iFlew at iFly and iLived to tell the tale.
OK, it wasn’t that dramatic, but involving me and the word “skydiving” together did cause me to need an extra-large cup of coffee on the morning of Feb. 7.
I consider myself pretty adventurous — I went on a solo, 10-day road trip through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana last year; I love rollercoasters; I’m way too spontaneous for my own good; and in college, I was the lone student to volunteer to collect specimen samples in a contaminated river for my ecology class (although I managed to cut my hand in the process and almost gave my professor a heart attack, but that’s another story).
But the thought of jumping out of an airplane from thousands of feet above the ground still makes me shudder. Indoor skydiving at iFly Atlanta is and was probably the closest I’ll get to that rush.
When I arrived, I met with the facility’s public relations manager, who gave me a quick visual tour of iFly, located just off U.S. 41 across from the new Braves stadium. As you walk in, you are greeted with a few employees at a ticket counter of sorts, where you choose how long you want to fly, or check-in if you have a reservation for yourself or with a group. You then fill in your information at the kiosk, check all the boxes that say iFly is not liable if you do something crazy-stupid and die and provide your email address so they can send you photos and videos of you flying in all of your talented, athletic glory.
I watched a few people from a group take turns “flying” in the large tunnel, located in the center of the main room. The tunnel is 50 feet tall and has a wire floor to allow the wind to flow through.
Here’s how it works: a vertical wind tunnel has fans at the top to draw air through the flight chamber and then push it back down the sides through return air towers. That leads to an inlet contractor that compresses & speeds up the air before it reenters the flight chamber. Once the air is turned on, the instructor goes inside of the tunnel to prepare to help you then you stand at the entrance, arms above your head, and essentially fall forward into the tunnel where the instructor grabs ahold of you and motions instructions for bending or straightening your arms or legs to get a stable flying stance. Another instructor is a conductor, lowering or raising the speed of the wind to match your actions and weight.
During the training session outside of the tunnel, my instructor, Harrel, told me the keys to a good flying stance are to be relaxed and not strong or tense in your stance, keep your head tilted up so you don’t fly too high up into the tunnel and keep arms and legs slightly bent. Once I put on my jumpsuit, ear plugs, eye glasses and helmet and he gave me a few more tips, we were ready for liftoff.
It was a thrilling experience, as I floated high and low, learned how to spin left and right, followed Harrel as he gave me motions for tricks and stability, and even flew with him several feet up and down in the tunnel with no Lady Gaga-esque wires attached. Although I noticed at times that an inordinate amount of air was traveling up my nostrils and not all of my saliva was staying in my mouth, the sensation of “flying” free of any restraints or props — save Harrel catching and turning me a few times — was thrilling.
After my second stint in the tunnel, Harrel entered it by himself and displayed tricks I could never dream of doing. It was as if he was an air gymnast, as he did flips and spins high into the tunnel, then fell dozens of feet head-first, stopping just before he got to the floor then spinning upward once again. Most of the instructors, such as Harrel, compete in indoor skydiving, also known as bodyflight. Similar to competitive skydiving, bodyflight features formation and freestyle flying and maneuvers that are judged and recorded by a panel of experts.
I will never be on Harrel’s level, but the experience was beyond fun and maybe — just maybe — convinced me that I might not be so bad at skydiving after all.