Airkik – Becoming Superman… in Milton Keynes
Since early man first saw pterodactyls swooping over their heads humankind has wanted to fly.
The Wright brothers, The Red Baron, Superman – heroes all, because of their ability to pick their feet up off the floor and dance with clouds.
And now I’m doing it – well sort of anyway, because there’s not a stratus, cirrus or nimbus in sight inside indoor skydiving specialist Airkix’s wind tunnel.
There’s just me and a gravity defying Frenchman floating, one gracefully and one flapping like a penguin, in a 12 foot flight chamber.
It had been all so much easier half-an-hour or so earlier, walking – one foot in front of the other as I had learnt about 31 years ago – into the Airkix building in Central Milton Keynes.
Probably the ugliest building in the country this monstrous prison block lookalike is home to the adrenalin filled world of indoor skydiving.
The brainchild of the US military in 1964, indoor flight is an increasingly popular phenomenon with wind tunnels in Tennessee, Las Vegas and Florida among other places.
Milton Keynes was the seventh place worldwide to cater for the ‘sport’, with a new tunnel now open in Manchester.
Broadly speaking indoor skydiving consists of participants throwing themselves into the tunnel as ferocious blasts of wind are pushed up it, balancing the would-be jumper in the air.
Before that though comes the trendy process of kitting yourself out in jump suit, goggles and helmet – some of which are excellently adorned by the likes of Tigger, Eeyore and a rather weather-beaten looking monkey.
I completed my own personal preparation – sans cuddly toy apparel – by stuffing ear plugs into my lugholes and following instructor Jean-Charles towards Airkix.
He positioned me on the edge of the tunnel and, as advised in an earlier briefing, motioned for me to lean into the wind, arch my back, put my chin up and, for all intents and purposes, make like Superman.
A rush of wind and I’m briefly heading upwards, but with my head down and legs flapping, I’m quickly heading back towards the floor – in this case a safety grid designed to stop flyers crashing to the bottom of the tunnel.
Fortunately the floating Jean-Charles is there to steady me and push me back into position; a trick he adeptly repeats every time I threaten to veer into the edge or spiral out of control.
Heart pounding I spin left and right, trying to maintain a degree of dignity and loving every second.
I am briefly aware of everyone else watching me float around the tunnel and as I finally manage to hold myself steady for more than two seconds I take the time to casually look around me.
Big mistake. Hold still, flashes a sign in front of me; Jean-Charles is rapidly signalling me to do something – we were briefed beforehand, but suspended above the ground by an onrushing air current that could conceivably disappear at any moment trying to remember the signal for bend your legs is akin to something out of Mensa – and I’m heading downwards again.
Fortunately I’m in good hands as my Gallic friend moves me back into position again and eventually, after a minute of flying that seems a lot longer, he pushes towards the exit door and the mercy of terra firma.
It may have owed more to hot air than superhuman powers, but I did it. I flew.
This mild-mannered (ahem) journalist had become Superman.