Humans have always dreamed of flying, both literally and figuratively. In fact, the most common dream is flying and it is likely this has inspired people to take to the skies. But of course, in a plane is not the same as just being able to fly. Then in the 1960s NASA built a vertical wind tunnel to test their reentry vehicles and one scientist had the idea of jumping into the wind to see if it could lift him up, and it did. This was the birth of indoor skydiving and it has to Brisbane with iFLY at Chermside Westfield.
In recent years indoor sky diving has taken off as a sport that iFLY says is suitable for anyone aged 3 to 103. Kids usually taking most naturally to the art of floating on a stream of air, with some of the younger kids being a little reluctant to first get into the chamber, but the instructors will be patient and help them feel ready. If you are taking your kids, unless you have medical conditions that prevent you, you should join them for the experience.
It is a sport you are getting in a wind tunnel and being blasted with winds going at hundreds of kilometres an hour. It doesn't require a lot of strenuous activity, because you are harnessing the wind to lift you up and, as you improve over multiple sessions, control your flight.
Perhaps the main suitability factor is your self-confidence and coordination. Because you are being helped through the whole process it really is not that difficult. They also cater to people with disabilities, often holding special disability flights, where they take particular care to accommodate each person's personal abilities and needs.
If you have any doubts, you can go to the centre at any time that they are open to view flyers in the wind tunnel. As the chamber is made of clear material you can get a 360 view of people learning to fly or experience fliers showing off their skills.
You can go in and watch people fly before deciding if it is right for you
When you sign up you will be asked to sign a declaration of risk. For first time flyers, the biggest risk is associated with health conditions that you might already have, especially, back, neck and shoulder injuries, as well as heart conditions.
When injuries do happen it is often with intermediate fliers rather than beginners because they are doing acrobatics, including team acrobatics. For beginners with a good attentive instructor in the wind tunnel with you, the actual chance of injury is very low.
Safety is paramount to the ways iFLY runs the centre. When you fly, there is an instructor with you in the tunnel, and the operator in their own locked room operating the wind turbine, locking and unlocking the doors, and generally monitoring what is going on.
Before the flight, you are given instructions and a safety briefing, then properly kitted out with a flight suit and helmet. If you wear glasses you are either given extra-large goggles to go over them.
Flights are done in groups and the group goes into a locked waiting area with the assistant who takes each person one at a time into the wind tunnel. Because there is someone in there with you, they can make sure that you don't get into trouble. In fact, they start by getting you into position and only letting go when you are flying stably. They are right there next to you when you get into any trouble with your flight.
The instructors are doing this job because they are skydivers and the perk of the job is having time fly around in the chamber. In other words, they love their job and are highly motivated.
The total experience
If you are going for your first flight prices start from $79.99 for a 2 flight package. Each flight lasts a minute but your total experience will last at least one and a half hours, starting from check-in, watching other fliers, watching demos by the staff, training, getting equipped and flying.
1 minute is plenty of time to experience the joy of wind tunnel flight and between your flights, you can watch others fly. The rest between flights is welcome because lets you come down and think about how to do better the next time.
The flight experience
You are stepping into a wind tunnel with wind speeds that put most cyclones to shame, but as you are snug in your flight suit with earplugs and helmet the main feeling is one of buoyancy as you rest on the stream of air. The airflow is very smooth so that you are not being buffeted by gusts but lifted into the sky by the wind.
When you get into the wind tunnel you lean forward and your body is immediately lifted up. The instructor will grab you and guide you forward, stabilising your position. The first flights are about mastering stability in flight. I found myself either stable or slowly drifting forward. Some times, when I didn't keep my legs straight I would slowly drift down towards the floor. But the instructor was always there to correct any of my mistakes.
Watching the other fliers, young and old, most people get the hang of it fairly easily and able to get some stable flight on their first or second go. I would highly recommend watching some YouTube videos or reading instructions beforehand, to learn a little of what is involved.
There are a couple of upgrades you can look into when booking or even on the day. The most popular one is the high flight for an extra $15, where an instructor will take you up to the top of the chamber. This is a popular adrenaline experience.
When you book your first flight, consider choosing the high flight upgrade
Another option is the VR flight. Using a VR headset you can go on a simulated skydive or wingsuit flight. The instructor guides you through the process, taking you into the chamber in time with the VR and guiding your movements to match those of the recording.
When you see people leave the chamber, the look on the faces is not quite the one you expect. Yes, it can exciting and a rush if you have taken the high flight or VR options. But there is something profound about the experience of indoor skydiving. You are not floating as such, but being pushed up by the stream of air. The ability to fly comes from how you hold your body and position your limbs. So you are in control of basically the miracle of personal flying: or at least getting taste of that miracle.
That is the look you see on people's faces because they have had fun but experienced something amazing. Maybe it goes back to our ancestors who would swing from tree to tree, or if you believe in the aquatic ape hypotheses, we had ancestors that swam in the ocean, and it is that genetic memory that is being awoken by the experience of flying.
To put it less philosophically, it is a great fun activity suitable for all ages that will leave amazed in more than one way.
Location, getting there and after the flight
iFly Brisbane is in a purpose-built building at the Chermside Westfield. If you are driving then park at the car park near the top floor outdoor restaurants. If you come by public transportation, then the easiest way is to walk through the mall, going up to the upper floor, and exiting via the restaurant area. When you leave the outdoor restaurants, turn left and you will see iFLY.
A flight experience takes at least one and a half hours, more if you arrive early to watch other fliers. You can also make more of a day of it, especially if you are trying to entertain a group of kids. After the flight, you can enjoy food from one of the many restaurants next to iFLY, see a movie at the theatre there or go to play games, including arcade games, bowling, laser tag and more at Kingpin, also on level 3 at Chermside Westfield.
The outdoor restaurant court at Chermside Westfield
For most people, indoor skydiving is a bucket list activity. It looks fun and it is. It certainly isn't difficult, not with the great instructors at Chermside iFLY. For most people, it is just a one-off, but plenty of people come back to learn more about how to fly and master the air.