iFLY Virginia Beach
A fierce wind blows my cheeks so far into my face that I expect them to turn inside out at any second. I remain intent on keeping my body flat and steady, to avoid crashing head first into the chamber’s walls. I hear only the whirring of the four, 450-horsepower fans that keep me hovering mid-air, but all of my other senses are fully engaged. Suddenly I feel my flight instructor, Dan, link his arm in mine, and we rocket 48 feet into the air, free fall down at top speed, stop just short of the trampoline-like floor and shoot up then plummet once again, spinning in circles the entire time.
I have just experienced “high-flight” at Virginia Beach’s new indoor skydiving facility, and it’s the only way for true thrill-seekers to experience it. Once I regain my footing, more than a bit unsteady, I totter out of “the tunnel” with hurricane hair and feeling pretty euphoric.
The city’s first vertical wind tunnel, iFLY, opened to the public in January and offers a safe way to experience human body flight if you’re not inclined to jump out of an airplane any time soon. After you step into the chamber for your flight, the operator cranks the wind speed—up to 160 miles per hour—until you are airborne. The high-powered fans create a cushion of air in the tunnel that simulates true skydiving conditions. But how real is it? So real that I sat outside the tunnel before my first-time flight watching certified skydivers practice their craft.
One of the iFLY instructors noticed my awe-struck look and came over to explain that professional skydivers frequently book flight time to train and even hold competitions in the wind tunnels. I study skydivers and instructors alike soaring around the tunnel on their bellies, backs, sitting, standing and doing barrel rolls. Of course, they make it look effortless, but I soon learn that just staying in the air and gaining a bit of height is a pretty notable accomplishment for first-timers.
After I step into my provided flight suit, instructor Dan takes me and some fellow novices into the training room to show us a video and give some pre-flight instruction. Here I learn that belly flying is the basic technique and to pay attention to four basic hand signals—chin up, legs bent, legs straight and relax.
I know keeping calm will be my biggest challenge, and I inhale deeply, strap on my spiffy helmet and goggles and make my entrance into the chamber. I feel pretty awkward during my initial flight as I become acclimated to the intense force of the wind and how my body position affects my flying abilities. My second go proves much more satisfying, as I begin to catch on right before Dan’s grasp thrusts my stomach into my throat and takes my adrenaline to new extremes during high-flight.
So, I didn’t jump out of an airplane, but I’m still going to check skydiving off of my bucket list. iFLY gave me the real deal, and I have the pictures and video to prove it—flappy cheeks and all.