A little tidbit of info about me: I am afraid of heights. Like heart-dropping-into-stomach, knees-turning-to-rubber scared anytime there is more than about 15 feet of space between the ground and my feet. I have mini panic attacks when my kids venture within 10 feet of a mountain’s edge on a hike, always opt for the aisle seat, and have to resort to my happy place when riding in glass elevators.
This doesn’t stop me from pursuing activities that frighten the bejeezus out of me. I’ve zipped hundreds of feet in the air over rainforest dangling from a wire, repelled over cliffs, even ridden a mule into the Grand Canyon (yes, put my life literally on the back of an ass as it slowly trod the rugged path, about a foot of trail between us and a 7,000-foot drop into the red rock abyss). Because while these pursuits are desperately terrifying, I also find them amazingly exhilarating. And I believe it’s important to veer from our comfort zones now and then and, as they say, conquer our fears.
However. One thing I will never, ever, ever, ever opt to do is skydive. No matter how thrilling or boundary-pushing it may be, or what a transcendental experience flying in the sky would offer… nope. Just the thought of hurling myself out of an airplane with the earth thousands of feet below makes me, ironically, want to hurl.
So, when iFLY Loudoun reached out to introduce their new simulated skydiving experience location I was immediately intrigued. I had never heard of this before. I could experience the feeling of flying without having to step foot in (then out of) an airplane? And it would be indoors with a “safety net” below? Sign me up!
If this is new to you as well, here’s how this is possible: Flights take place in a vertical wind tunnel, where a smooth cushion of air enables people to float. This air is created by high-powered fans at the top of the tunnel that draw air through the flight chamber, then push it back down the sides and underneath, then up again, lifting flyers. An operator just outside the chamber controls the speed of the wind, adjusting for the flyer’s weight and skill level.
When I first arrived at the big blue structure right off a main road in Ashburn, VA, I was still clueless about the inner workings with all of my focus on the idea that I was going to fly. I was greeted by very friendly staff and taken on a little tour. In the lobby is the front desk, where guests can register as well as several kiosks for signing up and viewing and purchasing photos and videos after flights. There is also gear for sale for those who want iFLY souvenirs.
All of the action takes place on the second floor. The large wind tunnel is at the center, with spectator benches just outside and an equipment area, a small classroom, restrooms, and a party room on the perimeter. The space seems compact compared to the building, but once you learn how it works, you can see how the facility is essentially built around the wind tunnel.
They didn’t waste any time getting my session started, and my instructor, Trevor, took me into a classroom to give me a rundown of what to expect, demonstrate the body position for flying, and show me hand signals he would use to direct me in the tunnel (he would also be in there) — signs for bending my legs, straightening them, relaxing, and keeping my head up. He also answered all of my questions and was very reassuring and enthusiastic, which quelled any nervousness I had.
The lesson took about 10 minutes, and from there I suited up in my flight suit, helmet, ear plugs, and goggles, stowed my belongings in a locker, and prepared for lift off. Really, it was quick and easy as that, and in no time I entered the wind tunnel by leaning over and letting Trevor guide me. Before I knew it, I was flying.
And, yowza, was it exhilarating! Any trepidation I may have had immediately disappeared once I felt the air lift and carry me. The wind blew loud and hard, but I barely noticed because I was so caught up in the thrill of it. I was flying! I spun around the tunnel, sometimes dropped a bit when I was out of position, lifted up again. Trevor helped with hand signals and some guidance, re-positioning as needed. I could not stop smiling, which was great, but also odd because it felt simultaneously like I was drooling and my mouth was drying out.
There was a small audience during my session, as iFly welcomes folks to come in just to spectate. While I probably wasn’t the most exciting guest to watch, some flyers are skydiving enthusiasts who use the wind tunnel to practice skills and tricks, putting on a good show. While I took a break from one of my flights, Trevor jumped in a demonstrated just how artistic one can get in the air — quite an impressive show!
I took four flights, each lasting up to about 90 seconds, but it seems like they go on much longer. On the last two flights, Trevor flew with me and guided us high into the tunnel, at least 30 feet up and easily the most fun and exciting part of the experience. I didn’t for one second feel unsafe or disoriented. It seemed like I could gently bounce around on the wind forever. But, alas, my session came to an end.
If there’s anything dangerous about iFLY, it’s probably that you could get hooked — and it’s not a cheap hobby. I’m already thinking about when I can go back with the rest of my crew. Anyone age 3 to 103 can experience the thrill, as long as they weigh less than 250 lbs, are not pregnant, and generally have good health and fitness (those with neck and back issues should consult a doctor first).
This may be a special occasion kind of adventure, since it’s a bit of a splurge: Pricing starts at $79.95/person for 2 flights, and there are also Family Packs and group rates available. (All worth it, in my opinion!) There is also a Kids Club, which offers discounts for multiple sessions.
And if you’re looking for a fantastic, unique way to celebrate a birthday, they also offer parties. Packages include a party coordinator for your event, a flight training class, all the necessary gear, hands-on instruction with each flyer, and a video of the flight session. Extras include a party room, catering, and a few more services. Contact iFLY for details.
One quick tip: if you have long hair, be sure to tie it back tightly! My hair band must have been loose, because it came off during my flight, and my hair was a tangled mess afterwards. It took a lot of conditioner and slightly painful combing to get it back to normal.
iFLY Loudon is located at 20315 Commonwealth Center Drive in Ashburn, VA. Hours are Monday-Thursday 10am – 10pm, Friday 10am – 11pm, Saturday 9am – 11pm, and Sunday 9am – 10pm. It’s best to book in advance, they recommend a week ahead.
So, are you ready to fly?! Here’s a better look at what to expect…