Being an indoor skydiving instructor has been the most challenging and fun job I’ve ever had. After flying we always get the questions about what being an instructor is like, so I’ll address some of those here along with some other interesting perks of the job.
The first thing everyone wants to know is how much we get to fly. I’ve lost count of how many hours I’ve been in the wind by now. Including first-timer classes and coaching, I think I’m hovering around 1300ish hours in there after 3 years. About 3/4 of this is with my feet on the net though, so I’m really good at walking. We usually get about an hour and half a month of personal flight time that we can only share with close family. This policy has changed from the old days when you could bring anyone to fly on your time (including the occasional date, I miss those days). We also get to fly when we are training to get our new instructor levels, this can be anywhere from 30 minutes a month to 4+ hours depending on availability of time and trainers.
Training is a huge part of our job. Before becoming instructors we have to go through the flight instructor training program (FITP for short). It is usually 3 to 4 weeks of walking and catching spots. We have to be able to move in there without thinking and catch any body position a first timer might get into their first session. These 4 weeks are like a tunnel boot camp. FITP is usually conducted overnight and is about 2 hours of in-the-wind training per instructor. After graduating we start training for the next levels of instructing and it takes a few years to get through all of them.
The day to day is pretty simple. If you sit down at the tunnel and watch us for a few hours you’ll know basically what the whole day consists of. We grab a group of students, teach them how to fly in the classroom, gear them up, throw them into the wind, de-gear them, and then go drive -- lather, rinse & repeat.
In the early morning, we also check the whole tunnel for anything out of the ordinary. This means we go to the basement (called the plenum), the chiller yard (air condition for the tunnel wind), and the fans to check every aspect of them to make sure the day will run smoothly. At night we clean the glass. Sometimes we also change frayed cables if the day is going slow or do other maintenance that management deems necessary.
Looks easy right? Well, it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Our job in the tunnel is keeping people safe while providing a fun experience. Sometimes this translates to wrestling people in the wind tunnel that are literally twice as big as we are at wind speeds that we can sitfly in. Our weight limit is 300lbs and I weigh 130lbs, that math adds up to me having to have perfect technique and a good windspeed controller (driver).
With that in mind, you can see why instructors are very prone to developing injuries, especially in their shoulders. While the IBA and iFly management are always working on bettering the safety of their instructors, first-timers and high flights take a toll on our body. Most instructors develop shoulder problems after a few years but with good maintenance and working out, they are able to stay in the wind.
As far as pay goes, let’s just say that it is enough for us to live and get by, but most of us have other sources of income. For me it is the private coaching, some instructors work another job part-time. All negatives aside, our benefits are fantastic and being in the wind every day is awesome
This is easily the best job I’ve ever had. I love the camaraderie inherent of being an instructor and these guys are my family. It is challenging and fun and not one day is the same.
This article was written by Nico Gonzalez, instructor & coach at iFly Westchester and indoor skydiving ninja extraordinaire. Nico has been an indoor skydiving coach and instructor since 2014. He placed first in open freestyle at the Woodlands IBA Competition in 2016 and competes year round. He also runs an amazing podcast dedicated to indoor skydiving: ostrichflight.com