Forget jumping out of a plane at 30,000 feet, the latest craze for Australian thrill seekers (especially those who are afraid of extreme heights … *cough, cough*) has landed.
iFLY Downunder is Australia’s first multi-million dollar indoor skydiving centre. It opened in Penrith—50kms west of Sydney—in April and the adrenalin rush has proved a hit with everyone from those who have never left the ground to professional skydivers.
Originally developed to allow experienced skydivers to train whatever the weather, indoor skydiving has since soared in popularity around the world and become an adventure sport in its own right—with flyers ranging in age from three to 103 years old.
Using SkyVenture patented technology, the five metre wind tunnel in Penrith—one of the largest in the world—is powered by four 450 horse power fans that can achieve speeds of up to 250km per hour (although they don’t crank the fans up that high for newbies!).
For the past few years, I have toyed with the idea of skydiving, adding and removing it from my bucket list multiple times.
The main reason I delete it is because I’m fairly certain that I’d either throw up or sh*t myself in the plane on the way up because I’d be so scared and, to be honest, and while both would require a bucket, it’s fair to say they aren’t on my ‘bucket list’.
Experience has also taught me that I’m useless on rides where you reach zero gravity and lose your stomach. (I’m thinking of you, Gravatron.)
It also doesn’t help that when I was a kid, we sent Dad skydiving for his 40th birthday and just before it was his turn to head up, one of the guys crash landed into the car park—he actually connected with someone’s car—and had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance.
Which is why Indoor Skydiving seems so perfect to me … it’s the rush, without the risk of death!
To wrap up my recent four-day Sydney extravaganza as part of the 32nd Annual Festivus of Brooke (my birthday), Erin and I headed to Penrith to meet the crew at iFLY Downunder.
As Erin and I waited for our turn to suit up, we watched a team of new instructors undergo an intense looking training session which involved quite a lot of hand signals and a few collisions with each other and the wall.
Watching them made me a little queasy and I began to regret eating a giant flowerpot scone with jam and scream 45 minutes earlier.
But my fears were allayed when we met our instructor, Frazer Smith.
Originally from the UK, Frazer is the man who trains the trainers who train the instructors.
He has more than 1800 skydives and 10,000 hours in the wind tunnel to his name and he’s flown with David Beckham and his family.
He also has six gold medals in Freefly and Vertical Formation Skydiving with British freefly champions ‘Volare’ and was part of the 138-way vertical world record. He’s also one of only six International Bodyflight Association examiners in the world and has a wealth of coaching experience in both the tunnel and the sky.
Basically, Frazer’s the bomb.
As well as taking us through our safety demonstration, Frazer assured me that he hadn’t yet seen, or heard of, anyone throwing up in the tunnel. Crisis averted … although there is a first time for everything.
Clearly we were in safe hands—but that’s not to say some people haven’t still hit the wall. Literally.
“This is a sport so of course, flyers on occasion have made contact with the walls, but is mostly the instructors as they learn and practice new tricks and techniques,” he said.
“We always have a trained spotter overseeing the sessions so that anyone learning more advanced tricks can do it in the safest way possible.”
With a crash course on hands signals complete, it was time to suit up; as well as a jumpsuit which you wear over your clothes, each flyer is also given ear plugs (to counteract the noise of the fans), a helmet and some uber chic plastic goggles which I think will be the ‘must have’ item for Spring/Summer.
We were also warned to tuck our hair into our helmets to avoid what could be the worse case of bedhair/dreadlocks imaginable!
With our safety gear on, it was time to step inside the 65 foot (13m) high, 16 foot (5m) wide glass flight chamber and take flight—that’s right … no plane, no leap and no heights needed!
Did you know…The first human to fly in a vertical wind tunnel was Jack Tiffany in 1964 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base located in Greene and Montgomery County, Ohio.
The floor of the flight chamber is a trampoline floor of aircraft-quality stainless steel and, quite surprisingly, the air is actually generated from the top of the chamber, not the bottom.
When the electric fans at the top of the chamber operate, air is drawn up through the tube, creating a cushion of air that you can fly on. It then travels back to the top of the flight chamber and down the sides and the cycle begins again.
Once Frazer and I entered the flight chamber, the tunnel operator slowly brought the wind speed up until we were airborne.
Now, I’ve been windy places before and I’d heard that being inside the wind tunnel is a similar feeling to sticking your head out of the car window, but nothing prepared me for the wobble that happened to my cheeks the moment I stepped inside the glass chamber.
I obviously couldn’t see them, but I could feel them and they were being squished all over the place and each time I smiled or laughed, the inside of my mouth would dry out. It was the opposite for Erin who thinks she drooled through most of her flight. (Sorry Ez!)
At one stage I did almost fly out the door, but Frazer had a firm grip on my jumpsuit to stop me from getting away!
For a first time flyer , the one-hour experience (prices starting at $89) includes training, fit out of equipment, and then you fly twice with each flight just under a minute which is actually more free fall time than a skydive from 14000 ft.
I discovered that I’m probably not a natural flyer; it could have something to do with my lack of core strength or maybe the fact that every time I went above Frazer’s head height, I had a wee little panic attack.
But it was definitely exhilarating. And then came my birthday surprise … a trip to the top of the wind tunnel which isn’t something most beginners get to try.
At first I felt a little like I was spinning around in a washing machine and then our tunnel operator turned up the wind speed and we zoomed upwards, followed by a free fall down to the net.
It may have only lasted seconds, but it is the closest feeling you can get to the real free fall experience of skydiving and it was such a rush.
To finish off our session, Frazer showed off some of the skills that scored him those silver medals, zipping up down and around the wind tunnel with moves that would impress most birds.
He explained that the similarities to outdoor skydiving are enough to make the facility a hit with experienced skydivers, who often use the centre to enhance their skills and try new moves.
“All of the movements you use in the tunnel to fly are as you would use them in the sky, the only difference is the view and you have to remember that you’re inside a confined space.”
I would highly recommend indoor skydiving for any adrenaline junkies or people thinking about taking the plunge outdoors, but aren’t 100 per cent sure.
It also struck me as a pretty good workout because for three days afterwards my core and chest muscles were in a world of hurt from trying to hold myself steady against the wind. So much so that each time I sneezed I swore … “ahhh choooo! Oh my holy Jesus that hurtsssss!”
Both Erin and I agreed we’d definitely give it another go … and Ez is now keen to get up in the sky and try the real deal, although I think I’ll just stick with the tunnel.
For those outside of Sydney who are keen to give it a go, plans are underway to open another two centres—on the Gold Coast and in Melbourne, but not until late 2015 so just get yourself on a plane and go check it out!
Author’s note: While I was gifted my experience at iFLY Downunder, I was not paid to write this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.