Get the feel of skydiving without jumping out of an airplane

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Friday, December 12, 2014 1:58pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

Gravity holds you down.

IFly sets you free.

Suit up and soar like superhero.

Or a flying squirrel.

You don’t have to be older than 21 to partake in this way of getting high in Washington.

Three-year-olds can fly around in this indoor wind tunnel. It creates free fall conditions, like skydiving, but without having to jump out of an airplane.

You just have to brave traffic to drive to Tukwila.

Well, it’s better than driving to Utah or California to iFly. There also are iFly centers in Dubai, United Kingdom, Russia and Australia.

The iFly building is easy to spot. It’s that weird bright red structure jutting from a strip plaza by Southcenter Mall near where I-5 and I-405 cross paths.

Check-in at a lobby touchscreen kiosk to sign a waiver and answer medical questions. Ever dislocated a shoulder? Diving into a tunnel with a wind velocity of 120 mph is not for you.

Up the stairs is where the action is. Towering over the middle of the room is the wind tunnel, a curved 14-foot diameter glass chamber that’s like a giant fishbowl. There are folding chairs for spectators. It’s mesmerizing watching people fly around. Of course, that means everybody can see you. That’s right, you become part of the show.

The arena is for curious novices, military training exercises and skydivers practicing choreographed routines. It’s equipped for birthday parties and science classes as well as seniors and paraplegics. Sky’s the limit.

All flight gear is provided. It’s exciting to suit up in an official flight uniform: Jumpsuit. Goggles. Helmet. Earplugs.

First-timers must attend a safety course on flying basics. There’s an inspiring video showing little kids doing tricks like trained circus performers. Because it’s too noisy to hear inside the wind tunnel, there are four important hand signals to learn for proper form: Bend arms. Straighten knees. Chin up. Relax.

Relax. That’s what I needed to do.

I’ve never had any desire to jump from an airplane, real or fake. A co-worker talked me into writing about iFly. I wanted to back out, but I was too chicken. That’s how chicken I am. She kept insisting I needed to do this.

So, after months of pushing back the deadline, there I was, tricked out with everything but a parachute. It wasn’t needed. There’s no place to fall here other than a cushioned column of air. You’re more likely to be shot through the roof. The chamber goes up 45 feet.

I was in a group of six newbies. In our fancy flight suits, we sauntered into the enclosed antechamber like Apollo astronauts. We sat down and the door shut behind us. A man behind the control panel window nodded. All systems go.

We took turns, one at a time plunging into horizontal splendor under the guidance of a personal instructor. The instructor — who somehow manages to stay vertical — steers your moves so you stay balanced and don’t get sucked up to the top.

That’s where those hand signals come in handy.

The air velocity is super-powerful. It has that cool thrust you get while sticking your head out a car window at 70 mph, but your entire body gets thrust at double that speed.

Some flyers are better able to control turns and spins during their first flight. I kept flying into the glass wall. It didn’t hurt anything, not even my pride. The flight instructor flashed hand signals at me but I couldn’t remember which was what.

You get that adrenaline rush of being on an amusement park ride, but you are the rider and the ride. You live in the moment. That’s the idea.

This is escapism. There’s no other place like it on Earth.

Though I found it hard to control my limbs in tornadic wind gusts, it was easy to keep a big smile on my face the entire time, which was about 60 seconds. It seemed longer. When jumping out of an airplane, the free fall part lasts approximately 45 seconds, or so I am told.

No, thanks. I’ll stick with this. Next time I’ll be able to relax and control my flight.

Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @reporterbrown.

If you go

IFly is at 349 Tukwila Parkway, Tukwila. Hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 206-244-4359 or go to seattle.iflyworld.com.

Cost: $59.95 for two same-day flights for one first-time flyer. Packages for couples, families, groups and experienced flyers. Costco sells a special $39.99 gift card that includes two flights and video clip.

Tips: Wear well-fitting, lace-up sneakers or running shoes. Tip the flight instructor.

Age: Flyers can be as young as 3. There is no upper age limit. Those younger than 18 need to have a parent or guardian sign their waiver.

Weight: Those shorter than 6 feet tall must weigh less than 230 pounds; those taller than 6 feet must weigh less than 250 pounds.

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