For those who wish they could fly yet think that throwing oneself out of a perfectly good airplane is just crazy, indoor skydiving is all the thrill with none of the danger. We tried it out for ourselves, as well as taking a behind the scenes look at how the facility works.
Mid last year iFly invited journalists to come and tour their newest indoor skydiving facility, based in Penrith, Sydney. The usual Gizmodo crew wasn’t able to make it, but fortunately I got the opportunity to give it a try. If you are wondering who the guy with the beard in his face is – that’s me, just a little less clean shaven than more recent times.
So what is indoor skydiving and how does it work? At the most basic level, it’s a huge vertical wind tunnel, able to generate speeds up to 250 km/h. People have a terminal velocity around 200 km/h, so it’s fast enough to hold you up. Originally, indoor sky diving facilities were little more than big tubes suspended over aircraft engines and propellers, with the excess air blasting out the top. In comparison, the iFly system is powered by advanced Mitsubishi Electric inverter technology that actually re-uses the high speed air to improve efficiency. iFly even have a smaller version on a cruise ship.
Wrapped in two storey high sheets of curved glass, you can watch other indoor skydivers take a flight, or look on enviously as the instructors swoop around, making it look easy. The floor is made from a strong stainless steel wire mesh while the roof vents are protected by louvers. Everything you need is included, from a flight jumpsuits to ear and eye protection – though make sure you are wearing sensible closed in shoes.
I have actually gone skydiving before as well, so can make a direct comparison. Leaping out of a plane (albeit strapped to an instructor) is pretty scary - your stomach tries to exit your body and your heart goes into overdrive. By the time your brain finishes processing the fact that you are plummeting towards the earth and relaxes a little, the dive is almost over. For about 3 seconds you can imagine you are a bird as the wind whistles by before getting jerked out of it by your chute opening. While experienced skydivers have plenty of time for aerial shenanigans, for the novice it’s mostly about falling in a stable way.
Indoor skydiving on the other hand is a totally different experience. We took two 1 minute flights – each actually lasting longer than a normal skydive. There is no sensation of falling at all - you just step into a very windy room and lean over. The air immediately picks you up and supports every part of your body and we found you can relax almost immediately. It also helps that there is an instructor dancing around you, helping steady and guide your body. Using the training shown pre-flight, it’s actually fairly easy to control your position. Spread out and you rise, tuck in and you drift downwards. Cupping the air gently with your hands lets you turn in either direct, while a little legwork and you can move forward and back. Almost immediately you realise that you are flying, and more importantly, that you are in control. If you are a little wobbly at first, the instructor will unobtrusively help keep you on track. Once the flight is over, you head back to the door, grab hold and step through. It’s a surreal experience going from 200+ km/h winds to nothing and it leaves you wanting to get back in for another go.
If you pony up for the full package, at the end of your flight they will crank up the wind speed and take you for a wild ride right to the top of the wind tunnel and back. Surprisingly when dropping out of the air towards the mesh floor, you still don’t feel like you are falling. Even if you don’t fly yourself, it’s a great experience to go along and watch others do it. It’s not just for fun either - the military often use the facility for skydive training. Check out the iFly experience video below.
Not normally open to the public, iFly took us for a behind the scenes tour of the facility. The imposing iFly building is actually almost all there to support the central wind tunnel. As you can imagine, generating 250 km/h winds is not exactly easy. In fact the system uses four Mitsubishi FR-F700 variable speed inverters driving four 315 kW electric motors up above the wind tunnel. It also has a Q-Series Modular logic system that lets the operator of the tunnel vary the wind speed to suit different people and skill levels. Because the system re-circulates the air, a powerful air-conditioning system is used to keep it nice and cool. Check out the size of the power cables for just one of the fans below.
Now the important question — how much does it cost? Two 1 minute flights for a first timer will set you back $109, though this can be reduced a little if you go mid-week before 12pm. You can also get better value packages for more flights, or throw in an extra $10 and ride up the tunnel with your instructor. iFly current operates a facility in Penrith, Sydney and has a Gold Coast operation opening up later in the year.
While not exactly cheap, it’s still a whole lot more affordable than actual skydiving and we highly recommend you give it a try. It’s not affected by weather either, so you can do it any time. Adrenalin junkies might disagree, but I actually found it a much better experience than actual real world skydiving. Not only is it a lot less stressful, you can concentrate on actually flying and even on your first go you can perform manoeuvrers not normally possible for a rookie skydiver. It’s also a lot more convenient. The training is shorter, you don’t have to wait around for the wind and when you are done you can grab a coffee and watch your friends fly.
For more information or to book in a flight, check out iFly Downunder.