18 years ago, the first SkyVenture Vertical Wind Tunnel was born in Orlando, FL. In April 2017, a new iFLY wind tunnel, or should we say two new tunnels, open on International Drive, Florida. "The Twins" as they are affectionately known, mark the end of one era and the dawn of another.
Jennifer Sensenbaugh takes a look back and a look forward. Here's how it all began:
1997: Mike Palmer designs the first vertical wind tunnel for Bill Kitchen, the owner of SkyCoaster, as another fun tourist attraction in the Orlando & Disney area.
1998: In September, SkyVenture Orlando on International Drive opens its doors. It is the first patented wall-to-wall airflow wind tunnel, 12-ft in diameter with an octagonal shape. This original design has 5 fans at the top with no recirculating wind, no climate control, and no doors that could open and close during the flight session. Despite not having all of the bells & whistles the new designs have, this technology was innovative, revolutionary, and state-of-the-art for its time.
1998-2000: SkyVenture Orlando struggles to appeal to both the skydiver market and first time flyers. The skydiver community is skeptical.
2000: SkyVenture Orlando starts to grow its appeal for 1st time flyers and gains some success from the busy tourist market.
2001: Airspeed and Alan Metni create www.tunnelcamp.com. With this influence from the top skydiving teams in the world, skydivers begin to recognize the wind tunnel as a powerful training tool, and game changer for the industry.
2002: Alan Metni joins SkyVenture as CEO
2005: SkyVenture sells SkyVenture Orlando to a private company. It continues to operate as popular entertainment to both first time flyers, and skydivers utilizing it as a training tool.
2010: SkyVenture buys the Orlando tunnel back, and rebrands it as iFLY Orlando shortly after that.
2010-2016: As multiple other updated design facilities in the US open, iFLY Orlando consistently operates in the top tier of high performing wind tunnels in the world.
The new iFLY Orlando facility consists of two, 12 ft. recirculating wind tunnels each built as single loop, one return air towers. The flight chambers are ground level and function independently of each other with separate driving booths. The construction includes a meeting room, party room, and open glass viewing area where spectators can see from the outside of the building.
The new building will mark the closing of the original tunnel. If those old octagonal plexi-glass tunnel walls could talk, they could tell some great stories. From numerous paint jobs on the outside, having the check-in desk/retail area in a separate trailer from the tunnel, walking up three flights of stairs to get to the flight deck, multiple cats living on property, lines out the door during high seasons, using an 8 stack DVD burner to get customers their photos and video, and having to tell customers you’re on a weather hold because it’s raining in the tunnel.
May she rest in peace.