Jumping out of an airplane isn’t the only way to achieve the unique feeling of flight.
At iFly Indoor Skydiving just off Interstate 80 in Roseville, children as young as 3 years old can simulate the feeling of weightlessness that comes with jumping out of a plane soaring 10,000 feet in the air. No need to learn to use a parachute, strap yourself to an instructor or fear the worst while hurtling toward the earth. iFly has a simpler and safer alternative.
iFly operates a proprietary vertical wind tunnel, generating wind that can replicate terminal velocity of about 120 miles per hour. It allows anyone weighing less than 300 pounds to float in the air and reproduce the feeling of a free fall. And it comes with far less risk than real skydiving, which has resulted in 30 deaths in the United States over the past two years.
“I would say they’re both pretty exhilarating,” said Richard Thai, the head instructor at iFly. “There is nothing like skydiving, and this really imitates what it feels like jumping out of a plane.”
Instructors at iFly say the feeling of the drop someone might experience on a roller coaster doesn’t exist in real skydiving, thus the feeling of being inside the wind tunnel is closer to the real thing than some might expect.
“When you change direction and g-force is when you get that gut-drop feeling,” Thai said. “In skydiving and in this, you don’t have any of that turbulence or change in motion, so you don’t get that gut-drop feeling at all. It’s just really constant. It feels like your floating in a bed of air.”
Enter the wind tunnel
Indoor skydiving is a straightforward process for anyone who wants to try. All it requires is a phone call to make an appointment. Once at the facility, instructors go through a quick tutorial video outlining hand signals and other basics. iFly provides a flight suit, helmet, ear plugs and goggles, and then it’s time to enter the wind tunnel.
From there, the instructor stands in the wind tunnel while patrons try it for the first time, making sure they’re keeping their arms and legs wide and backs arched to allow for maximum surface area to get pushed by the wind underneath. The instructor’s job is to make sure the flyer stays near the center of the tunnel and avoids hitting the side walls. After a minute or two in the tunnel, red and blue lights blink and it’s time for the next patron to give it a shot.
“Just hold still, relax and have fun,” Thai said. “The instructor will give you some hand signals and some maneuvers and (help you) move yourself around and balance yourself. Once you do that, just have fun and relax.”
Those willing to pay for more time can then get an instructor to take them flying and spinning high in the tunnel for an elevated feeling of flight. The instructor will hold the flyer by the suit and the two will float and rotate some 14 feet in the air, moving up and down the wind tunnel, which is often the most exhilarating part of the experience.
Corey Kashiwagi, a recent iFly visitor from Sacramento, was asked if the indoor skydiving experience would compel him to jump out of a real plane.
“I’ve always had a thought that maybe someday, like bungee jumping or something,” Kashiwagi said. “But this is just so much easier. It’s accessible. It’s right here.”
Education and training
iFly is the largest indoor skydiving chain in the country. There’s very little competition because the wind tunnels used at their facilities are propriety, their management says. The company also sells its wind tunnels to “entertainment, sport and military users,” according to its website.
The peak season is generally in the summer given its popularity with kids who are out of school. iFly also offers STEM education field trips for schools to teach the mechanics of the wind tunnel technology and the physics of floating inside. There are also training programs for skydivers to hone their skills in the wind tunnel before trying the real thing.
Two flights during the week cost $69.99 per person and $89.99 on the weekends. Group rates are also available. More information is available at iFly’s website.