45 years of AERODIUM innovations

It is the 45th anniversary of the world’s first-ever recreational vertical wind tunnel flight. Who was the person behind this world-changing invention? What is the Latvian connection seemingly ‘written in the stars’? And what developments have been taking place in the world of indoor skydiving over the past few decades?

Paratrooper inventor

It is fair to say that this invention was not only an important turning point in the history of aviation, but it also signalled the genesis of AERODIUM, which is now the world’s top producer of vertical wind tunnels.

Who was Jean St-Germain?

Even though the first vertical wind tunnels were constructed in the early 20th century for scientific and military training purposes, it wasn’t until 1979 that Canadian paratrooper and inventor Jean St-Germain built the world’s first vertical wind tunnel for his parachute students in Saint-Simon-de-Bagot, near Montreal. Jean’s goal was to build a wind tunnel so they could practice freefalling more safely and effectively. He did this by building it with a central air column and a padded area around it that ensured the flyers’ safety if they were to fall out of the air column. 

Born in Drummondville, Quebec, Jean made his first ‘breakthrough’ as an inventor, aged just 16 years old, when he noticed that babies ingested air when they used plastic bottles. Using his sixth sense for things he observed, he then designed a plastic bag inside a baby bottle that collapsed as a baby drank, later selling the patent for this to a businessman for $1000. We know his invention today as the world-famous Playtex Baby Bottle.

We can learn much about those people who have positively changed the world through Wikipedia pages and newspaper articles, but often the best way to understand more about these remarkable individuals is through the people who knew them. According to Jean Saint Germain’s son, Daniel: 

The $1000 wasn’t a lot of money, but Daniel says his father was “very happy to receive this money as he knew afterwards he could make a living making inventions.”

Robot restaurants and pyramids

Jean designed and built ultralight airplanes and climbing platforms and “reinvested money into new inventions.” He even created a ‘Robot restaurant’ and built a pyramid on his land.

Daniel says his father liked finding solutions to problems and was always inventing: “Home life was like a circus,”

When he passed away, aged 79, from pancreatic cancer, Jean had more than 50 patents to his name, 100+ inventions, and created a great deal of employment around the world through his innovations. “Our father said don’t give up, there is always a way.” Daniel says his father was a man of perseverance, inspiration, and a free man who “saw things through to the end. The sky was the limit for him.”

A family-run business becomes a multinational enterprise 

Few people would have known unless they read this blog, that Jean Saint Germain was a huge family man with twelve children (Jean, himself, was the seventh of eleven!). Not only were the children enthusiastic about their father’s most exciting invention, but they also came up with the name, AERODIUM. 

Indeed, it was Jean’s family who helped to run the facility from day one. As Gina St. Germain describes it:

“It was my sister Lucie who was in charge of managing the business. The oldest children all worked at the Aerodium; in the canteen or at the booking counter. The place was run by the family. It attracted a lot of parachutists from everywhere. The location itself attracted a lot of tourists, as it was built on the highway connecting Quebec City to Montréal. My father often said, ‘I am an inventor, not an administrator.’ He quickly got bored with the Aerodium itself and extended his project into an amusement park,” Gina explains. 

What started life as a family business, has now turned into a global industry. 

Who was the first person to recreationally test fly the newly built AERODIUM? Unfortunately, at that time, no one took photos to record this famous event for posterity, but Jean’s daughter Gina St-Germain explains: “It was one of his children who came up with the name Aerodium. And it was me who tested it.” 

The advent of indoor skydiving

Indoor skydiving was made possible by Jean Saint Germain, the creator of what was then known as indoor body flying. Millions of people throughout the world have since experienced the pleasure and sensation of open-air flying thanks to the innovations that have taken place over the decades that followed.

Throughout history, the desire to fly has inspired many inventions. From the first hot-air balloon flight by Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier to the momentous first flight by the Wright brothers, these historical moments, which we now take for granted, were previously thought to be unattainable, far-off fantasies. Through their inventive spirit, people like Jean St-Germain’s curiosity and bravery made these seemingly unattainable ideas a reality. 

Spirit of innovation 

St-Germain was the very embodiment of this innovative spirit, working across various fields with novel approaches to existing concepts. His ability to create something unique and beneficial for people set him apart. The whole skydiving industry has benefited from Jean St-Germain’s invention, making indoor skydiving possible and accessible to more people than ever before.

Written in the stars?

They say there are no such things as coincidences in life. But if coincidences and chance luck are real, then it certainly explains why the vertical wind tunnel industry is what it is today:

It was in the Canary Islands that Jean St-Germain’s son, Francois, met the future CEO of Aerodium, the Latvian stuntman and entrepreneur Ivars Beitāns. The rest, as they say, is history!

A Latvian innovator takes over

Ivars Beitāns, a Latvian innovator, realised that he wanted to provide thrill-seekers in Latvia with something fresh and exciting. Almost twenty years later, what began as a fervent desire to create something unique for residents to enjoy has seen his passion and vision transform his business into one of the most creative vertical wind tunnel manufacturing enterprises in the world. Today, AERODIUM not only manufactures and operates vertical wind tunnels, but also provides a wide variety of innovative vertical wind tunnel applications for the retailtainment and show business industries across the planet. 

Who is Ivars Beitāns?

From Sigulda, Latvia, Ivars has always been driven by a desire to seek new ways and novel approaches to achieving things that haven’t been achieved before. In this sense, he shares many similar characteristics with the great Jean St-Germain.

Ivars became a stuntman and began touring Latvia with his daredevil shows, impressing audiences wherever he went. This experience taught Ivars a lot about the incredible capabilities humans possess, as well as a few things about technology and show business. Seeds were sown; his imagination lit up with endless possibilities.   

Inspired by a new found sense of freedom

With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Latvian people realised that they had the freedom to do whatever they wished. However, faced with these newfound freedoms, not everyone had the imagination and foresight to take full advantage. Ivars, though, had no such clouded thinking, and set his mind on new achievements. One of the first things he did in this atmosphere of freshly acquired freedom, was to create the first-ever bungee jump cord made out of a tractor tyre inner tube. He immediately showcased this by putting on a spectacular show in the centre of Riga, complete with a live TVC broadcast. Latvian Bungee jumping was born, and Ivars still runs it to this very day in Latvia’s Little Switzerland, Sigulda, from a gondola with its breathtaking views 43 metres above the beautiful river Gauja Valley. 

Dreaming of a Baltic first for thrill seekers

Encouraged by his bungee jumping business’s early success, Ivars felt obliged to bring Sigulda visitors more inventive and exciting experiences. Ivars recognised that there was an opportunity for something new and electrifying: a vertical wind tunnel, which he purchased directly from the Saint Germain family. Ivars’ mission was clear and simple: he wanted to create the first vertical wind tunnel project in the Baltic republics, giving thrill-seekers a one-of-a-kind and unforgettable experience. 

Innovation inspiring positive change

There were only four vertical wind tunnels in all of Europe at that time, and none in the Baltic region.  

Recognising this opportunity, Latvia’s first vertical wind tunnel was established. Nobody, in truth, could possibly have imagined or predicted what an incredible journey would follow over the next two decades until today.

Wind tunnels at that time were very basic and limited compared to what we have in the 2020s, and thanks to technological advancements and relentless innovation, indoor flying has become available to anyone who wishes to enjoy it, from the thrill seeker to professional skydivers for training.

It is the spirit of innovation passed down through the ages from men like Jean Saint Germain in the past and Ivars Beitāns today that has given witness to AERODIUM becoming what it now is: the world’s leading vertical wind tunnel manufacturer and the provider of a range of vertical wind tunnel applications for incredible events, and the show business and movie industries.

Futuristic vision

Much like Jean Saint-Germain, Ivars Beitāns’ creative spirit saw him inspired by a futuristic vision to innovate for thrill seekers and the show business industry alike. Naturally, this spirit of innovation at the heart of AERODIUM has paved the way for more dynamic vertical wind tunnel industry applications. By sheer luck and coincidence, it was Ivars who met Jean St. Germain. Was it written in the stars that these two inventors and innovators should meet and elevate the whole industry to a new level? It certainly feels like that. 

Two decades of world-changing innovation

Let’s look at some of the key events and milestones in the world of vertical wind tunnels during the past two decades:

2006: Inspiring the world  

The first major milestone in raising public awareness of vertical wind tunnels was AERODIUM’s custom-built tunnel being showcased during the closing ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. It was the first time a global audience had ever witnessed such a spectacle – and one that prompted a surge of interest in vertical wind tunnels and bodyflight. It was also a momentous occasion for everyone involved with AERODIUM, especially the awareness that for many people around the world it was the first time they ever witnessed people ‘flying’. 

2010: Putting Latvia on the global map 

AERODIUM was chosen as the main showpiece for the Republic of Latvia’s participation at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. For this occasion, AERODIUM created, through an innovative approach, the first ever fully transparent recirculating vertical wind tunnel as the centrepiece of the Latvia pavilion. Boasting a 360° viewing area, AERODIUM delivered a record-breaking 28 daily shows to Latvia Pavilion visitors; an incredible 5040 shows over the 6-month lifetime of the exhibition, witnessed by over one million people.

2013: Another global first

Through extensive research, AERODIUM created a heavy-duty, custom-made B.A.S.E. jump chamber that was integrated into a vertical wind tunnel. This was opened in April 2013 at Finland’s Sirius Sport resort. This B.A.S.E. jump chamber simulated an athlete’s jump in a controlled environment and a new standard for the vertical wind tunnel industry. The wind tunnel featured a 12-metre flight chamber, 9 metres of which were fully transparent glass.

2015: The first flight amphitheatre

The creation of a wind tunnel flight amphitheatre created one of the world’s great audience spectacles. Anyone lucky enough to visit Dengfeng, China, can witness first hand flying monks and 200 kung fu masters displaying their skills in one of the most visually stunning shows imaginable. Embodying cultural legacy, long standing traditions, and cutting-edge technologies, flying acrobats soar 15 metres up into the air during the show. Additionally, visitors can enjoy safe flights in an enclosed glass area, enabling anybody who wishes to do so, to fulfil their dreams of flying. 

2016: Eye of the Storm 

Staying in China, another first was AERODIUM’s open recirculation tunnel, which was custom-made for the truly remarkable and never-to-be-forgotten Eye of the Storm: Captain Jack’s Stunt Spectacular at the Shanghai Disney Resort.

This 30 minute show uses unique, one-of-a-kind open-recirculation wind tunnel technology that is integrated into the stage for visitors to enjoy the show, and includes ‘flying people’ as part of the performance. Since its inaugural show back in 2016, “Storm” has been working around the clock each day until today.

2016: ‘Gravity indoor skydiving’ dazzles the world

Innovation took another massive leap forward in 2016 with the opening of Bahrain’s “Gravity Indoor Skydiving”. The world’s tallest glass chamber boasts a fully transparent B.A.S.E. jump chamber for professional flyers. A historical milestone was reached in 2018 when the world’s best indoor skydivers used the tunnel at the 3rd FAI Indoor Skydiving World Cup. Competitors and spectators alike were amazed and captivated by the incredible glass chamber. 

2017: Bringing the world new concepts

AERODIUM’s unique innovation culture enabled us to create a world’s quietest open-air tunnel in 2017. This next-generation open-air tunnel delivers safe customer flights, intermediate flyer training, and, of course, spectacular show performances. Our innovative design has a three-level safety system, patented impact-absorption safety cushions, and sonic dampening technology that eliminates noise pollution, reducing it to a mere murmur. 

2018: Making Mission Impossible – possible!

Mission Impossible-Fallout hit the big screen in 2018, grossing $790 million at the box office, making it the franchise’s highest-grossing film. The world’s most spectacular movie franchise wanted the world’s biggest ever vertical open-flow wind tunnel, and AERODIUM duly obliged with a 23-square-metre tunnel. Three months of hard work later, we made our mission impossible – possible – by delivering a one-of-a-kind training facility for the “Mission: Impossible—Fallout” crew. 

2021: Ticking all the boxes

The world’s most compact indoor skydiving unit opened its doors in the South Korean capital, Seoul, in 2021. The R2 ticks all the boxes operators and investors expect as standard these days, including easy installation, low operational costs, and, of course, an exceptional and unforgettable customer experience. And, furthermore, the plug-and-play concept can be seamlessly integrated into any building with minimum engineering work.

2024: The world number one

AERODIUM is now the world’s leading manufacturer of vertical wind tunnels – even competitors admit that our proved innovation spirit brought us here. Our world-class wind tunnels are utilised by the retailtainment and movie sectors, for major international shows and events, by premier entertainment centres, and even by the military. 

We have been the world number one since 2020, and our journey of innovation and creating unforgettable experiences for millions around the world is gaining momentum with each passing day, inspired by the passion, inventiveness and futuristic vision of extraordinary men like Jean St-Germain and Ivars Beitāns.