USPA involvement with Wind Tunnel Industry
Gearing Up | Oct 01, 2017
USPA involvement with Wind Tunnel Industry

Ed Scott

At its July meeting, USPA’s board of directors approved a resolution that, eff ective November 1, USPA “will not use association resources to support the sport of ‘indoor skydiving,’ except to nominate international judges to such IPC [International Parachuting Commission] events as appropriate. USPA will seek to encourage, foster and cooperate with any emerging national governing body for tunnel flying.” As a result, effective next month, USPA is officially out of the wind-tunnel business. 

If you read Randy Connell’s piece “Is Indoor Skydiving Skydiving?” in the July issue of Parachutist, you understand that both the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and the IPC (the world’s aviation competition authority and the world’s parachuting competition authority, respectively) created a dilemma for USPA when they adopted indoor skydiving as a new discipline of skydiving. By doing so, the FAI and IPC handed the new discipline’s competition and record responsibilities to each country’s parachuting body, including USPA for the U.S. This happened despite USPA’s loud “no” vote at the IPC meeting where the majority of countries passed the measure. 

There is no question that tunnel competition is a dynamic, growing sport that needs and deserves national and world governing bodies. And wind tunnels may introduce increased numbers of the public to actual skydiving. But if you believe that the sport of skydiving always begins by exiting an aircra and always ends by landing under a parachute, then it follows that being suspended in a wind tunnel is not skydiving. That was USPA’s premise from the very start.

Our first dilemma arose a er FAI/IPC adoption of the indoor discipline in 2014. U.S. wind tunnel competitors, most of whom were USPA members and many of whom were skydiving medalists, wanted to compete for selection to the newest U.S. Team. Following that, the U.S. Indoor Skydiving Team needed an organization to handle registration and logistics and assign team leaders and team managers to assist. While USPA could have simply turned its back, instead it decided to informally delegate many of the responsibilities to the International Bodyflight Association, which willingly took them on and performed well. Quickly enough, there were indoor records to be certified and filed. Once again, USPA stepped up so that members would receive their records, even if those records weren’t in the sport USPA represents—skydiving. But in so doing, we recognized that the passage of each year began to solidify USPA’s involvement in a sport that is not skydiving.

It was time for USPA to decide once and for all. Would we bow to the FAI/IPC decision and assume competition and record-keeping responsibility for a sport that is not skydiving? The pros and cons filled both sides of a ledger. Wind tunnels are going up and opening at a prodigious rate, generating excitement in each new city. Wind tunnels could be a new source for members and a way to introduce and prepare youth to enter skydiving when they reach 18. Wind-tunnel competitions are spectator-friendly and could potentially reach Olympic status.

On the other hand, wind tunnels could stretch USPA resources and divert skydivermember revenues. Recall Parachutist’s April “Gearing Up” column recounting the brief period in the late 1970s when USPA actively engaged in opening El Capitan to legal BASE jumps. Had the El Cap test succeeded, hindsight tells us that USPA would have begun representing two distinctly different sports: skydiving and BASE jumping. If USPA had diverted our government relations and safety efforts from skydiving to BASE activities then, skydiving’s level of safety and governmental acceptance most likely would not have reached the high levels of success they enjoy today. Fortunately, USPA can now keep focused on advocating for skydiving and skydiving only, and rightly so.

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