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updated: 5/23/2014 9:28 AM

What it's like to sky dive indoors in Rosemont

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  • Video: Reporter Tries iFly Exhibit

  • Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek is guided by instructor Gabriel Roth at the new iFLY indoor sky diving experience in Rosemont's entertainment district.

       Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek is guided by instructor Gabriel Roth at the new iFLY indoor sky diving experience in Rosemont's entertainment district.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek gets some last-minute advice from instructor Gabriel Roth before entering the flight chamber at iFLY in Rosemont.

       Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek gets some last-minute advice from instructor Gabriel Roth before entering the flight chamber at iFLY in Rosemont.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek takes flight, with the help of instructor Gabriel Roth, at the new iFLY indoor sky diving experience in Rosemont.

       Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek takes flight, with the help of instructor Gabriel Roth, at the new iFLY indoor sky diving experience in Rosemont.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek is congratulated by instructor Gabriel Roth after taking an indoor sky diving flight at iFLY in Rosemont.

       Daily Herald reporter Chris Placek is congratulated by instructor Gabriel Roth after taking an indoor sky diving flight at iFLY in Rosemont.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

 
 

During frequent drives to and from college at Marquette University, I'd see sky divers free-falling above the cornfields alongside Interstate 94 between Kenosha and Milwaukee. Maybe that's something for my bucket list.

The next best thing, though, may be the simulated indoor sky diving experience having its grand opening today in Rosemont and coming to Naperville in July.

iFLY is the latest addition to Rosemont's bustling entertainment district, east of the Tri-State Tollway and north of Balmoral Avenue. Company officials say the indoor sky diving facility is the first of its kind in the Midwest.

Earlier this week I donned a jump suit, helmet and goggles and did my best Buzz Lightyear impression at iFLY, a four-story, 7,000-square-foot building featuring four giant wind turbines that help propel indoor sky divers into flight.

Those turbines, which sit atop the structure and recirculate air throughout, have a combined 1,400 horsepower -- not too dissimilar from the engines that power jets at nearby O'Hare Airport.

Wind speeds within the 50-foot-tall chamber can reach 200 mph, though the average flier deals with speeds between 80 mph and 125 mph, officials said.

"There's a tremendous amount of torque and pressure on you," said Joe Conant, iFLY's Rosemont general manager. "You're not just floating on that wind."

I felt every bit of it during my flight.

To start my flight, I leaned into the chamber, and the winds quickly directed me onto my stomach. My back was arched as if an upside-down turtle shell.

The winds whipped so strongly that I could feel my cheeks fluttering. And my mouth was open the whole time, so it felt like the wind was recirculating not only through the chamber but also through me.

I tried to remember the advice my instructor, Gabriel Roth, gave me before the flight: Keep your chin up, arms at eye level, fingers spread out, legs slightly bent -- and relax.

"If you're like a piece of plywood, you're going to fly like a piece of plywood," said Roth, 28, of Aurora, who will be an instructor at iFLY's Naperville location.

Roth and the other instructors are all actual sky divers, some boasting as many as 7,000 jumps out of airplanes. Many consider sky diving more than just a hobby -- an actual sport.

And as I learned, like many other sports, it's a game of inches. A slight movement of your hands, bending or straightening of your legs, or other adjustment can easily displace you within the 14-foot-diameter chamber.

Luckily, every flier is accompanied by an instructor who guides you during the flight -- and keeps you from colliding with the glass.

After two 2-minute flights, I was exhausted. The instructors say the strong winds make for good resistance training.

"This is definitely a physical workout," Roth said. "After an hour of instructing, we're physically tired."

So how did Roth think I did?

"The biggest thing is relaxing. (But) you did well. You were put in an environment you've never been put in before. There's nerves. There's wind hitting your face."

Before the Rosemont location opened, the closest indoor sky diving facility was Flyaway Indoor Skydiving, an iFLY competitor, in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Vegas Indoor Skydiving boasts the country's first indoor sky diving facility, built in 1982.

The first iFLY opened in Orlando in 1998. The Rosemont and Naperville facilities will become the 29th and 30th iFLY locations worldwide.

There are plans for a third Chicago-area location in Lincoln Park. And iFLY is now building a flight chamber on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship.

Actual outdoor sky diving is more common, with locations in Ottawa, Kankakee, Rochelle, and the one alongside I-94 in Sturtevant, Wisconsin.

Indoor sky diving may be the answer for those who want to experience the thrill of sky diving without the fear of your parachute not opening.

If you were to fall at iFLY -- say, for example, the wind turbines shut off -- officials say you'd gradually come down in 7 to 10 seconds and land on a mesh surface similar to a giant trampoline.

iFLY is marketing their locations to those who've never sky dived before, as well as experienced sky divers who can buy blocks of time to practice their skills. The youngest flier can be 3 years old; the oldest on record was 103.

The Rosemont location has party rooms for kids' birthday parties and a board room for business meetings. Conant, the Rosemont general manager, said the first corporate outing is booked for early next month.

"It's team building and a way to take the executives out of their element," Conant said of the event, which comes after the merger of six companies.

The Rosemont iFLY will open for regular business hours at 10 a.m. today and is open seven days a week. The Naperville site, at the southeast corner of Freedom Drive and Independence Avenue, is set to open July 1.

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