Blown Up

Indoor skydiving offers the thrill of freefall without the risk.

As I look around this tubular chamber, a random thought occurs to me:  Aren’t rooms with padded walls usually reserved for crazy people?

Before I have a chance to consider what lying spread-eagled on the wire mesh floor of a two-story padded room says about my mental health, the gentle breeze generated by the giant fan beneath me quickly builds to hurricane force.  And suddenly I find myself flying.

Granted, the concept of “indoor skydiving” may seem a bit loony in its own right.  But the fact is this is about as close to the exhilaration of freefall as a relatively sane person—herein defined as anyone with more sense than to jump out of a perfectly good airplane—is ever likely to get.

When my friend Todd and I decided to give the sport a whirl we headed to Vegas Indoor Skydiving, one of only a handful of places in the U.S. that make these 120 mile-per-hour vertical wind tunnels available to the general public.  Our instructor K8 Sommer (her spelling, not mine) started out by showing us a short video that demonstrated proper body-flight technique, the hand signals we’d use to communicate, and—most importantly—how to tuck-and-roll properly to guarantee a safe landing on the chamber’s well-padded rim if we found ourselves flying out of the airstream.

After getting us decked out like escapees from some low-budget sci-fi flick in brightly-colored flight-suits, helmets, and goggles, the three of us headed for the wind tunnel.  Once inside, K8 had me lie face down on the trampoline-like wire mesh in the center of the chamber as she signaled the wind tunnel operator to crank up the huge fan in the building’s basement.

As the wind speed approached 75 miles-per-hour I was literally blown up, with K8 stepping in with an occasional tug on a sleeve or pants leg to keep me positioned in the center of the airstream.  Once I started to get the hang of flying sans aircraft, I was able to stand on the rim of the chamber and dive head-first into the airstream in a move not unlike Superman taking flight.

While most of this operation’s customers are satisfied with a couple of three-minute flight sessions, I flew for a total of 12 minutes as Todd took his sweet time snapping photos.  Then it was his turn to fly with K8, whereupon he quickly decided that this off-the-wall form of flight is a lot harder than it looks.

Having done a couple of tandem skydives I can tell you that, while this indoor version of freefall lacks the full-on sensory overload of the real deal, the overall experience is pretty darn similar.  It also happens to be the best way I know to get a taste of skydiving without making folks think you’ve lost your mind.

Xtrordinary Xtra
The first human “flight” in a vertical wind tunnel took place on Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in 1964.  The first public version opened to the public in 1979.

The Facts
Name: Vegas Indoor Skydiving
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Phone: 877-545-8093
Website: www.vegasindoorskydiving.com

My Advice

  • While the potential, ahem, downside here is much less severe than in traditional skydiving, this activity is not without risk.  Which means you best pay close attention to all the safety instructions, especially the bit about how to land safely on the chamber’s padded rim if you fly out of the airstream.
  • Even if you think you’re in great shape, don’t underestimate how physically demanding this activity is.  Better to sign up for just one or two flight sessions at first, knowing that you can always buy more time if it turns out you’re a closet tunnel rat.
  • Not everyone can enjoy the sport of indoor skydiving, but the experience is open to a wider range of shapes and sizes than you might expect.  In general, participants must weigh in between 40 and 230 pounds and there are only minimal limitations on age.  For other medical restrictions, consult the company’s website.
  • Shooting photos or video inside the wind tunnel is usually pretty tough (if it’s even allowed).  Which means you should be sure to ask whether photo/video packages are available when you sign up.
  • To find an indoor skydiving operation near you, check out www.bodyflight.net.