As a self proclaimed travel fanatic I do fly a lot. But never did I think that one day I would fly without tons of metal, glass and plastic surrounding me. To feel the wind in my face, the forces pulling me down to earth, the vulnerable feeling of being exposed to the elements.
There is one way how you can fly without the support of machines – you jump out of a plane and pray that your parachute will unfold on time. This is not for me. Too risky, too many unknowns.
But there is another way. You can simulate the same feeling of free fall inside a wind tunnel. iFlyDownunder in Penrith in Sydney’s west offers this adventure to any regular person like you and me. It’s an incredibly safe experience that can even be enjoyed by kids.
So when the team at iFlyDownunder invited us to have a closer look and experience the wind tunnel first hand, we were delighted. A Sydney attraction that requires us to trek for more than hour in a car to get there must be good, and good it was indeed.
The idea behind iFlyDownunder is simple. Participants are experiencing their flight in a wind tunnel where the wind force can be adjusted to support their weight. Within the tunnel you can then pretty much learn the same moves just like during your free fall when skydiving out of a real plane. Real skydivers actually use the facility to practice their jumping skills.
iFlyDownunder is located in Penrith in Sydney’s west. For many of us this seems far away but rest assured that there are many parking spots right in front, so once you pull up you are in easy territory.
After you have walked up the stairs you can see the glass tunnel right in front of you, with other groups already busy exploring all the possibilities inside. There are seats around the tunnel, so those who don’t fly on that day can just relax and watch the show. A cafe is right at hand for snacks, drinks and lollies (and they cater for kids’ parties, too – how convenient!).
While we were waiting to check in we already get a good idea of what was going to happen next. Every participant entered the wind tunnel with the coach who would ensure the safety of the participants at all times – helping them keep their balance, avoid collisions with the glass walls and… whoa… what was that?
In a tandem manoeuvre both the flight coach and the guest suddenly shot up in the tunnel and disappeared out of sight. A couple of seconds later they dropped down again, then up again, down again. You could sense how the spectators around the tunnel were holding their breaths just like us.
Were we nervous by now? If we weren’t when we first walked through the doors then this manoeuvre definitely did the trick. But first things first. We needed to check-in and sign the waivers.
Pretty much anybody can fly at iFlyDownunder. Age is not an obstacle, and general fitness is all you need (as I can personally attest). But you will need to tell the team if you have underlying conditions with your spine, your shoulders, or an existing pregnancy. In these cases, flying is probably not for you.
After all these formalities we waited for our coach to call us into the prep room. This is where you meet the coach, watch a very short video and get your protective gear.
We learned that there are just three things you need to remember whilst in the tunnel, and that the coach would signal you with hand signs to help you adjust your posture in flight. First, you need to hold your chin up, don’t look down to the floor. Second, you need to keep your arms and legs horizontal and spread apart yet slightly bend. Third, you need to relax, hold still and not wobble around.
Sounds simple? Well, as we were about to find out, not quite so!
Our gear consisted of a full body suit (my daughter chose the pink superman version, how cool is that?), a helmet, plastic eye protection and optional ear plugs. Then we were led inside the tunnel to a bench were we had to wait for our turn.
Not sure why but I went in first. The second you plant yourself face first into the wind stream you realise that this flying business is not easy at all. You are busy with adjusting your movements and your body posture all the time. The slightest wrong move and you are slowly dropping to the ground like a penny in a glass of water. Quite embarrassing when so many eyes are watching you!
Slowly but surely you do get the hang of it though to at least have a bit of a stabilised position in the air. The coach might even let go of you for a while to see if you manage to float for a longer period of time without sinking.
A word of advice: Do not have your mouth open while you are flying. First of all, it will make you look like an idiot, but then also the wind will drive all the saliva out of your open mouth and onto your cheeks. I was so busy trying to do the right thing I totally forgot about my open mouth and ended up with a pretty wet face in the end (and a bit of a sore throat two days on; we call it the “flu” at home in honour of our first iFlyDownunder flight).
My children were next, and while they took a bit longer to adjust to the new way of movement they got the hang of it pretty quickly and had a blast.
After our flight we were moved to the end of the bench so that the rest of the group could have a go. Here we could watch our previously recorded first attempts on a screen that was strategically positioned next to the bench, a great way to assess your newly acquired skills and to have a laugh or two. I mean, look at the look on my face – if that isn’t raw fear on my face then what is?
All first-timers that book a basic package will get two flights during the session, with kids having slightly shorter sessions than adults. Now, this was the time to face the real challenge of the day. Would I make it up the tunnel just like the guy that we watched when we first arrived? See for yourself!
After all this fun our coach Reed showed us how the professional do it: elegantly, seemingly effortless, and quite spectacular really. This show alone is worth your money.
Overall, iFlyDownunder proved to be the fun experience we expected. It is a challenge to hold posture in the tunnel, but the coach was really experienced and had our back every single second of the flight, making it an extremely safe and enjoyable experience.
It’s not a cheap attraction but definitely cheaper than actual skydiving, and less dangerous too. If you want to have the same kind of feeling of free fall then this is exactly what you are getting here.
Who should give this Sydney attraction a go? Families with teenagers would be the obvious choice, but smaller children will enjoy the flight experience too (and they will be so proud of themselves afterwards, as I can attest!). I could picture this as part of a fun bucks night or as a wedding anniversary gift. There are many great occasions where iFlyDownunder would work perfectly. And of course, you can become a repeat customer and really learn the tricks of the trade to master the tunnel just like our coach Reed.
Personally, I enjoyed spending time with my kids this way, experiencing the same challenges, conquering the same fears, enjoying the same adrenaline rush, feeling the same level of pride after completing it. The kids want to come back one day and do it again – they have a flight certificate now with boxes to tick with each accomplishment – so this won’t be the last time at iFlyDownunder for us.
iFlyDownunder. 123 Mulgoa Road, Penrith. https://downunder.iflyworld.com
Looking for more cool things to do in Sydney? Check out our guide for locals and travellers!