Strojírna Litvínov is one of the most experienced wind tunnel manufacturers in the world. The technology of vertical wind tunnels, which they supply as a free-fall simulator (so-called Body Flying), ranks among the best and highest quality in the world at all.
The current deterioration of the security situation, not only in Europe, increases the general support for investment in security, both defence and military. At the same time, however, there will be increasing pressure to improve the safety, speed and efficiency of training while keeping costs as low as possible. The wind tunnel offers a solution that meets all these requirements.
We talked about the benefits of wind tunnel training and the trends in training with the director of the wind tunnel production division, Jan Špatka, from Strojírna Litvínov, who without hesitation took on the role of a paratrooper for our interview at our request, and thus became a symbol of the internal setup of the entire company, which is based on courage, innovation and the desire to try and find unexplored paths…
How long have you been working with military clients?
Since the beginning of the wind tunnel division, we have been focused mainly on sports and tourist applications, but even these civilian installations are also used by the military. We have been implementing our first purely military applications since 2013.
What range of tunnels do you offer, and how wide a range of training can be covered within each solution?
As standard, we offer flight chambers from 3.6 to 5.2 meters. In case of special requirements, we can offer a tailor-made solution thanks to our company’s complete design and production capacity. Standard tunnels offer space for two (3.6m wind tunnel) up to eight (5.2m wind tunnel) students flying simultaneously in full gear.
Each of these tunnels also offers performance for special training at high speeds up to 280 km/h. The latest models of our tunnels come with a Base-Jump Door facility for special airborne training. For training to land on a designated target, a virtual reality option (VR) can be used.
Professional paratroopers are an essential part of any army. Until now, training qualified airborne units has been high-risk, complex, time-consuming, and extremely expensive. What are the benefits of incorporating a wind tunnel simulator into training?
Training becomes cheaper, of course, and for logical reasons – drastically reduced fuel costs, pilot salary, and aircraft wear and tear, to name the most obvious.
From my point of view, the most important thing is that training becomes safer at the same time – you train at a safe altitude, under the constant supervision of an instructor, the vertical wind tunnel provides free-fall conditions in a controlled environment.
This brings another indisputable benefit – the training of the student is accelerated by the fact that our solution allows him any length of the free fall, he can train longer than when jumping from an airplane and better master the necessary exercises, or the acquisition of the necessary experience is faster.
Elimination of weather influence is also essential – it is possible to train at any time. Efficiency is another indisputable advantage of our solution – thanks to the integrated video system, it is possible to immediately check the correct execution of training and analyze errors before the next training.
The tunnel will allow him to train for non-standard situations – jumps with full equipment (suspended equipment), unbalanced equipment on the body, jumps with a dog, sudden loss of balance, simulation of suboptimal weather conditions, jumps at night with night vision and so on. Simply, in our tunnel, you can prepare yourself for everything that Agent 007 can do.
In most cases, skydiving is more about mental than physical abilities. It requires strong and specific mental skills, from coping with the fear of jumping out of a plane to focusing on very specific tasks. For what scenarios/situations is wind tunnel training particularly beneficial?
Due to the very realistic wind tunnel environment, the skills learned in the wind tunnel are directly applicable to a real jump, so to answer your question, the training is ideal primarily for practicing basic freefall control skills. Learning these skills also increases the parachutist’s mental resilience in a real jump from an aircraft – he already knows what is going to happen. If complete special training is done, the adept is well trained and will be able to handle special tasks such as night jumps, HaLo-HaHo (editor’s note: High Altitude – Low Opening and High Altitude – High Opening), head down jumps, etc. and will therefore be able to concentrate mainly on the specific objectives of the task and the actual control of his fall is already at that moment, thanks to the training in the tunnel, to some extent automated.
The more you progress on the parachute path, the more important the physical skills become. Training in vertical wind tunnels can be carried out for an unlimited period of flight in a safe environment and in all weather conditions. What specifically can military pilots “tune-up” in the tunnel during training and what are they preparing for? What conditions can be simulated within the tunnels? What experiences can a pilot do in a tunnel that would not be possible in conventional training because they are not safe enough, for example?
We start on the basic skills of body control and flying “on the belly”. We continue with the advanced skills of handling non-standard situations when unbalancing the position, in an erroneous free fall maneuver, controlling the direction and speed of the fall, communicating with other members of the jump or simulating non-ideal weather conditions such as fog, turbulence, rain. Different training modes are associated with the HaLo section, which involves long freefall jumps and the ability to change the falling positions of prone, seated, supine and dive flight. The final phase of training is practicing the above skills with various types of equipment, which places increased demands on good balance and a strong emphasis on impaired equipment handling, impaired human mobility with equipment, and altered/delayed flight control recalls on rehearsed control maneuvers.
What systems are your tunnels equipped with?
Let me answer this question in bullet points for clarity:
- Airflow control without turbulence
- Continuous speed control
- Rapid flow rate change system
- Control of basic air parameters (humidity, temperature)
- Safety net
- Safety stop
- Stop in the non-standard situations (vibration, temperature, pressure)
- Information and safety light signals to the flight chamber
- Flywheel system to ensure a safe landing in case of power failure
- Control sensor system for temperature, pressure, humidity, vibration
- Active cooling system
- Equal pressure vestibule – waiting chamber – free entry and exit to and from the flight chamber
- Flight chamber information display
- Video system
- Base jump door
- Remote control at the flight chamber entrance
I should also mention here that the lifetime of the tunnel is based on the lifetime of the main propulsion units, which are designed for 100,000 working hours, equivalent to up to 35 years when flying 8 hours per day.
What markets are commercially interesting for you at the moment and what is the timetable for the execution of the contract?
We are certainly focusing on all markets without any preferences, but if you will ask me where we are currently active with some projects than I should mention markets of Europe, South America, Africa and Asia. Project execution is in months, specifically 4-7 months for production and about 4-7 months for on-site assembly, so the length of the project total is somewhere around 10-12 months. We have some of the technology units in stock so it is possible in some cases to accelerate delivery dates significantly. We are also flexible to distribute production between our factory and end user, when or example supporting steel structure or some other items can produce locally, which can save not only a delivery time but also capex costs and transportation expenses. Practically each project is individual, and we are trying to be as flexible to our client as possible to find the most time and financially efficient solution.
Where do you currently see the most potential?
We see the greatest potential in training applications, as not only the price/benefit ratio but also the objective results of the use of this training equipment speaks clearly for its massive expansion and inclusion as a mandatory part of any parachute training.
In what direction will the training of military pilots/parachutists evolve?
There will probably be an increase in the number of very highly professional parachutists capable of handling even extreme tasks, whose training is too risky and expensive without the use of the wind tunnel.
What are the main trends in the world in terms of training?
Recently, in addition to the already classic wind tunnel training, there are trainings with special equipment such as night vision goggles or training with full military equipment including jumps with live animals. One of the latest trends is training methods using VR (Virtual Reality) systems to train target search and flight guidance to that target, or a combination of two simulators for two phases of the jump:
- Wind Tunnel for training the jump and free fall phases and
- A parachute jump simulator to simulate the phase of flight from parachute opening to landing – for example, the SOKOL system from eSigma.
Actual trends also lead towards developing of advanced training facilities covering more type of parachuting simulators at one place (like cooperation between wind tunnel and parachute simulator mentioned above). We also register a trend of complex deliveries, so called “Tailor made and Turn-Key-Solutions”, where we deliver not only our technology, but the complete facility including all civil works, installation, provisioning, training and operation.
What are the main trends in the world in wind tunnel development?
I think every manufacturer keeps this answer as internal information, but in 2020 was organized in Empuriabrava the “Indoor Skydiving 2020 | First Global Summit”, where all Wind Tunnel Manufacturers and Operators clearly indicated following trends of wind tunnel body flying:
- Increasing the general safety of wind tunnels,
- Definition of general safety rules of wind tunnel operation,
- Increasing run times in the event of a power failure,
- upgrading monitoring systems and predicting possible abnormal situations
- increasing comfort in the flight chamber (temperature control, reduction of turbulence, noise reduction, …)
- and increasing the efficiency of operation – reducing wind tunnel energy consumption.
What challenges are you currently facing and how are you solving them?
Fewer reliable people, more expensive materials, longer lead times for material, higher energy prices and higher client demands are the main challenges that will be increasingly difficult to cope with. In this respect, our company has a great competitive advantage, as we are the only company with a complete line from aerodynamic design, trough detailed production documentation up to a complete technology production. Thanks to a fully equipped production capacity at our facility in Litvínov (CZ), including capacity for assembly, maintenance and regular servicing we are able to offset some of above challenges and mitigate their impact on the end customer.