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iFLY Virginia Beach Owner Talks Leadership and What It Takes to Run a Wind Tunnel

Robert Pizzini first flew indoors in 2006. Today, he operates iFLY Virginia Beach, Virginia's first wind tunnel, and is a leadership coach. 

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Image Credit: Robert “Bob” Pizzini

May 13, 2022
Owen Clarke

Robert “Bob” Pizzini runs iFLY Virginia Beach, Virginia’s first wind tunnel, which opened in 2015. This Generation 6, 14-foot (4.2 m) recirculating tunnel remains one of the only privately-owned iFLY locations in the United States and has a unique beachfront location, just a block from the Atlantic Ocean (ironically on a street called Pacific Avenue).

iFLY Virginia Beach also hosted the United States Indoor Skydiving National Championship three years in a row, from 2017 to 2019.

Pizzini enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 18, and over the next 26 years, he became an avid skydiver, logging over 1,000 jumps. “ In 2006, I had my first flight in a commercial wind tunnel. Navy special operators would travel from Virginia Beach to North Carolina to train,” Pizzini told The Virginian-Pilot. This long drive weighed on Pizzini’s mind, and he soon realized that opening a closer wind tunnel would be a viable business opportunity.

“[During] the drive back to Virginia Beach, we would always talk about what a terrific location Virginia Beach would be for a vertical wind tunnel given our military community, tourists, and local population of adventure seekers,” he said. “I became aware of several attempts by others to bring this experience to Virginia Beach, but they were not successful for a variety of reasons. It was clear to me that it was only a matter of time until someone would eventually [do it], and given my military experience, I had a good chance of leading the effort.”

Pizzini went on to open the state’s first wind tunnel and become an author and leadership coach on the side, penning a self-help book, Leadership Is A Perishable Skill, that is due to hit shelves later this year. “The key lesson is that to be a strong leader, one must train daily in the craft of leadership,” he said. “Just as musicians rehearse, and athletes train, so too must leaders hone their craft. Use it or lose it — leadership is a perishable skill.”

Pizzini is also active in giving back to the community at iFLY Virginia Beach. “[The] most rewarding is through our Seatack Soars program,” he said. “We donate a 12-week Youth Flight Program for the fifth-grade students of Seatack Elementary School … as one of their after-school programs. The challenge of learning how to fly in a flight chamber with 100 mph wind speeds develops confidence in a fun, yet detailed, manner and it will have a lifelong positive impact.” The program has grown to incorporate two 12-week flight programs annually.

Today, iFLY Virginia Beach is joined by a second Virginian tunnel, iFLY Loudoun, which opened in 2016.

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Written by,

Owen Clarke
Owen Clarke is an American action sports and adventure travel journalist. In addition to serving as an executive editor at Indoor Skydiving Source, he is an editor-at-large for Climbing magazine and lead writer for the adventure guiding outfitter Benegas Brothers Productions. He also writes for Backpacker, Outside, SKI, and Trail Runner, among other publications.

Published: May 13, 2022 | Last Updated: May 13, 2022

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