iFly Indoor Skydiving Is a Fun Flight Alternative During a Pandemic
After a bit of flailing, I struck a stable superwoman pose. It really felt like I was flying, just without the scenery.
Ever the adventurer, I’d planned on going skydiving for my 18th birthday—but it never happened, likely due to a lack of funds and people willing to join me. This year for my solar return, I got lucky enough to try out iFly Minneapolis in Minnetonka, an indoor skydiving franchise with more than 80 locations in the U.S., Canada, Brazil, France, New Zealand, Australia, Great Britain, China and Singapore.
My husband, Luke, and I donned masks and had our temperatures scanned upon arriving, then got fitted for jumpsuits and helmets. Our instructor, Megan, joked it was her first day—which it technically was, since we were her first rookie flyers after the chain reopened following its pandemic shutdown. Since opening its first iFly location in Orlando in 1998, the wind tunnel franchise has flown more than 10 million people. People of any age can participate as long as they’re physically able, but the weight limit is 300 pounds.
Megan showed us a cheesy intro video and taught us hand signals, since the 150-mph wind in the tunnel would make it a bit hard to hear. If she held up a peace sign, that meant to straighten our legs, which would move us forward. If she bent her two fingers like bunny ears, that meant bend our legs, which moved us backwards.
On my turn, I semi-confidently fell into the vertical wind chamber, where Megan was standing to grab onto my suit so I didn’t fly up too high or into the glass walls. After a bit of flailing, I struck a stable superwoman pose with my chin up, and Megan was able to let go of me for a couple seconds during my first 60-second flight. It really felt like I was flying, just without the scenery. Simply tilting my hands one way or the other caused me to spin. On my second flight, I pointed upwards to signal that I wanted to pay the $20 extra for Megan to take me flying to the top of the chamber. We socially distanced from a professional skydiver and a teenage gymnast, the only other customers trading off in the tunnel with us. Their iFly instructors showed off with incredible flips and tricks like spinning around head first through the tunnel and bouncing off the net at the bottom.
Two 60-second turns in a wind tunnel for $70 seemed pretty steep, but the training from instructors and equipment was included, plus the incredible feeling of flying was worth it for us. Overall, I appreciated this fun alternative to diving out of a plane with an instructor strapped to my back.
The brand, which describes itself as “the world’s leading wind tunnel designer,” called its first wind tunnel Generation 1, and it's already working on Generation 9. The vertical chambers have progressively become eco-friendlier, requiring less than a third of the power of a horizontal wind tunnel at the same speed. Four fans at the top of the tunnel draw outside air (great ventilation during COVID-19) through the chamber and drive it through the return towers while cooling the air. A contractor at the bottom compresses and speeds up the air before it re-enters the flight chamber. On their website, iFly expects franchisees to spend between $15,000-$25,000 on maintenance for their tunnels in a normal year.
Labeled an extreme sport, “not a ride,” there are different levels you can achieve with your instructor each time you return, with iFly competitions to look forward to if you get really good. Freestyle, dynamic and vertical formation skydiving are just a few of the ways competitive flyers can show off. Return flyers also get a discount if they buy a package on site, so Luke and I each purchased four more minutes for $60. But that’s not for everyone—some customers simply come in to try it once and flail around.
The initial investment for an iFly franchise ranges from $2 million to $10 million.