I approach the wind tunnel with my hands up.
It’s proper protocol for entering the flight chamber. But for me it’s just as much about surrendering to the experience. I’m saying to the wind, “I come in peace. Let’s be friends.”
For 60 seconds, I trust you, wind. Be my blanket. And let me tell you, this is the longest, most exciting minute of my life. Never have I felt more like Puff Daddy and Mase in the “Mo Money, Mo Problems” video. The shiny flight suit phase of ’90s fashion finally makes sense.
The flight suit helps you, well, fly. It’s baggy and perfect for catching the wind. Then come the aerodynamic goggles and the helmet. They have Vans on deck if you need to borrow kicks, but I supply my own shoes: a pair of Air Jordan Spizike Bordeaux. If anyone exudes confidence in defying gravity it’s Michael Jordan. I need some of Jordan’s courage.
You see, I’m not an adrenaline junkie. I’m the scared-of-roller-coasters type. Jump out of a plane? Nah. I’ll pass. But here I am at iFly Indoor Skydiving, newly opened in Overland Park.
The chain started in Orlando, Fla., in 1999, and since then, millions of people have taken flight at a couple dozen locations all over the world. Even toddlers can do it. Still, this isn’t all child’s play. There is no bounce house, bar or other attractions at iFly. This is all about the flight chamber in the center of the space. This is where real skydivers practice tricks, with seating all around for watching the action.
My instructor, Jeremy, is one of those jump men. He has been free-falling from planes for years. So in the wind tunnel, he looks like one of the X-Men surfing the wind, ready to take down a villain. This gives a newbie like me great comfort.
When I meet him, he takes me to the classroom. This is why I have to arrive an hour early: All first-timers sit through a training video to learn the hand signals, because four giant fans whipping air through a 56-foot-high glass cylinder make it impossible to hear or talk. A peace sign means straighten your legs. A one-handed air quote means bend your legs. One index finger means chin up. The Shaka/Hang 10 sign means relax and smile.
Introductory flights ($69.95) include two one-minute-long flights and your gear. Yeah. It’s pricey. Some people might not think a minute is a long time. It is.
When I enter the chamber, I’m engulfed in the wind. There is no jumping or falling involved. This is not like RipCord at Worlds of Fun where you strap into a body harness and plunge 189-feet at 80 miles an hour. It’s a different kind of rush, starting on the floor and soaring up slowly.
You don’t fly in the stiff, strong-armed Superman stance. That’s a fantasy. Instead, your arms form L-shapes. You keep a slight bend at the knee. Relax your muscles. Breathe. And you don’t fly alone. Your instructor is there to help you. There are handles on your suit for him to grab and adjust you. I’m about the buddy system.
Because as simple as keeping a slight bend in your arms and legs sounds, it gets real hard when you’re trying to keep your chin up and relax while the wind bombards you with enough speed and strength to propel you in the air. My cheeks blow back. It doesn’t hurt. But it’s overwhelming. Instinctively, I think I can’t breathe. I can.
Jeremy gives me the Hang 10 sign. I relax. I think I’m smiling. I trust the wind. I inhale, exhale and when I look at him again, I am floating. It’s happening. I am flying, just hovering up and down. I’m chilling high enough that I could fly over the head of Michael Jordan.
By the time Jeremy guides me toward the white handles that allow me to pull myself out of the chamber and plant my feet on solid ground again, I feel somewhere between ecstatic and frantic. Has it really been only a minute? I need at least three minutes to sit down and process. In my mind, I go over what I learned in class and how it feels in action.
On my second flight, I’m prepared. Jeremy tells me it’s time to soar. I enter again, with my hands up. This time, it’s strictly for protocol. I now know the wind is my friend. My arms and legs bend into position. These wings are ready. I think.
I feel a tug on my flight suit. Jeremy has my handles. I blink for one second. The next, we are flying up, up and away into the chamber. Forty feet high, at least. I don’t have a broom, but as we zoom down and curve around again and again with increasing speed, I imagine this is what Harry Potter feels like playing Quidditch.
iFly put a spell on me. And I’m sky high.
Spread your wings
IFly Indoor Skydiving, 10975 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, is open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. Flights start at $69.95. For more information, visit iFlyWorld.com.