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Flying high without ever boarding a plane

iFly indoor skydiving 3If you want the experience of skydiving without jumping out of a plane, there’s a place in Rockville for it. COURTESY PHOTOSkydiving is a popular bucket-list activity, but for those who can’t bring themselves to jump out of a plane from thousands of feet up, there’s a new business in Gaithersburg that simulates the experience.

The indoor skydiving facility iFly, a national chain with nearly 70 locations around the globe, opened a new location on May 16 just off Interstate 270 on Gaither Road in Gaithersburg. The company was founded in 1998 and describes itself on its website as “something akin to the ‘wind beneath my wings’ for millions of Americans. Flyers can start as young as the age of four, and no experience is needed.”

“We want everybody to know that it’s completely possible for anyone to fly,” sales director Matt Owens said.

According to site general manager Kathryn Eckert, the business is run almost with 100-percent reservations and offers multiple flight packages. The most basic package is two flights for $79.95, which gets you about two minutes of flight time with an instructor.

After booking a reservation, customers will come in on their flight date and sign a liability waiver on the first floor before heading to the flying area on the floor above. Once there, customers place all their valuables in a locker and put on a flight suit before heading to a classroom to watch a short video on proper flying techniques and hand signals to use in the tunnel. 

After that, it’s time to fly. 

The beginning is a lot different from the mind-bending flips and sharp turns some customers see online. After getting used to the adrenaline rush that comes with winds of over 100 miles an hour pushing up at them, customers work with an instructor to master stability in flying on their stomach before moving on to more advanced skills if possible. According to instructor Asher Mohamed, it can take six to 10 flights to master the basics of flying and move on to mastering them.

“Once they’re stable and they get the hang of it and they know their speed, then I start teaching them up, down, how to go to the left, how to go to the right, how to go backwards and forwards,” Mohamed said. 

While iFly wants people to come back and practice flying in a safe location, the company also wants to continue to grow bodyflight as a sport. 

Owens compares the sport of bodyflight to what skateboarding was in its starting days. The sport has a cult following, he said, and the company is trying to make the sport more accessible. The Gaithersburg location has a year-round flight school for ages 4-16 on Tuesdays and Thursdays and an academy during the summer months for those who may not be able to attend the sessions year-round. For anyone 17 and up, the company has a league night for interested flyers as well.

“We want people to realize that this is not just a once-in-a-lifetime, bucket-list item,” Eckert said.  “This is something that you can come try and then come try again and advance your skills and really make it an activity or a hobby, or a sport in your life, just like soccer, skateboarding, or ballet.”

Another goal for the company is making a footprint in the community. This location has hosted birthday parties, corporate events to work on team-building, and “Abilities Night” when people with disabilities can learn how to fly. People passing by can also walk in and check out the building without paying, if they just want to watch the flying.

Eckert said business has been picking up as people realize iFly is open and has a myriad of options available for people of all ages. Right now it’s mostly new flyers, but as word gets out and as programs like the flight academy and adult league grow, Eckert and Owens expect more people to return and experience the sensation of flight again.

“There’s so many things to do at our tunnel just to help enrich the community,” Owens said. “We want to be known as a cool place to hang out and learn to fly.”

@jfitzgerald52

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