Have you ever been skydiving? Me neither. But now I’ve done the next best thing and even have the certificate to prove it.
Last Sunday the BNM family went to Airkix in Milton Keynes, one of only two indoor skydiving venues in the country.
Using air that’s funnelled upwards through a vertical wind tunnel at speeds of around 150mph, the idea is that you experience all the exhilaration of unlimited freefall, without needing to jump from a plane and risk getting your parachute entangled in the aircraft’s undercarriage.
Or it failing to open, the reserve ‘chute failing too, and you hit the ground, eyes clamped shut and dry voice screaming, at terminal velocity.
Or, it does open but you fail to control it properly and you land in a swamp or on a busy motorway. Or a freak gust of wind blows you onto electricity cables or into the spinning rotors of a helicopter about to take off.
These thoughts were in all our minds as we set off for a fun family outing.
But any such thoughts were dispelled as soon as we arrived at Airkix , where the emphasis is very much on safety first. (This clearly being preferable to scrape up the remains later.)
We sat through a training video and then listened intently as our instructor took us through the various hand signals he’d use during our flight, vocal instructions being impossible due to the noise.
They seemed straightforward enough. A bent middle and index finger means ‘bend your legs’. He straightens his fingers; you straighten your legs. Fingers apart means spread your legs. Thumb and pinky extended means relax. There were a few more.
Got all that? We smiled and nodded and trooped off to be fitted with helmet, goggles and appropriately named jumpsuits.
Mrs BNM leaned in to the wind tunnel first and was instantly airborne. The instructor made sure she didn’t zoom off into the seemingly endless void overhead or flounder about on the mesh floor, but otherwise she seemed pretty much in control. The rest of us – there were nine people booked for the 1pm flight – clapped enthusiastically on her return to terra firma. My go!
I stood at the opening to the wind tunnel and fell forwards into the hurricane.
Instantly the instructor appeared at my face and jabbed his finger manically upwards. Of course! I was facing down. Typical newbie error.
I quickly readjusted my posture so that I looked directly ahead. That better? Evidently not.
The instructor stood before me, alternately shaking and nodding his head and making exaggerated facial movements, mouthing what looked like “Ooooooo-waaaaaaaa!” and then “Reeeeee!”. Eh? I looked at his hands for elucidation, but he seemed to be doing all of the finger signals simultaneously. It was like watching someone trying to get a glove puppet to breakdance in the nude.
Airborne epileptic event
So I straightened my legs, bent my arms, outstretched my knees, looked up, splayed my fingers, bent one leg, looked up a bit more, crashed into a wall, arched my back, span around, lowered my hips and cupped my hands, all the while attempting to maintain the joyful smile that he said was crucial for the onlookers and the video.
After a minute and a half, I found myself standing up and with a ringing in my ears that turned out to be dutiful clapping. It was over. For now.
What goes up must stay up until we say otherwise
Did I mention you get two goes? You do. With scarcely enough time for my jowls to resume their customary downward-hanging position, I was back in the hurricane again.
I felt as if I hadn’t properly taken on board the lessons learned from my previous session. The instructor must have sensed this, as my freefall – in real skydiving it would have been known as death plunge – was restricted to a few seconds of uncontrolled chaos.
After that he grabbed my wrist and ankle, leapt from the floor and together we span around and raced up, up and up into the dark, cold, windowless steel funnel. Then we plummeted downwards, stopping just short of the flimsy steel mesh and, just for laughs, did the same thing again. Then once more, this time with me flying backwards for that added element of surprise.
OK, skyboy, where’s my certificate?
And then it really was over. With shaking hands we climbed out of our jumpsuits, removed the goggles and rearranged our faces.
On the way out we picked up our official Airkix certificates, which had tick boxes on them saying things like ‘Could ascend and descend unaided’. In an act of unbridled generosity, our instructor ticked six or seven achievements that I certainly don’t remember doing, when all that was really needed was a big tick next to the box that said ‘Has all the natural aptitude for skydiving as a grapefruit’. But don’t tell anyone.
If you fancy having a go yourself, Airkix are in fact lovely people, the experience is pretty remarkable and Milton Keynes is easy to get out of 😉