Aerodium Sigulda: 19 Years of Fun

The story of Aerodium, the world-renowned producer of vertical wind tunnels, is a tale of innovation, passion, and serendipitous encounters. At its core is the visionary inventor Ivars Beitāns, whose dream to offer unique thrill-seeking experiences led to the creation of Latvia’s first vertical wind tunnel accessible to the public in Sigulda in 2005. This article delves into the rich history of Aerodium, exploring the pivotal moments and key figures, including the incredible journey of Ivars Beitāns from a Latvian stuntman to the pioneer of vertical wind tunnels in the Baltic region.

Ivars Beitāns: A Young Stuntman with a Vision

Ivars Beitāns, hailing from Sigulda, Latvia, always had an adventurous spirit and a knack for innovation. His journey began as a stuntman, performing daring feats across Latvia. It all started when Ivars was just 12 years old and already learning boxing and various fight styles.

One day he enthusiastically declared to his mother: “I want to learn karate as well!” So she arranged his first lesson, only mistakenly signing him up for stuntman lessons instead of karate, as in Latvian these two words can sound similar.

But the training was not for the weak – it took 5 intensive sessions per week that included trampoline and high jump sessions in the swimming pool. A couple of those lessons were dedicated to the arts of fighting, learning to fall without incurring pain, and then he’d spend one training day completely devoted to special tricks and mastering his signature style – risky jumps with a motorcycle, usually ending in a (calculated) collapse of the ride, but a “miraculous” survival of himself.

Ivars Beitāns in Finland's first stunt man festival, 1996.
Ivars Beitāns in Finland’s first stunt man festival, 1996.

And that is how Ivars became a professional stuntman at age 14, and continued this journey until age 26. This experience honed Ivar’s understanding of human capabilities and technology, igniting his imagination with endless possibilities. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s presented newfound freedoms, which Ivars embraced with boundless creativity.

How Bungee Jumping Started It All

Ivars Beitāns first bungee jump in Latvia, 1992, center of capital Riga from construction crane near by the Opera house renovation grounds.
Ivars Beitāns first bungee jump in Latvia, 1992, center of capital Riga from construction crane near by the Opera house renovation grounds.

Now with all of this background in doing crazy stuff, it only made sense to Ivars to try something risky to bring in some much needed cash, and entertain and amaze people at the same time.

This is how Latvia’s first bungee jump was created. “In 1989, after watching a show on bungee jumping that had recently started in New Zealand, I decided to try it out himself. I cut a tire into strips, made a bungee from them, and jumped off a bridge in Sigulda,” says I. Beitāns.

“One year later, I offered the producers of the local Good Morning program to film a scene in which I could jump from a high tower. At the time, there was a huge overhead crane near the opera house, and I thought I could jump off it. It seems normal now, because people are used to being able to jump from heights with a bungee, but back then it was a completely crazy trick. This program turned out to be good marketing – a 10-minute plot about Ivar, who might or might not survive the jump,” he recalls.
This spectacular event, held in Riga and broadcasted live on television, marked the birth of bungee jumping in Latvia, still active and thriving in Latvia. Ivars’ entrepreneurial spirit didn’t stop there; he continued to seek new ways to thrill and entertain people, culminating in his pioneering venture into vertical wind tunnels.

The Serendipitous Meeting in the Canary Islands

Jean St.Germain passes over reins of AERODIUM to Ivars Beitans
Jean St.Germain passes over reins of AERODIUM to Ivars Beitans

The pivotal moment for Aerodium came through a chance meeting in the Canary Islands. It was here that Ivars Beitāns encountered Francois St-Germain, the son of Jean St-Germain, the Canadian paratrooper and inventor who built the world’s first vertical wind tunnel in 1979. This meeting was no mere coincidence; it was a serendipitous encounter that would change the course of indoor skydiving history.

Jean St-Germain had created the first vertical wind tunnel for his parachute students in Saint-Simon-de-Bagot, near Montreal. His invention allowed for safer and more effective freefall practice, using a central air column surrounded by a padded area. Jean’s innovative spirit and numerous inventions, including the Playtex Baby Bottle, laid the groundwork for the vertical wind tunnel industry that we see today.

The Genesis of Aerodium

AERODIUM Sigulda in 2005.
AERODIUM Sigulda in 2005.

Inspired by the St-Germain family’s legacy, Ivars Beitāns purchased a vertical wind tunnel from them and set out to establish the first such facility in the Baltic states and Scandinavia. His goal was clear: to provide thrill-seekers with an unforgettable experience. In 10 th of June in 2005, this vision materialised with the opening of Aerodium in Sigulda, marking a significant milestone in the world of vertical wind tunnels.

At that time, vertical wind tunnels were rudimentary compared to today’s advanced models. However, Ivars’ relentless pursuit of innovation and excellence quickly propelled Aerodium to new heights. By continuously improving the technology and user experience, Aerodium became a leader in the industry, attracting visitors from all over the world.

The Incredible Opportunities After Opening

AERODIUM at Torino winter Olympics closing ceremonies 2006
AERODIUM at Torino winter Olympics closing ceremonies 2006

The marketing campaigns for the launch of Sigulda’s Aerodium tunnel were aimed only at the Latvians, but somehow worked wonders even abroad, and Ivars Beitāns received a surprising email only a month later. In it, an agency was inquiring a quote for 2 vertical wind tunnels intended for a big event. Aerodium boldly replied with a very expensive quote, and the agency declined further collaboration.

Then Aerodium took a short movie showcasing humans in flight at this very first vertical wind tunnel in Sigulda, and sent it off to Italy as a casting video for the closing ceremony of the upcoming Olympics in 2006. Italians liked it, they came to Sigulda to see the technology in action, and happily offered to include it in the program.

It was later on that Ivars realised the email was inquiring about the same opportunity – to present humans in flight at the Olympics.

The Torino Winter Olympics: A Turning Point

Ivars Beitans fly on a snowboard in vertical wind tunnel at Torino winter Olympics closing ceremonies in 2006
Ivars Beitans fly on a snowboard in vertical wind tunnel at Torino winter Olympics closing ceremonies in 2006

As you can guess by now, one of Aerodium’s most significant milestones was its participation in the closing ceremony of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics. This event showcased a custom-built vertical wind tunnel, captivating a global audience and dramatically increasing public awareness of indoor skydiving. For many, it was the first time witnessing people “flying” in a vertical wind tunnel, sparking widespread interest and excitement.

The spectacle was not just a demonstration of technology but a testament to human ingenuity and the spirit of innovation. It was a proud moment for Ivars Beitāns and Aerodium, as they realized their dream of bringing the joy of flight to a worldwide audience, with Ivars taking flight himself while strapped to a snowboard.

Being at the Olympics was a mesmerising experience for Ivars and Aerodium – less than a year after opening the first publicly available vertical wind tunnel in Sigulda, this was a testament to a relentless passion for innovation, continuous improvement and drive for adventure.

The World Expo 2010: Putting Latvia on the Map

AERODIUM vertical wind tunnel at Latvia pavilion WORLD EXPO 2010 Shanghai
AERODIUM vertical wind tunnel at Latvia pavilion WORLD EXPO 2010 Shanghai

Aerodium’s success continued with its selection as the main attraction for the Republic of Latvia’s pavilion at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai, China. For this prestigious event, Aerodium created the first fully transparent recirculating vertical wind tunnel, allowing a 360° viewing experience. Over the course of six months, Aerodium presented flight shows every 30 minutes during a period of 6 months. It became one of the TOP 10 most visited pavilion at the EXPO, witnessed by over one million people.

Being the world’s first fully transparent recirculating wind tunnel, this achievement not only highlighted Aerodium’s technological prowess but also showcased Latvia’s innovative spirit on a global stage. It solidified Aerodium’s reputation as a leader in vertical wind tunnel manufacturing and operations.

The Evolution of Vertical Wind Tunnels

AERODIUM R4 PRO vertical wind tunnel at GoAirborne Macao
AERODIUM R4 PRO vertical wind tunnel at GoAirborne Macao

The journey of Aerodium and vertical wind tunnels has been one of continuous innovation and adaptation. From the basic models of the early 2000s to the sophisticated designs of today, the technology has evolved significantly. Modern vertical wind tunnels offer enhanced safety, improved performance, and a more immersive experience, making indoor skydiving accessible to a broader audience.
Aerodium has been at the forefront of this evolution, developing a wide range of vertical wind tunnel applications for various industries, including retailtainment and show business. Their state-of-the-art facilities are used for training professional skydivers, providing recreational experiences, and creating spectacular performances for events and movies.

Sigulda Today: A Thriving Hub of Innovation and Adventure

AERODIUM Sigulda 2024
AERODIUM Sigulda 2024

Sigulda, often referred to as Latvia’s “Little Switzerland”, is now a vibrant destination known for its stunning landscapes and thrilling activities. Aerodium’s presence has significantly contributed to the town’s reputation as an adventure hub. The vertical wind tunnel in Sigulda attracts visitors from all over the world, offering them a unique opportunity too experience the sensation of freefall in a safe and controlled environment.
Aerodium in Sigulda offers a variety of flight experiences tailored to different groups, including adults, children, families, and corporate teams. Let’s explore the various flight options available:

Adults’ First Flight

Aerodium’s adult flight experiences are designed for thrill-seekers looking to experience the joy of flight. The sessions include a comprehensive briefing, safety gear, and one-on-one guidance from experienced instructors. Flyers can enjoy the exhilaration of floating on a cushion of air, performing maneuvers, and feeling the pure adrenaline rush of indoor skydiving.

Kids’ First Flight

Recognizing the enthusiasm of younger flyers, Aerodium offers specially priced sessions for children. Kids as young as four can experience the thrill of flight, while those aged ten and above can enjoy the sport more fully. Aerodium’s instructors are skilled in working with children, ensuring a fun and safe experience. The popularity of these sessions is evident, with many children returning regularly to relive the excitement.

Family Flight Experience

Aerodium also caters to families, providing a unique bonding experience as they soar together in the wind tunnel. The family flight packages are designed to be inclusive, ensuring that members of all ages can enjoy the adventure. This shared experience creates lasting memories and brings families closer together through the shared joy of flight.

Group and Corporate Events

For corporate teams and groups, Aerodium offers tailored packages that combine the thrill of flight with team-building activities. These sessions are designed to foster teamwork, communication, and camaraderie. Participants can enjoy the exhilaration of flying while engaging in exercises that promote unity and cooperation, similar to what even professional skydiving champions Maja Kuczynska and Toms Ivans experienced while in Sigulda.

Children’s Enthusiasm for Flight

One of the remarkable aspects of Aerodium’s success is the enthusiastic participation of children. Over the years, children have become a significant portion of Aerodium Sigulda clientele, making up about half of the visitors. Unlike adults, children often return for multiple sessions, eager to experience the joy of flight again and again.
Aerodium’s decision to offer discounted rates for children has been a strategic success. This pricing policy makes the experience more accessible to young flyers, encouraging them to engage in the sport regularly. The wind tunnel’s appeal to children is not just about the thrill; it also fosters a sense of accomplishment and confidence as they master the art of indoor skydiving.

Professional Training for Young Flyers

Aerodium’s impact extends beyond recreational flying. In recent years, several young flyers have taken their passion to a professional level, training rigorously to compete in international competitions. For instance, a nine-year-old Ukrainian boy, dedicated to the sport, practiced daily with the aim of participating in the 5th World Championship in Macau, China.

This dedication among young flyers highlights the potential for indoor skydiving to become a competitive sport. Aerodium provides a platform for these young athletes to train and hone their skills, contributing to the growth of the sport on a global scale.

Celebrity Endorsements and High-Profile Collaborations

Ever since 2005, flying in Aerodium’s wind tunnels has attracted many celebrities and high-profile figures. For instance, the wind tunnel in Sigulda allows participants to fly up to the height of a three-story house, a feat performed by Scarlett Johansson during the filming of “Black Widow”, and also by Jackie Chan. Aerodium’s instructors, including those who trained Tom Cruise for “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” ensure a safe and exhilarating experience for all participants.

Aerodium’s technology has been used in several blockbuster movies, showcasing its versatility and appeal. The company’s involvement in the film industry underscores its commitment to pushing the boundaries of what is possible with vertical wind tunnels.

Shows, Performances, and Milestones

Aerodium has a dedicated focus on various types of wind tunnels, participating in numerous bodyflying shows and performances worldwide. A significant milestone was the show at the closing ceremonies of the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics, which captivated audiences with the sight of flying humans without any hanging or “ visible support” equipment.

Other notable performances include a vertical wind tunnel show at movie Superman Returns 2006 promotion and the world’s first fully transparent recirculating wind tunnel at the World Expo 2010 in Shanghai.

In 2013, Aerodium introduced the world’s first tunnel suited for indoor BASE jumping at the Sirius Sport Resort in Finland. This innovation allowed skydivers to enter the wind tunnel from the ground or jump into it from a height of 15 meters. The company’s achievements continued with projects like the “Flying Dream” wind tunnel-amphitheatre in China and the wall-less wind tunnel for the Pirates of the Caribbean show at Shanghai Disneyland Park.

In 2021, Aerodium launched a new type of open-air wind tunnel with a reduced noise level, comparable to indoor tunnels. The first of this new generation opened for Riyadh Season in 2022. Despite ongoing challenges, such as the war in Ukraine, Aerodium continues to innovate, opening a wind tunnel in one of Europe’s largest shopping centers, Respublika mall, in 2023.

Summary: Human Flight Is Calling You

The history of Aerodium is a remarkable journey of innovation, passion, and serendipitous encounters. From the visionary ideas of Jean St-Germain to the relentless drive of Ivars Beitāns, Aerodium has become a leader in the vertical wind tunnel industry. Their story is one of perseverance, creativity, and the pursuit of excellence, inspiring people worldwide to experience the joy of flight.

Sigulda, with its Aerodium wind tunnel, has become a beacon of adventure and innovation, attracting visitors of all ages since 2005. From thrilling first flights to professional training for young athletes, Aerodium continues to inspire and excite, making the dream of flight accessible to everyone. The legacy of Jean St-Germain and Ivars Beitāns lives on, driving the spirit of adventure and innovation forward into the future.
So why not use the chance to celebrate the 19 years of human flight in Sigulda by booking your first soar through the sky this summer? Book your flight spot here and see you soon!