Ever since I was hooked on Ripcord, a third-rate 1960s kids TV programme about two sky-diving detectives that always ended with them landing on the baddies, I’ve wanted to feel the buzz of freefall. All that was holding me back was an inability to square the circle of hurtling earthwards at terminal velocity with the terror that my parachute wouldn’t open. But then I discovered I could do it indoors.
Tucked away in the corner of a giant adventure mall in Milton Keynes, Airkix doesn’t look that promising. A desk and a briefing room and that’s about it. But once the instructor, Kurmet, kits me out with helmet, overalls, goggles and earplugs, I am ready to go.
I fall forward into the glass tube and try to arch my torso, with my arms forward and my legs bent as a massively powerful suction fan pulls me upwards. Briefly. Then I realise I’m heading for the iron grille on the floor. The noise is deafening, the rush of air exhilarating and I can’t make head nor tail of Kurmet’s hand signals; I should have paid more attention in the briefing. Eventually, I work out he’s telling me to relax. I’m literally bouncing off the walls, and if it weren’t for the fact that I’m somehow suspended in the air, I’d be bouncing off the ground too. A minute of this and Kurmet steers me to the exit.
Before my next go, Kurmet gives me a stern lecture on relaxation. Something must have sunk in, because although I’m still careering into the walls I am definitely flying; for the best part of two minutes I am unnaturally hanging in space, having the time of my life.
Then Kurmet grabs me, the noise gets louder as the suction is increased and we are flying – well Kurmet is, I’m merely his aeronautic prop – 30ft up to the top of the chamber in a succession of tight spins, and then back down to the bottom. We repeat this several times and I’ve lost all sense of up and down by the time I’m pushed through the exit once more.
I’ve finished my session, but Kurmet pops back into the chamber to fly around upside down with his head pointing towards the ground, before doing a back-flip out the door. He’ll get the hang of it sooner or later.
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