iFly's flying leaps a real soar spot for wannabe sky divers
By Jim Bray
I had a skydiving experience just after the new year's celebration, and I didn't even have to get in a plane to do it!
Nope, thanks to my dear wife (as opposed to the rest of them…), I got a gift certificate to iFly, an indoor skydiving adventure thingy that set up in my home town of Calgary a couple of years ago. It was an intriguing notion, and one with which I've been very familiar for decades, though I'd never tried it.
Though they're actually competitors, iFly is kind of an adaptation of the Aerodium concept, a vertical wind tunnel technology that was invented by Quebec inventor Jean Saint-Germain. He opened the first outlet in Saint Simon de Bagot, 50 miles east of Montreal, in 1979 and since then I've passed by the Aerodium in Las Vegas many times. I always thought about going in, but never did.
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Then came Christmas 2023, and under the tree was a gift pack for five flights at our local iFly outlet, which is at a local mall not far from where I live. Now I had to go, and no excuses!
So, I did, and I had a blast! And I'd do it again. And I may.
It isn't cheap, but it sure is a fabulous experience.
I'd always wanted to sky dive, but for some reason never did – and now that I'm in my seventies and a tad fat, I figured that particular Hindenburg has crashed and burned – or at least sailed. Sure, I got my private pilot's license back in the 1980's, but as enjoyable as it is to drive a real aircraft, it isn't close to what it must be like to actually jump out of one!
iFly lets the Walter Mitty in you come out, in increments of about a minute per "flight".
But first, you have some hoops to jump through, via booking your flight (and paying for it if your spouse hasn't smiled upon you with a gift certificate). You do this via their website, which isn't the best designed but which at least works.
Your first choice is of location, which makes sense. In Canada, there are four iFly outlets: besides Calgary, there are ones in Montreal, Oakville and Whitby. When that's chosen, you're taken to a page that offers you choices of what types of flight: first time flyers, groups, corporate packages, and selections for return or experienced flyers.
I redeemed my voucher there and set up my date and time to be there. Then I went through their many pages of waivers and disclaimers – and a short video (in both French and English, in that order, the "redunantness" of which was a tad annoying) before finally getting it all done. Then I waited impatiently for my time in the indoor sky.
When I got there, I realized that I mustn't have been the only one to get an iFly present for Christmas because the place was packed (my wife told me it had been dead when she went to buy my voucher). I was in a "class" of six people, who ranged from about 10 years of age to adult, from the fit to the out of shape (well, pear is a shape, I guess) senior citizen that's me. Some were there for the first time; others were obviously training for bigger and better things.
When you get to the front desk, the woman (I'm assuming her gender) asked me to hop onto the scale on the floor. I waddled onto it instead, which seemed to be acceptable. She also made sure I hadn't had my shoulder dislocated in the past. That seemed weird, but after my experience it made perfect sense.
Next, you go and sit in the main section of the building, watching others fly and biding your time. When called, you're issued a flying suit, a helmet, and some ear plugs. You have to return the suit and helmet, which is fine, but you get to keep the ear plugs, which I plan to use whenever my wife wants me to do something for her.
Then there's a short briefing with your instructor, where you learn the hand signals they use to get you to position your body properly in the air stream (and boy, is it an air stream!). I'd forgotten the signals by the time I got outside the actual vertical wind tunnel, but it wasn't a big deal.
When your turn comes, you're helped into the tunnel by your instructor, who sees you off into the air safely. You don't float very high initially, but you do float and it's a really cool experience. And if you want to fly higher, for $15 they'll grab onto you and fly you up toward the top of the tunnel – maybe 15, 20 feet above the bottom grid that acts like a floor. I paid the $15 gladly, and I would again.
Even better, the package my wife bought me included as the last of the five flights a virtual reality option. Here, you leave your helmet's visor up and they strap the VR goggle-like thingy onto your face. You can't see outside, of course, so they carefully get you into (and, at the end, out of) the wind tunnel.
They have a variety of VR visions, but mine was that I was skydiving (more like plummeting!) down a cliff and over a waterfall instead of being in a big transparent tube with people gawking at me. It's a fantastic experience, though the quality of the video leaves a lot to be desired and I mentioned this to the staff afterward.
It was my third VR experience, after an exciting PlayStation one in which I was in a shark tank and an Oculus Rift demo that included being in a video game, on a roller coaster, visiting a museum, etc. etc. Both were terrific but I was static in a chair or standing. At iFly, you may just be floating in the high-speed breeze, but the VR aspect of it – despite that lousy video quality – took it to a whole new level. I felt like one of those adrenaline junkies you see on YouTube loop the looping and corkscrewing across exotic landscapes.
So, yeah, if you're going to do it, do the VR part as well!
Afterward, there's an adrenaline rush that accompanies you out of the location. It isn't close to the rush I used to get after I flew an airplane, but it was definitely there.
I also learned later why they're so stuck on shoulder dislocations as being verboten: for about two days after my flight both of my shoulders were very stiff and a tad sore – and my right hand was swollen slightly and quite sore. Neither affliction was a big deal, though, and wouldn't stop me from going back. I attribute the aches and pains to the fact that I was using muscles I hadn't exercised in years, if ever.
A nice bonus is that there's an audience area where you can have your own peanut gallery to egg you on (though mine didn't bring any eggs). My wife was there, as was my son, daughter in law and two grandsons. We had planned to pay for them to fly, too, if they wanted to, but I was the only one interested.
I'm planning to try changing that because it really is a remarkable experience.
And my flights were only one aspect of what you can do at iFly. They have courses in which you can learn Back flying (facing up, I assume, as opposed to the downward-facing flying of my experience), Transitions, Rolls, Spins, Flips and more. They also offer packages for parties and the like.
The basic package, according to their website, goes for about 60 loonies and gives you two flights. For 90 bucks you can have two flights and a VR flight. For $184.95, you can get "the full meal deal" consisting of four regular flights, one VR flight, one high flight and a media pack (whatever that is).
It isn't cheap, but it surely is a blast and I recommend it highly. Now if I can only convince my family members to join me next time!
Copyright 2024 Jim Bray