Mere mortals experience thrill of flight at iFLY Dallas
By Greg Ford
FRISCO — Six-year-old Emma McIntosh didn’t say much; her face told the story.
The ride she just finished was well worth it. What the Sunnyvale resident, along with her dad, Jim, and 16-year-old brother, Nick, had just done was come as close to flying without mechanical assistance or wings.
In fact, they did so indoors, as each took turns inside the vertical wind chamber at the iFLY Dallas indoor skydiving facility. There, for about a minute apiece, Emma, Jim, Nick and others brave enough to enter, can discover what it feels like to float through the air without the fear of being thousands of feet above the earth.
“We’ve taken away the plane and the parachute. The risk is gone. We’ve just delivered the fun part,” said Shelly Jackson, director of sales and marketing at iFLY Dallas.
She added, “We can start out at three years old. We have flown a 103-year-old in Orlando. It’s fun and safe for all ages and abilities. We can fly all disabilities.”
The Frisco facility is one of 35 currently operating globally, Jackson said, with facilities also located in the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada. Currently, she noted, there are 22 more such centers under construction globally.
The first was built in 1998 in Orlando, Fla., with the original concept being to train skydivers and military personnel. It eventually blossomed into amusement park-type ride for everyone.
At present, Jackson said, there are two iFLY facilities in Houston, one in Austin — the corporate office is there too — and ground has been broken in San Antonio for another indoor skydiving center. Locations are also being sought in Fort Worth; plans are to have that ready by next spring, Jackson said.
Participants enter the chamber in a horizontal manner through an opening, and then immediately are lifted up by strong blasts of air and are assisted by a trained professional. Those who partake in the venture are given a pre-flight briefing regarding the proper method for indoor flying, and are equipped with the jumpsuit and helmet.
“It was awesome,” Jim McIntosh said of his venture. “The wind was really fast … It was exciting.”
His son Nick shared similar feelings.
“It was great,” he said. “I felt like I was in a hurricane … It was awesome.”
Trainers, such as the one assisting the Jim, Emma and Nick, keep a close eye on each entrant — it’s done one at a time — and will ride with them in a high flight, where the jet blasts are increased, lifting the participant and trainer to nearly the top of the vertical tunnel.
“Our instructors are highly trained,” Jackson noted. “Our trainers will go through a month-long, military-style training, where they are spending a minimum of 20 hours of flight time in the wind, learning how to prepare for any type of rollover situation (participant flips on to his or her back), someone hitting the wall or just being safe … Every little movement makes a big difference when you’re in hundreds of mile per hour of wind.”
One of those charged with keeping things safe is instructor Andrew Farris, who has been with iFLY for about 18 months, and was a skydiver before that.
“Not only do they teach you how to fly smoother, but they also teach you how to be able to teach other people how to fly and keep 100 percent safety,” Farris said.
The “other people” often are ones who aren’t sure they want to fly, but often leave happy they did.
“We have nervous kids to the scared of heights to people who got dragged into this,” Farris said.
He added, “This is what we love to do. Not only, do we get to fly, but we get to teach people how to fly.”
Besides instructing first-timers and novices, Farris also works with more experienced indoor skydivers; they are the ones who have learned aerial maneuvers or want to develop their proficiency. In fact, there is a chart at the facility outlining what moves indoor skydivers must learn in order to move the ladder to expert.
The iFly Dallas facility will host a National Kids Flight Competition on Tuesday, Oct. 13 from 7-9 p.m.
“The levels of flying go from belly to back to sit to transitions to head down,” Farris said. “Those are pretty much the five levels of flying. In order to move from one level to the next you have to prove that you can fly on your belly just fine and with other people. Then we move you to your back and so on and so forth.”
Most folks, though, are like the McIntoshes, trying it out for the first time, and occasionally that has led some interesting moments, Farris noted.
“We had a grandma loses her dentures,” he said.