As of this week, indoor skydiving in San Diego is now a reality. The $10 million iFLY San Diego— the 15th U.S. location—opened its doors in Mission Valley. My 8-year-old daughter and her friend were among the first kids to test what it’s like to experience free flight in the 14-foot wind tunnel courtesy of iFLY.
They say it’s safe enough for ages 3 to 103. Yes, a 103-year-old person actually did this. So, I figured my capable third graders in tow could handle it. They LOVED it but it wasn’t without a tiny bit of hesitation. I liken it to riding Space Mountain for the first time. It’s something that you know is fun, and you really want to do it… but there is an initial level of uncertainty that’s a combination of exciting and a little bit scary. But once you finish your first ride, it’s all good and you definitely want more.
This is what it’s like to experience iFLY.
Preparing to Fly
After arriving to the new state-of-the-art facility, a check-in process includes signing a waiver (if you haven’t done so yet online) and distribution of a wrist band to each flyer. While you wait, a live camera streams people currently in the tunnel on a nearby television. At the time of our visit, a group of professionals were flipping around and doing fancy tricks. Rest assured that won’t be you until after multiple visits and training.
Next, an easy-to-understand tutorial happens in a class setting. A short video explains the dos and don’ts of indoor skydiving and the four types of hand signals the instructor will give you in order to correct your form.
Basically, chin up, legs bent or straight, and relax are the commands. The girls understood. There is absolutely no talking in the wind tunnel because wind noise prohibits it.
It’s important to wear comfortable clothing and tennis shoes. A flight suit is worn over your clothes that the instructor will grip to hang on to you if need be (and, there will be a need for it during your first flights). Plastic goggles, disposable earplugs and a helmet round out the necessary equipment.
Once suited up, flyers step into the tunnel’s internal seating area just outside the air chamber. Cue rapid heartbeat. Flyers enter the tunnel one at a time with the wind in full force.
What It’s Like to Fly
The good news is that the instructor is right by your side. Ours, Brandon, was very good at making sure the kids understood what they needed to do in order to fly on their own.
Each flight lasted about two minutes (a double-session), but it felt like an eternity to me as I watched. During the last portion of the flight, he spun them up toward the top of the tunnel and back down. They said the fun quotient when he did that was pretty much through the roof. You HAVE to check it out in my daughter’s video here because it seems so mind-blowing that a first-timer can do this!
Depending on your package, iFLY can send you home with a flash drive with several photos and videos from your flight. This short clip is my daughter’s final flight of three. She’s a bit more stable than during her first flight, for sure, and did not report having butterflies in her stomach or any sort of motion sickness—which she does occasionally get.
Length of sessions range from 1 – 2 minutes. Keep in mind that if you were actually skydiving out of a plane, your “session” will probably last under a minute.
How the iFLY Tunnel Works
Clean-running electric motors drive four of the most efficient fans available to create the smooth cushion of air that can support anyone from the age of 3 to 103, up to 250 lbs. The tower measures 48 feet from the cable net floor (that the instructor stands on inside the tunnel) to the top of the tunnel. The glass-walled area is merely 16 feet.
Science buffs may want the nitty-gritty details which are as follows. Air is pushed down the side of the building in Return Air Towers and then directed up from the basement (plenum) through tunnel vanes. These vanes are filled with chilled water to provide a consistent, comfortable airflow in any climate. After going through the turning vanes, the air goes into the inlet contractor that compresses the air, speeding it up and forcing it into the flight chamber where people fly.
Flying in tunnels like this is part of a fast-growing sport called bodyflight. iFLY has a program that can teach beginning flyers how to become competitive flyers. iFLY also started the International Bodyflight Association (IBA) which is the leading governing agency of safety, training of instructors and ruling body for bodyflight competitions.
Programming for Kids
The thing locals must realize about iFLY is that it’s not really meant to be a one-time experience. S.T.E.M. (science, technology, engineering and math) programming for kids has been developed with and approved by local educators to comply with local teaching standards. Yes, a flight is included. What an awesome way to learn.
Birthday parties are also an option here. Other programming applicable to kids interested in bodyflight is in the works so stay tuned.
Almost everyone who I’ve talked to about this experience has asked about the cost. The answer is that it depends on the package you choose and how much you anticipate flying. The base package for first-time flyers starts at $79.99 and prices go up from there.
The Bottom Line
The girls were giggling, but apprehensive at first. Once they flew, it was all the could talk about for the rest of our evening together. Both of them would definitely do it again, and I’d be happy to oblige. This is a San Diego attraction worth visiting and I understand why it’s so popular worldwide.
iFLY San Diego
2385 Camino Del Rio North
San Diego, CA 92108
Will you fly at iFLY?