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ACTION MAN

Now he's (not exactly) free fallin'

December 06, 2007|Liam Gowing

AFTER hopping on the subway and experiencing the wait-lessness of a smoothly running MTA Red Line, I was blissfully primed for the virtual weightlessness of iFLY Hollywood -- a vertical wind tunnel that approximates the thrilling terminal-velocity free-fall once known only to sky divers, bungee jumpers and the tragically despondent.

Arriving to find that the 30-foot-tall cylinder had been constructed of transparent fiberglass and situated not along Universal CityWalk but in it -- a giant advertisement for itself, essentially, surrounded by popcorn-munching gawkers -- I was a tad put off. But after buying the pricier but strongly encouraged package of two one-minute rides and meeting my flight instructor, Andrew Steele, I found my enthusiasm restored like a Bosley Medical hairline.

An experienced sky diver, 23-year-old Steele was exceptionally thorough, explaining the levitational properties of iFLY's 800-horsepower suck machine (blowing turbines being for ninnies, apparently), the proper protocol for entering and exiting it, and the hand gestures he would be using to guide me around the ferociously noisy interior: "peace-out" for "extend legs," "bunny ears" for "retract legs" and "hang loose" for "hang loose."

Feeling more prepared than I actually was, I donned the provided safety gear, followed Steele to the threshold and swan-dived into the tunnel with all the grace of Al Roker covering Hurricane Wilma. It was ludicrous. Buffeted by 125-mph winds, I struggled to achieve gravitational equilibrium while vainly attempting to follow my copilot's hand signals. What were they again? Lather, rinse, repeat?

Unable to sign me into position, Steele finally resorted to lip-assisted telepathy, which made as much sense as Mushmouth from "Fat Albert" interpreting LSD-period Beatles lyrics: "I-be-he-be-she-be-we-be." I am he as you are what? "I-be-hizzle-finger-thumber-plunk." Huh? "Goo-goo-g'joob."

Outside again, 60 seconds later, Steele explained what he'd been mouthing: "I need you to adjust your position a little slower."

Edified, I leaped once more into the breach. And this time, it was a stone-cold groove. Yawning rather than hiccuping into the belly-flop position recommended for novices, I immediately found the sweet spot from which I was able to gradually alter my elevation and position. I even managed to negotiate turns without tail spinning, subtle hand pivots working as effectively as an airplane rudder.

Exiting the chamber with a slight headache but still lighter than air, I headed back down to the subway, where an accident on the Blue Line seemed to have scrambled the whole network. In the bowels of the Earth, gravity was restored.

-- Liam.Gowing@latimes.com

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iFLY Hollywood

WHERE: CityWalk, 1000 Universal Studios Blvd., Universal City

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Fridays, 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sundays

PRICE: $39.95 per one-minute flight, $49.95 for two minutes, $69.95 for four, plus 10-minute-plus packages for pros and returning amateurs

INFO: www.iflyhollywood.com

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