Over the years our tunnelrat community has grown from a few Flyaway Indoor Skydiving enthusiasts, to include dozens of tunnels world wide. While we started small, eventually our community swelled with mingling of experienced skydivers and old school tunnel rats. Tunnel numbers went from 10 or so world wide when we started out in ’98 to now more than 40 tunnels across the globe! Indoor, outdoor, portable, wall to wall, recirculating, fresh air, some have airbags others have big nets, the configurations are many and we enjoy the air in every single one.
Along the way our community has grown with new members while our original tunnelrats split off into many directions. Some of us became competition skydivers taking home medals nearly every year, think Arizona Airspeed, others have grown into amazing and wonderful tunnel instructors spreading the love to new people on a daily basis. Believe it or not a few of us now even own Wind Tunnels, not me personally 😉 !!! Many of us starting out in our teens grew into adults with families and children, who we also took flying as soon as a helmet would fit them! And still a whole big bunch of us never stop flying or loving the tunnel while others seem to grow past it eventually and live happily in the memory of those days.
My name is Dawn Suiter and I am the creator/owner/editor of Bodyflight Network, a website to help tunnel flyers find other tunnels. I was fortunate enough to be directly involved with the opening, selling and marketing of a few vertical wind tunnels during those early years. I was a founding sister of the Pink Mafia Tunnel Sisters, now disbanded and had the opportunity to travel and fly many tunnels through the years. My now ex-husband John Glenn Suiter, we were together 17 adventurous years, was one of this Industry’s early pioneers. He started out in the early 80s at Flyaway Pigeon Forge and began accumulating a ridiculous amount of flight time in tunnels here and abroad. Back when he started flying, no one KNEW how to fly, they just knew that they could. They learned, the hard way, how to make it happen in slow tunnels with baggy suits and no instruction. Fearless, as teenagers often are, they became adventurers in a foreign land. After a few years more tunnels opened and the exchange of ideas became part of the routine. Tunnels across the globe would exchange instructors and share the knowledge and the love, embracing the different experiences and instruction styles.
I remember in 1998 when we went to consult on the opening of the first SkyVenture in Orlando, FL just like it was yesterday. I was lucky enough to be the 3rd person to test fly a SkyVenture; the dream of one Bill Kitchen. That was a dangerous place to be, back then the Lexan was THIN, and flexed/bowed in out of it’s frame when we flew; it still had paper backing on it even! The backdrop was a projector screen that displayed clouds trying to simulate falling through the sky and the noise was intolerable. A crazy contraption it was at the time, and has since been improved greatly! It has grown into a valuable tool for skydivers and readily available in tourist locations for the general public to enjoy too.
Today with the addition of the IBA, International Bodyflight Association, instruction & training has become regimented and scripted. For those wanting to become expert skydivers or stunt flyers this is a great tool. The IBA has made it quick and simple for anyone to learn to do tricks and stunts in their style wind tunnel and if you want to become excellent quickly, you will spend your money on one of their training classes and courses available at EVERY iFLY and nearly every SkyVenture tunnel.
If you are into flying because it feels AMAZING but not interested in become a stunt artist that is okay too! We don’t all become competitive, nor do we all become amazing stunt flyers either. I personally enjoy flying with friends in a fun relaxed atmosphere, and I have been known to just lay on my belly or back and close my eyes and just fly. No stress, no pressure on what to do with my tunnel time, just fly. Have you ever flown with your eyes closed? It’s quite the experience!
I personally decided to put flying on hold for a few years, so that I could be around for my daughter while she finished High School. Now that she’s grown up a new direction is certainly called for as many things fell out of “currency”. After a couple of years of reaching out to the community for help with updates and getting no serious responses, I decided to begin resurrecting Bodyflight Network on my own. Gladly accepting help and making new friendships on my way, I am now making my way around to as many tunnels as I can get to. This helps me to refresh the online data and get to know the new folks in the industry that I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting. Fortunately I have been very welcome everywhere I’ve gone so far.
Dawn Suiter Tunnelflyer Logbook
First Tunnel Flight – July 1997 Louisiana
Total Tunnel Time Summary:
- Powerflyte Portable, TX/LA – 15 hours
- Flyaway Indoor Skydiving TN- +/- 10 hours
- SkyVenture Orlando – +/- 5 hours
- Lifted Entertainment/X-treme Air – +/- 3.5 hours
- Jus’ Fly/ ADREN-L-N – +/- 2 hours
- Appalachian Amusement Center’s L-1 VWT – +/- 37 hours
- Vegas Indoor Skydiving NV – +/- 2 hours
- SkyVenture Perris – +/- 30 minutes
- SkyVenture New Hampshire – +/- 5 hours
- VR Skydive – 5 minutes
- NEW!!!! iFLY Hollywood – 8 minutes on 11/11/15
- …. it feels like I forgot one…. 😀