By Joseph Ciolino
(Editor’s note: SDCNN editor Jeff Clemetson tries indoor skydiving for the first time. He shares his experience here.)
Grab your helmet and jumpsuit and prepare for body flight, without ever having to jump out of an airplane.
Indoor skydiving company iFLY San Diego held its grand opening in Mission Valley on March 4, and they did it with a bang. The Red Bull Air Force professional skydivers jumped out of a plane and landed in the parking lot in front of invited guests, and then made their way inside the wind tunnel for a performance.
The iFLY facility, located at 2385 Camino Del Rio North, is the third to open in Southern California. The other two are in Hollywood and Ontario, and more are planned.
People of all ages and flying experience can schedule indoor free-fall flights emulating the skydiving experience. So how does it work?
The multimillion-dollar facility with an unusual design features a large wind tunnel housed with fans that draw air through the flight chamber, which is then pushed back down through the return air towers on the sides. The air is then turned from the towers into the bottom of the tunnel and back up toward the flight chamber through an inlet contractor reducing the air travel space by compressing and speeding up the air, allowing for a support of air-enabling flight, according to iFLY.com.
Fliers must fill out a waiver before they enter into a room where they are greeted by their flight instructors, who are seasoned skydivers and have had extensive training in the flight tunnel. They watch a five-minute video highlighting hand signals.
After that, fliers are fitted with a helmet and flight suit. Hand signals are reviewed, and fliers enter the outer rim of the tunnel and await their turn to fly.
Flights typically last about 60 seconds and are largely instructor-assisted, as it can be a bit difficult at first. Rookies typically start out on their “bellies” with their arms raised and elbows pointed out, while the instructor guides and ensures they maintain proper positioning. First-timers will experience wind speeds of 50 to 70 miles per hour, but this can be turned up for seasoned fliers.
Safety is king. First-time or less-experienced fliers are monitored very closely by instructors throughout the flight’s duration.
“Our instructors are IBA [International Bodyflight Association] certified and they train in all matters of safety,” said Krystal Castaneda, general manager of iFLY San Diego. “They make sure everyone is safe, that is the main thing. They are in there with you the entire time.”
More experienced fliers can prove they don’t need as much guidance from instructors, allowing them to be a little more hands-off.
Fliers can also track their progress and advance through a progression system the more they fly. Fliers can sign up on tunnelflight.com and advance through levels approved by their instructor, and gain access to various perks the higher they advance, such as less-guided flight.
“The more levels you gain and the more experience you gain, then the more people you can fly with and the more abilities you have,” said Brooke Sylvia, iFLY San Diego shift supervisor.
Not only will fliers progress and gain experience, they will be burning calories as well. Flying is physically active because of the need to actively hold body positioning against wind.
“I compare it to yoga,” Sylvia said. “You’re really engaging your body, holding still and strong and it’s very similar.”
Dynamic flying is one of the most popular activities for competitive indoor skydiving. Teams of two or four compete by going around in a set pattern for three laps and the team with the fastest time of the three laps combined wins the round, said Nick Flo, San Diego iFLY instructor.
“There is also a freestyle round where it’s artistic, and four-way teams will fly a freestyle, artistic pattern where they will be judged by how it looks,” Flo said.
The iFLY tunnel can also be used as a resource for teaching children.
Castaneda said iFLY has a STEM education program bringing educators in to teach children about the science behind the laws of physics including wind speeds and drag.
Want to fly? There are only a few restrictions. You must be age 3 or older and weigh less than 250 pounds. People who have experienced recent shoulder dislocations or have history of back, neck and heart issues should probably check with their doctor before attempting to fly, according to iFLY.com. Two 60-second flights cost $80, and visit iflyworld.com/san-diego for more information.
—Joseph Ciolino is an intern with SDCNN and a senior majoring in journalism at San Diego State University.