With indoor skydiving—floating on a cushion of air inside a wind tunnel—you can recapture your child-like dreams of flying. I did it at iFly, Portland. And no, it’s not too hard. Or too dangerous. And you’re not too old.
When I was a child, I used to have “flying dreams.” Did you too? It’s pretty common with kids. If you’ve had them, you never forget them. And you always want to recapture that magical feeling of flying, supported by the air, weightless and free.
Well, I did recapture it. And boy was it fun!
I “flew” at iFly Portland, which is actually located in Tigard, Oregon, in the Tualatin Valley, aka “Portland’s Back Yard.” And if I lived closer, I’d be back over and over again. Yes, it was that much fun.
I have long wanted to jump out of a plane. At least I say I do, though I’ve yet to take action to make it a reality. But after indoor skydiving with iFly Portland, I think I’m closer than ever. Because this is as close as you can get to the real thing—but without a parachute. Heck, you don’t even need an airplane.
What is Indoor Skydiving, Really?
To put it simply, you “fly” inside a huge wind tunnel, an upright tube of very fast-moving air. Picture a giant hairdryer. A really BIG hairdryer, one that blows a really strong stream of cool air. With indoor skydiving, you’re riding the current from that giant hairdryer.
The facility at iFly Portland was especially built for this unique activity. Here’s a quick and dirty description of how it works….
Up on the roof of the three-story building, there are four giant fans, our metaphorical hair dryers. They blow about a bazillion pounds of hot air down through ducts on the building’s sides to the basement. There it’s cooled, and vanes shoot it back up into the tunnel, a huge transparent tube.
As the tunnel narrows, the air speed increases. It can be adjusted as necessary. For the smallest and lightest flyers, it might only be 90 mph. For very experienced flyers, who love doing all kinds of tricks and gymnastics on the air current, it can go up to 170 mph.
As a newbie, all you really need to know is that air stream is a giant cushion that is going to gently and safely hold you in its arms while you fly.
You’re NOT Too Old for Indoor Skydiving
IFly Portland loves to point out that the company has flown kids as young as three years old and adults as old as… wait for it… 103. So you’re not going to get off by using age as an excuse. They DO recommend that people with back problems think twice, and they advise against pregnant women or those with serious heart problems doing a flight.
Beyond that, there are few boundaries. They regularly hold special sessions for physically challenged people—those in wheelchairs, blind people, amputees and children with developmental disabilities. There is really so little physical stress involved that indoor skydiving is an activity available to nearly everyone. No experience required, just a sense of adventure and a desire to have fun!
How to Do Indoor Skydiving: the Process
When you arrive at iFly Portland, you first “check in” for your flight. You head up to the flight deck where you can watch other flyers getting their magic fix. Watching will likely whet your appetite to get in there yourself.
Next, you’re asked to sign a liability waiver form—pretty standard practice in any sort of “adventure” activity, even mild ones. The companies’ insurance providers require it. I’ve signed waivers for river rafting, snorkeling, and ballooning trips. No big deal.
Then off you go to the training classroom. My instructor was Spencer. He’s got a very calm, reassuring manner. After a short video, he explained the basic moves and body positioning. He showed me the hand signals used to communicate in the chamber, because with the noise of the wind, he wouldn’t be able to just say “lift your head” or “straighten your arms.” This short training time is also your chance to ask any questions about anything.
Then it’s suit-up time. I donned a one-piece flight suit over my street clothes—a lovely purple but not exactly flattering. I was given some sneakers since I was wearing slip-ons. If you arrive in lace-up sneaks, you can wear your own. A pair of goggles and a helmet completed my outfit. I could have chosen to add knee and elbow pads, but they didn’t seem necessary. You can also request ear plugs. Since I wear two hearing aids, I simply took them out. I didn’t want to risk having the strong rush of wind blow one out and send it down, down, down into that cavity from whence came that otherwise supportive flow of air. Plus, they make even a normal windy day really LOUD.
You’re asked to drop all—really, all—your personal belongings in a secure locker. Believe them when they say it’s a bad idea not to take off watches and jewelry and empty your pockets. They have stories to tell. Flying cell phones? Lost wallets? Keys as projectile weapons? They’ve seen them all, and you don’t want to help them see them again.
Time to Fly!
You get two 60-second fights. As I stood next to Spencer in the doorway into the flight chamber, the sound was loud. He put his arm across my waist and motioned me to lean in. I leaned in….
I had no sensation of falling, none at all. I was simply picked up by the wind and held there. It was a unique feeling, hard to describe. You feel the strong force of the air pushing up from below. Your body turns, dips.
In those first seconds, my body was fighting the force of the air. I floated and bobbled about like a five foot long blimp. But Spencer was right there beside me, helping to right my position, reminding me to raise my chin, move my hands in front of my shoulders. And here’s the thing that made it not at all scary for me. There really is no place to fall. You’re suspended less than three feet above an open grid, which would act as a perfect safety net if for any reason the air cut off or refused to hold you up.
You’re flying! That minute in the chamber flies by (pun intended). Out the door back into the anteroom you go.
We sat on a bench, and Spencer asked me what I thought. For a minute, I couldn’t answer him because I was laughing so hard… laughing for the pure joy of it.
I finally managed to gasp out, “That was SO COOL!” He laughed too.
Then he asked me if I wanted to go higher for the second flight. You bet I did!
Back into the chamber we went. After a short while, he gave me the signal that we were going up. And BAM, up we went, about 15 feet up. Then down. Then up again. It felt like I really was flying. Well, in fact, I was. I felt exhilarated, happy, and perfectly safe. If you watch the video below, you’ll see what that was like. And you’ll hear me laughing through it!
I’m betting you’ll love it too. Feel that exuberance that had me laughing so hard, that sense of flying without ever really leaving the ground.
So, why not let your own dreams of flying, They’re not just in Oregon’s Tualatin Valley. With 30 locations across the U.S. and 10 more international ones (in Brazil, Australia, France and Great Britain), it’s not too hard to find one nearby.
Now go fly!
IFly Portland is located at 10645 SW Greenburg Road, in Tigard, Oregon, less than an hour from Downtown Portland.
Telephone: (971) 803-4359.
Monday to Thursday: 9am-9:30pm
For first-time flyers, iFly’s basic package costs $59.95. Multi-flight packages are also available.
You can get more information on other iFly locations, videos, and a long list of FAQs to ease all your fears at iFly’s website. iFly’s Website
Disclaimer: My flight with iFly Portland was sponsored by Tualatin Valley Tourism of the Washington County Visitors’ Association. However, the opinions expressed here are entirely my own. I think you can tell I really, really liked my indoor skydiving adventure. I’m grateful to WCVA for making it possible.