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We Leap into the Wind Tunnel at The O2 Arena

There are many barriers to skydiving or becoming a superhero - fear, age, weather, Kryptonite or an aversion to wearing underpants over trousers.

But anybody from the age of 3 to 103 can experience the superpower of flight at iFLY, as long as they’re not pregnant and can comfortably wear a helmet. A 100-year-old recently flew with them to celebrate his birthday.

I head to their futuristic, vertical wind chamber at The O2 Arena with my five-year-old daughter, to experience the sensation of a 12,000 ft free-fall and flight, without jumping out of a plane.

On arrival, we are weighed - participants must be beneath 18 stone - and led upstairs, where we are greeted by the extraordinary sight of the vast, glass tunnel, which is also used to test the aerodynamics of F1 racing cars. 

Inside, a red suited instructor is effortlessly dancing on air; somersaulting, spinning, swimming up the sides before dramatically hurtling up the 39 foot tunnel, like a Cheerio up a Dyson.

It’s an effort to stop my excited daughter from leaping into the wind chamber with him. 

We’re presented with blue jumpsuits, red helmets and goggles, which are a pleasing combo of Superhero meets astronaut. There are also optional, wind-thwarting ear plugs.

All participants sign a waiver for themselves and their children and complete virtual training at home, to ensure understanding of the hand signals used in the noisy wind chamber.

Our jolly instructor gives us a pre-flight briefing, and makes sure we are all familiar with the hand signals, body positions required to comfortably fly and how to enter and exit the tunnel.

Then we and our group of eight head through the glass doors and take our seats around the tunnel. There’s a mixture of silver haired participants, teenagers, middle-aged friends and a boy around the same age as my daughter. All of us are bouncing our knees in nervous anticipation, gulping and gazing up at the top of the tunnel and down at the giant fans, whizzing noisily beneath the net. There is a brief silence, when the instructor cheerily asks: “Who’s first?”

Each of us has two flights, which is the equivalent of three real skydives. There is a standard skydive experience, flying a few feet above a pillow of air, or the High Flight, in which the instructor gives you a taste of flying like a pro, by holding you and flying you towards the top of the 39 ft tunnel. I am the first to brave the high-flight, and I try to assume a demeanour as cool and breezy as the tunnel in front of my daughter, flashing her a demented rictus grin as I nervously head towards the open door, where the instructor waits.

He motions for me to fall forward with my arms and hands in the same position the Oompa Loompas assume in their dances. Wind speeds reach up to 165mph and another instructor watches outside the chamber, controlling its force as I lean into the air with the instructor’s support, easing into the delicious feeling of weightlessness. 

My instructor stands beside me and motions for me to spread my fingers and raise my chin, which I do. I smile at my husband and son, who are watching in the 360 degree viewing platform which surrounds the tunnel. 

Holding handles on the sleeve and leg of my boilersuit, the instructor then starts to slowly spin me around the tunnel, and I am suddenly a tornado of adrenaline-pumped Superhero, soaring above the room, with my chins happily flapping towards my ears.

I concentrate on keeping my hips down, palms flat and legs straight as we start ascending the tunnel in circles, before corkscrewing back down, up and down again, where he gently guides me to the door, for me to float down and back into the waiting area. It is an extraordinary sensation and the instructor made me feel so safe, that I have minimal nerves when my brave little five-year-old enters.

Putting me to shame, she bowls over to the door and dives straight in, without hesitation. She looks like a tiny, Marvel Comics action figure in that vast chamber, but gives the thumbs up and grins through the air ripples on her cheeks as the instructor helps her float around. It is delicious to see how proud she is of herself when she exits the tunnel, lapping up the applause from the rest of the group and pumped with adrenaline from her newly discovered superpowers. The little boy in our group is equally fearless and throws himself into the High Dive, winding up and down the tunnel like a baby eagle.

It feels much faster inside than it looks from the outside, but it’s also surprisingly smooth. 

The instructor gives each of us tips after our first flights - me, to keep my fingers apart and my daughter to breathe through her nose rather than mouth. So for round two, our group knows what to expect and the atmosphere of apprehension is replaced by excitement, with many deciding to go for the High Flight for their second spins. My daughter is even more confident on her second round and I relax into the addictive sensation of human flight, as he takes me on another, exhilarating High Flight.

Each session of two flights is around two minutes long, which is the equivalent of three 12,000 ft skydives, and feels much longer on the inside. 

There is also the option of the iFLY 360 Virtual Reality, combining a VR helmet with the tunnel to simulate a real skydive from a plane over various locations, from the Swiss Alps to Dubai.

At the end, the instructor chats to everybody, giving feedback and tips for those who might like future visits to learn more skills - these are incentivised with lower costs. We are then presented with our certificates, including QR codes for a gaggle of videos and photos taken of our individual flights, which are available for purchase straight after the session. 

The following day, my daughter takes her certificate into school for a show and tell - a core, superhero memory has clearly been unlocked.

iFLY London at The O2, Peninsula Square, London SE10 0DX. Tickets and vouchers to fly can be purchased by clicking here and are available from £69.99 per person

iFly: Indoor Skydiving Review - We Leap Into the Wind Tunnel at The O2 Arena

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