Within the next few years, skydiving teams will be able to train in a unique mobile skydiving simulator developed by FreeFlight International, Inc. with help from the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP).

For Frank Arenas, FreeFlight International president, the team simulator will be yet another glowing achievement in an impressive 30-year skydiving career. Arenas is one of the first skydivers to become an instructor under the United States Parachute Association’s revolutionary Accelerated FreeFall training program. He has been teaching skydiving since 1975 and has made more 9,000 jumps. An inventor who holds two patents, Arenas also is a registered patent agent for the United States Patent and Trademark Office and recently passed the Florida Bar exam after graduating from the Florida State University College of Law.

Arenas founded FreeFlight International in 1986 and purchased his own private airport in Coleman, FL, to provide skydiving instruction to both the sport and military markets and he now boasts an international clientele. In 1988, he began experimenting with vertical wind tunnels (VWTs), or skydiving simulators, and built several prototypes. “Skydiving simulators have revolutionized skydiving training,” Arenas said. “Jumpers can now acquire the skills that used to take hundreds or even thousands of high-altitude freefalls in as little as a few hours. Skydivers of all ability levels, from world champion teams to first jumpers, make use of VWTs.”

Although VWTs have been in use for years for individual skydivers, Arenas envisioned
a simulator that would allow a team of people to practice skydiving without requiring a huge facility to house it. The technical challenge he faced was to determine what type of propeller and engine power would be needed in order to produce the amount of thrust to lift a team of people, instead of just a single skydiver. Arenas then heard about SATOP through the Sumter County Economic Development Commission and approached the program for help.

SATOP turned the FreeFlight challenge over to Amir Hirsa, a professor with Alliance Partner Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), in Troy, NY. Professor Hirsa researched different propeller manufacturers and determined what revolutions per minute and how much thrust would be necessary to achieve FreeFlight’s goal to lift a team of skydivers into the air. He also consulted a well-known propeller manufacturer for propellers that would produce these results.

“SATOP was extremely helpful in providing engineering expertise in air-flow and system designing engineering at a level that we could not have afforded in the commercial market with our R&D budget,” Arenas said.

The help Arenas received from SATOP has enabled him to begin putting together a proposal to the U.S. military for machines to be deployed around the world to keep
military parachutists in top training condition while waiting for missions. This will be the start of a new business line for Arenas and will provide a new and more cost-effective avenue of training for military personnel and skydiving enthusiasts.

The next step for Arenas will be a production model of the mobile skydiving simulator and he is looking for equity investors to begin actual production. He plans to have the next generation machine built and running for demonstrations in the next year and says that if he runs up against any more technical challenges, he won’t hesitate to contact SATOP.

“SATOP was pleasure to work with – extremely polite and helpful – and I would highly recommend it to other small businesses,” Arenas said. “As both an inventor and a small business owner, I can tell you that my skydiving simulator would have taken much longer and cost more to get ready for production without SATOP’s help.”