This summer, we’ve been asking you to forget about quick fixes and aesthetic changes, and focus instead on stepping outside of your comfort zone to mix up your fitness routine with something completely new.
As part of this #OwnTheSummer campaign, myself and Evie Howarth have been putting our fears aside to test out alternative forms of fitness, interesting diet trends, and even a few extreme sports.
This week, that meant waving goodbye to solid ground and leaping into a wind tunnel for an incredible indoor skydive.
We were lucky enough to arrange a session at iFLY Indoor Skydiving centre in Manchester, which is home to the first 14ft wind tunnel to have been built in the UK.
“iFLY is where the dream of flight becomes a reality and every flyer can earn their Wings. When you come to iFLY get ready to be blown away — literally. Experience the feeling of freefall as you float on a smooth cushion of air.”
It’s safe to say that we arrived excited, but not really knowing what to expect — and then as soon as we spotted the wind tunnel situated unsuspectingly in the middle of the café viewing area the nerves really kicked in.
We were introduced to our instructor, Joe Aldridge, who took us through a quick introduction video and then explained what we could expect from our session. He told us that each ‘flight’ would be for 60 seconds, which is 15 seconds longer than a real outdoor skydive would typically last for, and showed us the simple set of hand signals we should use to communicate with him when we were in the tunnel. As we were complete first timers, we were always accompanied by him and his expert guidance.
After getting kitted out in very attractive sets of overalls, helmets and goggles, we were ready to start! One at a time, Joe took us to the entrance of the wind tunnel and helped us to lean into the tunnel, rather than actually jump. It was incredible how immediately weightless we felt, just floating on 100mph+ wind that was carefully controlled by another iFLY instructor outside of the tunnel.
Joe helped us to maintain a neutral position, which of course looked easy to do when we were standing outside of the tunnel, but required a lot of focus to remember when we were actually in there! The ideal position was a sort of curved superman pose — with arms out front, elbows slightly bent and fingers spread out, with your chin up, body relaxed and legs out straight behind you.
It was only as we progressed to our third and fourth flight that Joe introduced the basics of how to turn, which was literally as subtle as turning our hands slightly to the left and right. The result of such a tiny movement was amazing, as the wind speed had your whole body spinning round in a matter of seconds.
Once he was sure we were a bit more confident with the sensation of freefalling, Joe also took us a bit higher in the tunnel. For our first couple of flights, we’d been staying at a height of roughly 4-6ft, but with his expert assistance and a higher wind speed, Joe then took us soaring way up to around 11ft. It was a completely breath-taking experience and had our heartrates hammering for a long while afterwards.
The absolute cherry on the top of the whole session was our skydive with a virtual reality headset. This was a special helmet that covered your entire face and had a screen attached that showed you an actual outdoor skydiving scene as you entered the indoor skydiving tunnel. We got to ‘experience’ jumping out of a plane and freefalling down a mountainscape into a valley, all from the safety of a carefully controlled wind tunnel.
Meet the instructor
At the end of our session, we caught up with Joe to find out more about him and how he got into such an incredible career of instructing indoor skydives. He’s a 38-year-old skydiving instructor and trainer originally from Ireland, but now living in Manchester. When he’s actually spending time on solid ground, he enjoys Thai boxing, running, weightlifting, and Ju Jitsu.
During our time at iFLY, we’d been lucky enough to witness first hand just how skilled he was, as he flew a solo dive at a much higher speed and height than us, and literally looked like an Avengers hero flying about effortlessly in the tunnel. See him in action below.
What made you want to become an indoor skydiving instructor?
I loved to fly when I could afford it. I had a friend who worked here at iFLY before I started, and he suggested applying for the next instructor course. There are 4 levels of qualifications to instructing. For the 1st level, you just need basic fitness and you have to commit to 1 months training 5 days per week — plus, having the willingness to pass helps!
Have you ever done an outdoor skydive? How does it compare?
Yes, I am a skydiver and I can say it’s very similar, apart from jumping out of the aircraft and canopy piloting. But after 6‐8 seconds from your exit, you build up some speed and it’s the same as flying in the tunnel. The actual freefall aspect of an outdoor skydive lasts around 45 seconds, whereas with our packages, flights last roughly 60 seconds each in length.
Would you encourage more people to try indoor skydiving?
Definitely! Everyone can fly! It’s easy to see why someone might think indoor skydiving isn’t an option for them, but iFLY is a fully inclusive activity. Many of our regular flyers have disabilities, and age from 3 to 103.
Increasing our reputation as an all‐abilities, all‐ages activity is a top priority for us, and it’s amazing to hear the positive feedback after we help someone exceed their expectations of what is possible.
What’s your favourite thing about teaching indoor skydiving?
There are so many things I love about being an instructor — putting a smile on someone’s face, giving people with disabilities the freedom to fly, and also helping our regular flyers finally reach a goal they’ve been working towards.
Our company mission is to deliver the dream of flight to everyone, and as an instructor, it’s amazingly rewarding to do this!
While it may sound like a scary thing to do, we both felt completely safe and comfortable during the entire experience. Once we got used to the sensation of being completely weightless and suspended in the air, we relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed every second in the wind tunnel — it was pretty surreal to have to return to our desks later in the day!
We couldn’t recommend iFLY enough, the instructors were amazing and it was clear that they were experts in their field — if you get the chance to go, you should definitely try out the VR dive too.