Children as young as three have experienced iFLY — Photo courtesy of iFLY ChicagoA new attraction has flown into the Chicago area, and you don’t need wings to fly it. iFLY in Rosemont lets fliers experience the thrill of skydiving in the safety of a vertical wind tunnel.
Once you arrive for your flight time, a guide provides a brief training session where he shares hand signals that will be used while you’re in the wind tunnel. The peace hand sign, for example, means straighten your legs. The hang loose gesture means relax your body.
After the short training session, you suit up in a nifty flight suit, put on clear goggles over your face and noise protection ear buds in your ears, strap on your helmet and you’re ready to go. The guide escorts you and your group inside the vertical chamber, where you’re seated along the perimeter on a bench.
He enters the wind tunnel and motions you to the entrance. Feet shoulder width apart, you stand in front of the entrance that sounds like you’re about to get sucked in. The noise is deafening, but your guide takes one of your hands and gently pulls you into the tunnel.
Fliers give their all as they reach for the sky — Photo courtesy of iFLY Chicago
Almost immediately, you begin to float horizontally. Once you get your bearings and your core muscles automatically go into tight mode, your guide uses his hand gestures (since you can’t hear anything in the tunnel) to recommend changes to your position. Subtle changes can help you float higher and not drop like a heavy balloon. In the event that you do reach the bottom, the wire fence material acts like a trampoline so you’ll be bounced back up in no time.
Two and a half minutes later, you are escorted out of the tunnel. Two and a half minutes doesn’t sound like a lot of time to be inside, but it seems like forever when you’re concentrating on perfecting your horizontal stance and trying to achieve elevation.
You’ll have the opportunity to try it a second time, which naturally becomes a bit easier since you have a better sense of what to expect. During the second attempt, your guide can take you all the way up to the top, which is exhilarating for those of us who crave adventure.
iFLY is visible off the Kennedy Expressway and near O'Hare International Airport in Rosemont — Photo courtesy of Megy Karydes
Fliers as young as three and as old as 103 have enjoyed the iFLY experience. It’s a great way to enjoy the singular rush of skydiving without actually jumping out of an airplane.
The vertical wind tunnel was historically used by the military and professional skydivers for training. Four powerful, high-efficiency axial fans are mounted at the top of the building, channeling air down the side tunnels into the basement and then up through the floor of the 14-foot-wide circular flight chamber, which is what creates the strong upward draft.
The upward draft, which ranges in speed from approximately 80 to 175 miles per hour (depending on the weight and expertise level of the flyer), creates a stable, safe, wall-to-wall airflow that gently pushes guests aloft and makes it possible to fly.
Best of all, no advance training is needed and almost anyone, including those with physical disabilities, can fly. Without wings, no less.