketing the activity to the general public. Tunnel flying really is just human flight, while skydiving has this same aspect in freefall, the two are completely unrelated in the needs for having a safe experience.

The USPA should steer clear of any regulation when it comes to the safety and operation of a wind tunnel - it literally has nothing to do with similar areas in skydiving.

What would be nice would be involvement and support from a competition angle.

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