It's not every day that you get a chance to don a flight suit, let loose and skydive, floating on the wind like you are in a dream … and all without having to jump out of an airplane. Now that's my kind of experience.
My 7-year-old son, Nathan, and I did just that at the new iFLY center in Tukwila. It's a fantastic concept. For a not-so-nominal fee, kids and adults get to indoor skydive in a 14-foot vertical wind tunnel, simulating the real experience in a safe environment. And, judging by the response Nathan had to this "awesome" event, iFLY is going to be very popular with local families.
The only one of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, iFLY opened in August and sports the largest and fastest wind tunnel this side of the Mississippi. Owners Lysa and Bill Adams, avid skydivers, are excited about the center's amenities. The all-glass enclosure maintains optimal air current, and the temperature-controlled chamber makes it so that fliers aren't at the mercy of the outdoor weather (some other iFLY locations aren't as lucky).
The first experience takes about 90 minutes, which includes instruction and two 60-second flights in the wind tunnel. Once Nathan and I checked in, we watched a short video and had a lesson from our personal flight instructor. He taught us four hand signals to let us know when we needed to adjust our bodies. That way, he could communicate when we needed to relax, straighten or loosen our legs, or hold our chins up.
At this point Nathan leaned into me. I sensed he was worried he wouldn't remember the commands. Yet once he put on his flight suit, goggles and earplugs, he was raring to go. There were four of us in the flight chamber, which has an open door to the tunnel, awaiting our turns. Nathan asked me to go first. I recommend having a parent or older sibling go first, just to show the young ones that there is nothing to worry about (anyone over the age of 3 can fly).
I'm sure my ear-to-ear smile put Nathan at ease. It is exhilarating to be lifted up by air and have the experience of soaring. The instructor takes away any fear, as they hold on and only let you do what you're ready for. When Nathan's turn came, he seemed like a natural. As Lysa Adams commented, kids often do well in the tunnel because they are trusting and fearless. His face was worth a thousand words.
It takes a moment to adjust to the air rushing up your nose, and to steady yourself, but once you get the hang of it (which takes mere seconds) you are fine. The staff adjusts the wind speed based on your weight and experience, so it doesn't rush as hard for kids, which is good.
Everyone in our group was significantly better on the second flight in the tunnel. The instructor gave us a chance to fly unassisted, one of the most exciting parts of the session. As well, he flew tandem with Nathan, his arm around Nathan's waist, so they could fly higher in the tunnel.
At the end of the session, the wind speed was turned up and the instructor gave us a taste of what skilled fliers can do. He bobbed up and down like a yo-yo, spinning circles and flying upside down, pausing long enough to stick his tongue out at Nathan, who was plastered to the glass in awe.
And there lies part of the addiction. More flight time gives you an opportunity to get better. You can progress through four levels: Flying on your belly, flying on your back, doing a "sit fly," then flying with your head down. I'm not sure which was more fun, the experience of flying, watching Nathan, or witnessing the expert instructor do his tricks.
Unlike what I first thought, iFLY isn't just about having fun and trying something new. It is a sport. Serious skydivers use iFLY to perfect their technique (we saw some regulars when we were there), and the local military even uses it to practice.
For most families, the cost of the experience ($59.95 per person for a two-flight session) will be steeper than most outings, but it is something you won't do anywhere else. Your time in the tunnel seems a lot longer than 60 seconds, and you get the benefit of having a trained instructor at your side.
However, beware of the infatuation part of this. I can't imagine a child not yearning to do it again after their first time. My family is already looking at our budget to see if we can get everyone in; my 5-year-old daughter and husband are dying to give it a go, too. If you have the disposable income, iFLY is the place to be.
IF YOU GO
Where: 349 Tukwila Parkway, Tukwila (next to Westfield Southcenter Mall)
When: Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Cost: Introductory packages (each flight lasts 60 seconds): "Earn Your Wings" for $59.95 (two flights); "Spread Your Wings" for $99.95 (four flights); "Spread Your Wings for Two" for $129.95 (four flights for two people, plus a DVD); "Family Package" for $249.95 (10 flights, shared by up to five people, plus a DVD); or "Take Flight" for $249.95 (10 flights for one person, plus a DVD). All introductory packages come with a training session, flight gear, assistance from an instructor and a flight certificate. Participants get discounts for flying during the weekdays, and also after their first flight for "returning flyer" packages.
Birthday Parties: Packages range in price from $249.95 for up to five people, to $699.95 for up to 12 people.
Contact: 206-244-iFLY (4359); www.iflyseattle.com.
Taryn Zier is a freelance writer based in Lake Forest Park and mother of two children, ages 5 and 7.