Why soar like an eagle when you can fly like a dragon? Or at least, ride one?
For my latest rendition of ‘Madison Tries,’ I headed over to iFly, the indoor skydiving facility in Smyrna to test out their latest VR skydiving experience, a partnership with the new theatrical release of “How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World.”
First, let me say this: Skydiving has never appealed to me. I’m a thrill-seeker through and through, but something about heights and irrevocable death have always kept my feet planted on the Earth where they belong. I’ll stick to rollercoasters and slightly speeding on GA 400, thank you very much.
To prep for my first flight in VR, I had to jump in the wind tunnel twice with my trainer to get used to flying and practice the skills they taught me. After going through a 10 minute instruction period, I knew to keep my legs straight, arms up and parallel to my head and chin up for the best flight experience. The second flight was exhilarating once I finally got a hang of the wind and movements.
My flight in the VR helmet felt much like Jon Snow’s first ride on a dragon on the latest episode of “Game of Thrones” looked like — utterly terrifying, but also exhilarating.
With my head in the VR helmet, my brain wanted to convince itself I was actually flying on a dragon over Viking highlands. But my fear wanted me to freak out about possibly knocking my head into the glass wall, totally unaware since my vision was blocked.
Flying in the tunnel was definitely a little nerve-racking for me. I wanted to fly well and get a hang of the movements so I could really kick butt in the VR landscape. But once I got into the VR helmet, I have no idea if I was doing anything correctly.
My experience is similar to what a lot of folks go through, according to some of the local VR leaders I’ve chatted with. Immersive VR taps into your lizard brain—the part of the brain that subconsciously controls your breathing, hunger, drive for survival, etc.—and makes it so much harder for you to realize you’re not actually in the VR experience. This is why you hear stories of people who think they feel something on their hands or shoulders, or walk around and run into things, while they’re in immersive VR.
Being in a wind tunnel amplified all of that by about 10,000x. I can’t speak for others who’ve enjoyed the VR component at iFly, but reigning in my terror was definitely a task. Once I reminded myself that I’d only be flying for about a minute, I was able to enjoy the images in front of me.
There’s no sound other than the wind blasting past your body, which is saying something, because you are required to wear earplugs. I played the character Astrid riding the dragon Light Fury in a quasi-dragon race over the Viking highlands.
I didn’t know I could turn my head to see other images within the VR simulation (while flying in the tunnel, you’re supposed to keep your chin all the way up to avoid any resistance, making it harder to turn your head), so my vision was limited. It didn’t matter to me that I was in a cartoon VR simulation. I was flying a dragon! Not to mention, I love the “How to Train Your Dragon” franchise, partly because the movies are fun and my cat resembles the main dragon, Toothless.
iFly seems to draw a range of ages to its experiences. A majority of the participants when I went were children, and a good amount of them were pretty decent at flying.
iFly is an Austin-based indoor skydiving experience company that was founded in 1998 as SkyVenture LLC and opened the first indoor skydiving facility in 1998 in Orlando, Fla. The company recently opened its El Paso location, its 78th location worldwide.
So the question is: Are you capable of flying among dragons?
Atlanta Inno writer Madison Hogan tries out indoor skydiving with VR for the first time. Image Credit: iFly
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