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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Wind tunnel wisdom

Wind Tunnel Wisdom

Illustration by Michèlle-Renée Adams.

In my mind is a curious catalogue of dreams I’ve collected from more than 58 years of sleep: I am able to fly like a bird, swimming through the air with a feeling of happiness and freedom.

In reality, I am a white-knuckle airline passenger. I was a white-knuckle parent, too.
Now, I am old enough to be a grandmother, though I am not yet a real one. I’ve raised two children who are now 24 and 28. I understand how the process of delivering, diapering, doctoring, driving and discovering these most beloved humans unfolds over time.

Raising children is all about lifting them up. And up and up and up. All the time.  It’s tiring. It’s a lot of work. It allows little time or space for self-reflection.

Not long ago, I discovered a way to find that missing perspective. I released myself to the adventure of body flight.

Sky Venture Arizona is located in Eloy, south of Phoenix. It is an indoor, vertical wind tunnel where you don kneepads, a flight suit and goggles, take a class and then allow man-made air power to take your breath away.

The wind tunnel allows you to experience the sensations of a sky dive without the real-life risk. Even with the training Sky Venture’s instructors provide, there is no way to know the feeling until you experience it. It is a gift—the feeling of freedom that comes with letting go of fear.

During training, instructor Paco Daniels told me to keep my chin up while floating in the wind. If he told me why, I didn’t pay attention. As I stepped up to the threshold of the 14-foot tunnel, I was about to learn an important lesson in physics.

Daniels told me to tuck my fists under my chin and lean into the noisy turbulence of the tunnel. I immediately looked down. Mistake! My nose and mouth filled with air—against my will! It was as suffocating as the rush of water that fills your mouth, nose, windpipe and lungs if you plunge unexpectedly into a crashing wave.

I begged for relief and was “rescued” by another instructor, Duane Walton. I asked why instructors wear full facemasks while I had goggles.

“You have to learn to keep your chin up!” Walton said. “Just do it! Trust the air to lift you—don’t think!”

Ah! Don’t think. Of course.

Wait, what? Not think? How do you do that?

When you keep your chin up, your eyes are automatically lifted up toward the fans and the fast-flowing air does not fill your facial orifices. The wind follows your exposed neck and holds you aloft. The invisible force doesn’t fight you when you don’t fight it.

And then it feels great!

As soon as I trusted the wind, all my fight became flight. I learned that by turning only my palms, I could change the direction of my flying self—such small motions, so much control! Toward the end of my five minutes in heaven, Duane signaled a “thumbs up” along with a “get ready for it” smile, then took my arm and leg and swung me around. At that point, Giacomo Foglia, the young man at the controls, boosted the wind power to 120 mph and Walton and I flew straight up, about 40 feet.

“This must be what it feels like to die!” I thought, before giving up and relaxing so fully into the sensation that I closed my eyes, started smiling and flew.

I think if I had experienced body flight when I was younger, I would have been a different mother. Maybe I would have been less fearful. Maybe I would have been more willing to accept the fact that no parent can protect children from every possible injury to body or soul. That sometimes “lifting up” means letting go.

I’m looking forward to the day when I can strap my kids and my grandkids into the car, drive to Eloy and cast our fates to the wind…tunnel.

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Mary L. Holden

Mary L. Holden, of Phoenix, is a freelance writer and editor.

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