It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s your kid! Yes, really — that’s your kid flying! The world’s largest indoor skydiving operation, iFly, has 3 Chicagoland locations making it convenient for kids as young as three to simulate a real skydiving adventure. Read on to learn how Chicago’s vertical wind tunnel fun zone recreates the awesomeness of skydiving minus the scary jumping out of the airplane part. Slip into those flight suits and soar like an eagle.
photo: iFly San Francisco Bay
How It Works
First things first: No, you don’t jump out of an airplane; you lean forward and float into a wind tunnel. The tunnel is in the middle of a viewing lounge, so once you’ve registered in the lobby you can usually watch other divers before you take the plunge yourself. It’s not hard to get a feel for what’s going on. Get dressed in a flight suit, protective eyewear and helmet, and you’ll be ushered into the tunnel by a seasoned skydiver. Yet it feels more like getting whisked in, because you’re lifted by the force of air generated by overheard fans rigged to create an upward draft of 80-175 miles per hour. It takes a second to realize you’re hovering in the air and enjoying a floating sensation.
We know what you’re thinking: Doesn’t skydiving mean you fall down, instead of up? The trained skydivers at iFLY say the actual sport doesn’t feel like a free fall. It’s more like a float, and that’s the experience replicated here. Indoor skydiving at iFLY requires a bit of work, however; you need to hold your body in an “X” position — arms and legs splayed — and keep your chin up to get the best “dive.” It takes a bit of strength, and the more relaxed you are, the easier it is.
Training for Big Thrills
Every flight starts with a training session during which your skydiver coach walks you through simple hand signals (you can’t hear in the loud, windy tunnel, so motioning with your hands is the best way to communicate). You also practice the “flying” position, which comes in handy because, once you’ve mastered it, your coach will grab hold of you and lift you up, up, up the wind tunnel for an even bigger rush.
Sure, you can do tricks inside the tunnel (after the flight, your instructor will show off his or her own wall walks, leaps, twists and turns). But attempting anything other than straightforward floating isn’t recommended without training. If you’re serious about learning more, you can sign up for more advanced lessons and your trainer may introduce fancier moves. Most people that try iFLY are untrained folks without a lick of experience, however bona fide jumpers use it as a place to practice.
How Long Are Kids in the Air?
Each flight last about 60 seconds (compared to the 45 seconds of freefall in true skydiving). If you reserve a package that contains two flights, you can take two turns in the wind tunnel with an instructor, each lasting 60 seconds each. Some packages include double-length flights which lasts double the time at a reduced cost. The entire iFLY first-time flyer experience takes approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes from start to finish.
Safety is a primary concern at iFLY. Every instructor is certified and highly-trained. There is no jumping and no falling involved — it’s all about simply floating on a column of air. Nothing about the experience would induce motion sickness. You’ll feel wind in your face and you can breathe normally. No experience is required.
After your flight, your instructor will lead you out of the flight chamber. Everyone receives a personalized flight certificate. You can also opt to purchase pictures and videos of your flight.
Who Can Participate
The indoor skydiving experience is safe and comfortable enough for kids as young as three and elderly people up to age 103 (though there are a few restrictions).
Big-Time Birthday Parties
Kids will love iFLY and, starting at age three, they can take part. There are family packages for up to five people (everyone gets to jump twice) and party packages for up to 12 people that can include rental of the onsite party room, videos of everyone’s flight and pizza. If you don’t want to rent the party room, there are plenty of restaurant options around for post-flight fun (try Kings across the courtyard for burgers and bowling). Info on iFLY packages can be found by clicking here.
For individual flights, the basic beginners-level package includes two flights for $69.95. Flights are one minute in length (a free fall from an airplane typically lasts 45 seconds). If you return to iFLY within three months of your last session, you get a discount. Reservations are always recommended.
MB Financial Park
5520 Park Place, Rosemont
— Maria Chambers & Kelly Aiglon