They came from several surrounding states, converging at their destination early in the morning. Business was conducted, meetings were held, and catered meals were eaten. And before the day was over, each attendee had learned to fly.
Many oil companies, manufacturing firms, restaurant chains, and other businesses have contracted with iFLY The Woodlands for corporate meetings and team-building events that included the unique experience of indoor skydiving. Among those companies was Dixie Chopper, a manufacturer of zero-turning lawn mowers, which brought more than 30 employees to iFLY one day during the summer. Afterwards, participants raved about the event, says Jennifer Forrester, general manager of iFLY The Woodlands.
“Everybody got to fly,” she says. “This was an all-day affair for them. We displayed their products out front along the sidewalk. It was a great experience for them all the way around. The meeting went well. They liked the catering, and the best part of their day was the flying. They felt like the whole event was very successful for the company.”
In addition to corporate events, iFLY has hosted birthday parties, bachelor parties, award ceremonies, retirement parties, holiday parties, and date nights for online dating groups. iFLY has also held overnight parties for recent graduates, for Boy Scouts, and for Girl Scouts. And yes, there has even been a wedding at iFLY.
“Anything you would like to have here, we can facilitate,” says Stan Schuette, sales manager of iFLY The Woodlands. “We just need to know the date and number of fliers.” The iFLY staff takes care of all the details, including arranging for catered meals. “Our caterer can do everything from pizza and pop (soda),” says Jennifer (who is originally from Canada), “to mahi-mahi, filet mignon and a full bar.” iFLY-Houston can handle large groups; some groups have reserved the entire facility for private events.
Learning to fly
When iFLY opened its wind tunnel in The Woodlands in April 2015, it was its fourth wind tunnel in Texas and its second in Houston. Expansion has come with iFLY’s increasing popularity, and there are now iFLY locations in six Texas cities, eight states and ten countries, including Russia, Poland, Brazil and Australia. Working with experienced instructors, people from age 3 to 103 have experienced the excitement of simulated free fall within the safe confines of a controlled, indoor environment.
The wind tunnel at iFLY The Woodlands represents the latest generation of wind tunnels, and combines technological advances with energy efficiency. Powerful fans that generate 1600 horsepower are located in the ceiling of the building. Air is constantly recirculated, blowing from the fans, down around the sides of the 14-foot, cylindrical tunnel, and up through the aircraft-qualify, stainless steel-mesh floor. The wind speed, which remains constant throughout the tunnel, can reach up to 135 miles an hour.
The speed of the wind in the tunnel is customized for the size of the flier, and people of all sizes (up to 300 pounds) and physical abilities have successfully flown. People with disabilities have also learned to fly, and with the encouragement of Judge Phil Grant, iFLY The Woodlands conducts an “all abilities night” one evening a month. “It’s a night for people who are physically challenged—they can be in wheelchairs, missing limbs, or have any mental challenge,” says Stan, who is a former U.S. Army paratrooper. “It’s a night for them to be very, very comfortable and fly safely.”
Likewise, some parents of children with physical disabilities have learned that iFLY is a great way to participate in a sport. “Somebody with a disability might have a hard time finding an extra-curricular activity that doesn’t hurt them or cause pain,” Stan says. “This is one of those things that has been very therapeutic. They can feel like all the other kids their age.”
Many children of all abilities have discovered the fun of learning through iFLY’s STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) field trips. Groups of students in first grade or higher learn age-appropriate lessons designed by teachers and STEM professionals. These lessons add excitement to what the students are learning in the classroom. For example, students learn about the concept of surface tension when their instructor throws a glass of water into the iFLY wind tunnel and the water breaks up into countless droplets. Field trips to iFLY also include student projects, and culminate with each student flying in the wind tunnel.
While a trip to iFLY can be fun and educational, it can also be social, as many frequent fliers in the area have learned. As iFLY The Woodlands grows in popularity, many enthusiasts have joined Architects, an indoor skydiving league. League groups meet on three nights of the week, with a different ability level on each night. League members have become friends, Jennifer says, and work on skills together. As their ability to perform more difficult skydiving maneuvers increases, they move to a more advanced group.
Even professional skydiving teams practice at iFLY. Because actual skydiving requires aircraft, qualified pilots, fuel, parachutes and other equipment, it can be an expensive sport. Learning and practicing skills at iFLY is a cost-effective option. In fact, the U.S. Army contracts with several iFLY locations to train high-altitude, low-opening (HALO) parachutists, Stan says. Not only is iFLY much less expensive than actual skydiving, its controlled environment is safer. “Nobody has ever died in an iFLY tunnel,” Jennifer says.
Although some people think of indoor skydiving as a “bucket list item,” Stan says, it is actually a sport that many people enjoy. Enthusiasts often join the International Bodyflight Association (IBA) and document their progress in skills of increasing difficulty, like going from belly flying to back flying to head-down flying. “It gives them a sense of achievement and provides goals,” Stan says. iFLY The Woodlands recently hosted an IBA competition for indoor skydivers from all over the world.
iFLY The Woodlands is (of course) still available for individuals and small groups of people who want to experience the thrill of skydiving. iFLY The Woodlands is open seven days a week; times vary by day. Reservations are highly recommended, Jennifer says. For more information, she suggests visiting iFLY’s web site (iflyworld.com) and watching videos on youtube.com (search for “iFLY”).
26860 N. I-45
Oak Ridge North, TX 77386