For many people, the potential thrill of falling to earth doesn’t exceed the risk of jumping out of an airplane. A new business in Roseville solves that problem.
The business, iFly Sacramento, operates an indoor wind tunnel used to simulate sky diving. iFly centers have been attracting first-time fliers and experienced sky divers as they’ve popped up across the country. The Austin, Texas-based company has 52 locations in operation, with another 25 on the way, company officials said.
“Our mission is to deliver the dream of flight to everybody, whether you’re age 3 or 103,” said general manager Cameron Cole, echoing the line from company President Matt Ryan.
A recent weekday visit showed the scope of interest in simulated falling. The business attracts experienced sky divers, those afraid of jumping out of planes and schoolchildren. The joyful collective wail of a class of sixth-grade students was nearly deafening. One by one, the kids took their turn assuming the “Superman” position as the tunnel’s 100-plus mph wind – with a little help from an instructor – held them in the air. The cheering reached a new level when teacher Jessica Alva entered the chamber.
“We are studying energy right now and felt the wind tunnel fit in,” said Alva, who teaches math and science at Harvest Ridge Placer Academy in Rocklin. Before jumping in the tunnel themselves, students calculated how much energy it would take to lift various objects.
“It was great. The students got a lot out of it,” said Alva, still dressed in the blue jumpsuit used in the tunnel. “It was so fun.”
Cole said during the winter months, when outdoor sky diving is less practical, as much as half the clientele will be experienced fliers looking to hone their skills or learn new techniques. In the summer, those new to the activity have a larger presence.
First-time fliers should not expect to perform loops, rolls or other maneuvers on display from instructors like Charles Reid. Flying in a 12-foot-wide wind tunnel demands precision. A tilt of the flier’s hand, foot or head affects the flight. Without the needed control, participants will flail around like the superhero who never mastered flying in the1980s sitcom “The Greatest American Hero.”
Flying indoors isn’t cheap. The base $69.95 package offers two 2-minutes flights with an instructor. It’s a bargain compared with sky diving, said Cole. In most cases, jumping out of a plane only gets you 30 seconds of free fall. Party or corporate packages that allow groups of people to divide 30 minutes of flight among friends or co-workers start at $607.63. Injuries are rare, company officials said. But flying can be stressful on the back and shoulders. Indoor sky diving may not be suitable for people with back or shoulder injuries.
The indoor flying is created by a massive fan positioned above the tunnel. The powerful fan pulls air from the top of the chamber, pushes it through tunnels outside the chamber and then blows it up from the floor, creating an even cushion of air, Cole explained.
Those concerned about the dangers of sky diving got a fresh reminder earlier this month when a plane carrying 18 people crash-landed in a San Joaquin County vineyard. The sky-diving plane came to rest upside down, with only the pilot suffering a “minor injury.” The dramatic crash was captured on video.
“This is the best way to fly. It beats airplanes. It beats sky diving. It’s the safest way to fly,” said Reid, the lead instructor at the center. He, like Cole, has been with the company for years and moved to the area to support the opening of the new center.
“In a wind tunnel you can find your dream of flight,” said Reid.