A Brief History
In the early 1940s pilots and engineers were pushing aircraft tolerances to the limit, occasionally experiencing an unusual and very frightening aerodynamic phenomenon called a flat spin which can render the aeroplane controls virtually useless.To better understand aerodynamic forces including those of a flat spin, in 1950 the Ministry of Defence agency, DERA (Defence Evaluation & Research Agency) built a 16 and a half foot vertical spinning tunnel in Bedford. A large propeller pulls a column of air up through the middle of the tunnel and a researcher places a small scale model aeroplane by hand, into the centre of the airflow and set it into a flat spin. As the model spins downward the operator increases wind speeds until the model's fall is just balanced by the airflow, then the control surfaces of the model are systematically activated, to find out which ones allow the model to recover from the spin.
In the early 1970s the tunnel's pressure characteristics were ideal to meet the need for testing of a different kind. Compressed air was stored and blasted past ejector seats and other test objects. By using compression equipment in the adjoining building, the air would be pressurised to up to four atmospheres, hence the need for large airlock doors as seen in the viewing gallery and the portholes in the entrance platform.The tunnel continued in this use until it was de-militarised and abandoned in 1997. The next few years saw both the British Parachute Association and the MOD research the upgrading of the tunnel for skydiving use, but to no avail.
In the winter of 2001, Bodyflight Director Paul Mayer went on holiday to Sebastian in Florida to do an AFF skydiving course. After his level 4 lesson he booked some time at a nearby skydiving wind tunnel to assist with his progression. After a few moments, Paul was hooked and wondered why there was no facility of this kind in the UK.
On his return home, Paul set to work with the help of his friend and business partner, Mike Maddock. Three years of extensive wind tunnel research ensued, resulting in a partnership with Bodyflying Zurich and the acquisition, permissions and funding for Bodyflight Bedford. In January 2005 Paul moved on site with a handful of employees and the UK's first and World's largest skydiving wind tunnel was born.
The Leisure centre
In 2006 it was decided that Bodyflight should have other activities to offer the many people staying on site in the accommodation. Work then began in 2007 on the construction of a luxury hydrotherapy pool and leisure centre in one of the empty parts of the building. It took over two years to complete this massive project and the leisure centre finally opened in August 2009.
In this photo on the right you can see the construction of the pool. The 1.5 meter deep swimming pool had to be dug out of the solid concrete floor before it could be lined, waterproofed and tiled.
Since 2005 the Bodyflight wind tunnel has been a world leading facility and Director Paul Mayer has always been on the search for something to bring a new and exciting edge to the site. In October 2009 work began on FlowHouse, a venue that combines sport, lifestyle and entertainment bringing surf cluture to the heart of the UK.
The Flow house is on the 1st floor of the Bodyflight building in what was previously known as the compressor room; so called because this warehouse used to house the large compression equipment required to blast the pressurised air past ejector seats when these were tested in the wind tunnel in the 1970’s. (See picture on left)
Since October 2009 a basement, ground floor and 1st floor have all been built, a massive project using over 70,000 bricks and a lot of dedication!