Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Indoor Skydiving

I am writing this entry in my hotel room at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. I flew here earlier today to attend the NMS Communications Connect 2006 conference. The conference starts early tomorrow morning, so I had to travel here today. I almost didn't make it on time due to a 30 minutes delay in my first flight from Victoria to Seattle. Fortunately, I made my Seattle connector with only 3 minutes to spare. If I had missed that flight, I would have been blessed to enjoy Seatac for nearly six hours!

I knew my flight was going to land in the early afternoon, so I wanted to plan something fun to do with those few empty hours. After a bit of searching on Google, I remembered something I had seen on Google Video: Indoor Skydiving! A bit of searching and a phone call later and I had an appointment booked at Sky Venture Arizona. Sky Venture is an indoor skydiving facility in Eloy, AZ, about 60 miles SE of Phoenix.

I have never been to Arizona before and I was a bit surprised (and pleased) to experience 39 degrees celcius (104 F) in early October. Back at home in Victoria, BC we're lucky when we get to 23 this time of year. Plus, I'd never seen such huge cactus plants before.

I took pictures of my trip from the airport down to Eloy and posted them on my Flickr account.

I arrived at Sky Venture to discover that I was the only customer in my time slot. Good. No worries about looking silly in front of complete strangers. The experience starts with a five minute introductory video showing you the basic flight position and the hand signals your instructor will be using to communicate with you (between earplugs and 120 mp/h winds, hand signals are all you've got). After the video you show your balance on a simple saddle stand and practice the position. Once you've convinced your instructor you won't kill yourself the orientation is over.

The next step is to put on knee pads, elbow pads, a flight suit, helmet and goggles.

Once suited up, you enter the waiting chamber of the air tunnel. As the fans kick in I quickly became grateful for the earplugs - this machine is LOUD. Once it gets going your instructor shows you how to enter the wind stream, gives you a quick demonstration, and then invites you in. Entry into the wind stream consists of folding your arms in front of your chest, looking up at 45 degrees, thrusting your hips outwards and falling forward into the wind. The initial effect is awesome.

Instead of falling to the ground you immediately are lifted off your feet and begin hovering about two feet off the mesh floor. Now you need to learn how to balance and control your wind resistance.

The trick seems to be in getting your arms far enough in front of you and your legs folded up at the right angle. If you get it right, you hover. Flatten out a bit and you move up. Fold up a bit and you sink downwards. It sounds easy, and given a few minutes practice I suppose it is.

The normal experience lasts only two minutes - equivalent to about 18,000 feet of freefall: roughly the airtime of two standard-height jumps. I paid for two four-minute sessions, giving me just enough time to start figuring things out. Near the end I was able to rotate left and right and move up and down on demand. Unfortunately, just as I started to feel comfortable my time was up. Check out my first "flight" at Google Video. In case it isn't obvious, I'm wearing red. The guy in black is my instructor.

If I lived in Arizona, I'd be back real soon. Anybody want to plan another conference near a vertical wind-tunnel?


Skydivers said...

Nice read. Thank for the information.

skydivers said...

Thanks for sharing your exp...