We booked up and trundled off to Basingstoke on a Tuesday afternoon (my actual birthday). The trip was pretty plain sailing other than we had to make a quick pit-stop at Fleet services so that my son could have a wee; apparently caused by the bumps on the M25! We checked in with reception, were informed that we would be part of training group number 20 which would be around 2.30 - 2.45pm and that we could wait in the viewing gallery where we could watch some other flyers.
At 2.45pm we were called in to a training room with some other people, about 12 in total, where we were introduced to Dean, our instructor for the experience. We had informed the centre that I was blind so Dean already knew this before but I’m guessing my white stick also helped identify that I couldn’t see. Whilst the sighted members of our group watched a short demonstration film, Dean took me outside and gave me a 1:1 description of what I should expect, demonstrated the position that I would need to take when in the wind tunnel (using a small plastic doll with 1 leg) and agreeing on some tactile gestures that we would use.
We were kitted up with a flight suit, helmet, goggles and ear plugs and then led into a waiting room next to the wind tunnel. Before they turned on the wind, Dean led me to the entrance to the tunnel and showed me the doorway and explained again what I would do to go in and then what I needed to do to leave the tunnel. He also explained that, due to my sight loss and limited communication in the tunnel, that I would have another instructor, Lewis, join us for the flight.
I sat on the bench next to Kelly. By this point I had ear plugs in my ears, had a helmet on that also covered my ears and I was finding hearing and communicating difficult. This became almost impossible when the engines started up and the wind started to rush up the tunnel so all I could do was sit next to Kelly and wait my turn. One by one the others started to take their flights and we slowly shuffled along the bench towards the door. I had been put last due to needing 2 instructors but I didn’t have to wait long before I was being escorted across the short room to the tunnel entrance.
My hands were placed on each side of the door so that I could get my bearings before I lifted them up above my head as we had discussed in the briefing. I could feel the pressure of the wind moving up through the tunnel and it sounded like I was sitting behind a jet engine about to take off down a runway!
When Dean squeezed my wrist 3 times, another agreed signal, I let myself fall into the wind and… Well the strange thing is that was it; I knew that I was in the tunnel and my body was being suspended on a cushion of air – well more being pounded by an upward hurricane! But I couldn’t tell if I was spinning, how high I was from the floor, where I was in relation to the door or anything. I occasionally felt either Dean or Lewis give me a tug or move an arm or leg into a better position and I did brush the wall once but that was it.
Soon my hands were being guided to the sides of the door and I pulled my legs down and stepped in to the waiting room. Slightly out of breath, a little wobbly on my feet and with a small amount of dribble on my chin (apparently this is normal and why the instructors wear visors on their helmets), I felt exhilarated from the experience.
We repeated this process again and the second time I was taken up to around 10 – 12 feet off of the floor but I had no idea; I could have been 100 feet up and I wouldn’t have known! J I can’t describe the feeling… it was quite hard work from concentrating on body position but great fun and made you smile (and dribble).
After the flights we returned to the locker room and took off our flight suits, helmets, etc. and it was nice being able to hear and communicate again. We chatted to Dean whilst he gave out our certificates and we discussed my experience. He said that most vision impaired flyers tend to do quite well as they put themselves in to the position as instructed and don’t tend to move from that position and this makes it easy to manoeuvre them around the tunnel.
Dean had informed us that he worked for the Army and did the instructor job on a part-time basis when he isn’t out flying with the Army; it turns out that he is one of the Red Devil parachute display team and we were his last group at iFly for a couple of weeks as he was taking part in the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing in Normandy in June. He also said that, if I wanted to do a tandem parachute jump that he could arrange it for me but I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to do that yet! J
It was a great birthday present and I would recommend everyone to do it. People of ages 3 to 103 can fly and they can accommodate pretty much any disability – they’ve had people in wheelchairs flying before! There are some restrictions including a maximum weight limit and some medical conditions that prevent you from flying but that’s it.
Thanks Kelly, it was an amazing experience and a great birthday present! 😊
You can find out more about IFly by visiting their website at: www.iflyworld.co.uk
Vicky – it’s lovely to see Dave’s massive smile throughout the video of his experience – although I’m still not convinced this is an experience for me 😊
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