Newest Review: ... by security fencing. It's easy to imagine that it's some old Cold War defence centre where weird diseases are being developed but actually... more
On a Wing and a Prayer
Bodyflight Bedford (Bedfordshire)
Member Name: koshkha
Bodyflight Bedford (Bedfordshire)
Advantages: Unique experience
Disadvantages: Just doesn't last long enough
My husband is a star and a great present buyer although I have to admit that like many people he's quite prone to buying what he'd like to receive though in this case he absolutely refused to join me in my present. Last year my birthday was a particularly sad one. My dearly loved but very elderly cat was put to sleep the evening before and I wasn't really in a birthday mood at all. We went out for dinner and Tony handed over an envelope telling me cryptically that I'd be flying but I wouldn't need my passport. Inside was a voucher for Bodyflight in Bedford, the world's largest indoor skydiving wind-tunnel.
I did once book a parachute jump. It was about 14 years ago on a holiday in Zimbabwe. I'd got the adrenalin bug after doing the Victoria Falls bungee (at that time the biggest drop in the world) and I wanted more extreme action. A storm blew up for a few days and I never got my jump but in the mean time a succession of nasty knee injuries meant I'd realised that jumping out of a plane was probably a really stupid thing to do but I hadn't stopped wanting to fly. For as long as I can remember I have quite literally and repeatedly dreamt of flying. In my sleep I can soar like a bird, leap off tall buildings, swoop from great heights and generally do lots of cool things. In the waking world, it's not quite so easy!
Several years ago I read about tunnel flying on one of the review sites and I'd been nagging my husband to go and have a go ever since but he was distinctly unenthusiastic. I suspect that he'd realised the only way to shut me up was to buy me a session.
~The Secret of Flight~
As Douglas Adams famously wrote in his Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy series, flying is the knack of "learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss." Or something along those lines - it's hard to track down the exact quote as it's a much paraphrased definition. But whether my quote is 100% correct or not, I think you probably get the idea. Flying's theoretically simple - it's just that darned gravity stuff that gets in the way.
So if you want to overcome gravity there are a few options; check-in to the international space station (expensive), take up SCUBA and substitute water-borne weightlessness or, for the quickest and easiest route to floating, try a bit of tunnel flying. Despite my enthusiasm for going tunnel flying, it was only when I realised that my voucher was about to expire, that I kicked hubby into action and he rang up and booked my session.
~Bedford - famous for.......? not much really~
Apologies to anyone who lives there but Bedford is, (how can I say this nicely?) a bit crap. According to that great source of information, Wikipedia, the 1970s television series 'Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em' was filmed in Bedford. And my Great Uncle Wag ran the menswear department of the CoOp for decades. That's all I can really say about Bedford.
Bodyflight isn't actually IN Bedford though. Tom Tom couldn't find it because it's got a 'ghost' postcode - one that isn't really where it's supposed to be. We followed Tom to a dead end on a housing estate before working out that number 42 didn't have a wind-tunnel in the garden. We replaced the post code with the street address - Twinwoods Business Park - and had another go, finding ourselves in a rather eerie and isolated spot on top of a hill, surrounded by security fencing. It's easy to imagine that it's some old Cold War defence centre where weird diseases are being developed but actually the business park is home to Red Bull Racing, a variety of anonymous-looking high-tech businesses, Bodyflight and Yarl's Wood Deportation and Detention Centre (the one that burned down not long after it opened).
We parked up, walked past the vertical wind-tunnel which looks a bit like a big silo, and into reception. There's a nice swimming pool and gym on the ground floor and if you're visiting with a non-flying partner (or if you fancy a swim yourself) a day pass costs a fiver. Tony handed over my voucher, I filled in my registration details and we headed up three flights of stairs. This is part of the 'fitness test' I suspect - you just need to be able to make it up a load of stairs without collapsing in a sweaty heap.
Bodyflight ask you to arrive one hour before your flight time which seemed to be a bit extreme as there really wasn't much to do. Tunnel time is very expensive and if you turn up late, you'll lose it. The tunnel was booked every minute of the afternoon that we were there so it is important not to be late, I'm just not sure that it's really necessary to be an hour early.
We checked-in on the top floor where the girl on the desk explained that she'd by the trainer and told us to relax and to 'have a pee now if you think you'll need one because the flight suits aren't easy to get in and out of' - what a practical girl. She also told us where the viewing gallery was and warned us that the people in there were 'very experienced' and we shouldn't be worried that we'd have to do anything like they were doing. We later learned that these were international standard tunnel flyers who were absolutely on the top of their game and watching the pros was a real eye opener. Perhaps I should have been intimidated but instead it seemed like a great way to work out how they were doing what they were doing.
The most noticeable thing was how hot it was at the tunnel - imagine being by a giant hot air hand-dryer both for temperature and noise levels and you'll get the idea. We sat in the viewing gallery to wait for the instructor to come and get me and we got talking to a guy who was also flying and his pregnant wife who not surprisingly wasn't. The pros were just incredible, swooping and soaring, spinning on their backs, fronts, adopting gravity defying positions and leaping about like something from a CGI-enhanced adventure film. I wanted to be one of these sleek swooping superheroes but clearly it would take a lot of time and a mountain of money to be able to hover on your back like you'd lost your upside-down-motorbike.
~Doors to manual and cross check~
About half an hour before we were due to fly, two more people had arrived and the instructor handed out the flight suits and told us to get ready. The suits have sausage-like extensions down the inside and outside of the legs and on the arms. I assumed that these would make us like flying squirrels and increase our resistance to the air but later realised it was more likely that their purpose was to give the instructor something to grab hold of when we shot off in strange directions and flipped over like turtles. After putting on the flight suits, removing jewellery and watches and making sure our helmets were the right size, we picked up our ear plugs and eye shields, double checked our shoes were tightly knotted (nobody wants to lose a show in the tunnel) and headed into the training room. The instructor explained the basics of what would happen, got us to hop on and off a gym horse and 'adopt the position' and then took us through the basic hand signals that she'd use inside the tunnel. She explained how to 'fall into' the tunnel safely and that really was pretty much all there was to it. Unfortunately the one thing she didn't explain was how the session would run and what we should expect - other than that our names would come up on a screen and we'd have to be ready when we were called.
~Time for Take-Off~
About five minutes before we were due to start we put in our ear plugs, put on our helmets and headed to the waiting area. The pros were doing their final bit of swooping around and we watched jealously as they showed off. And then suddenly the time had come, the tunnel speed was cut to a much slower pace (to stop us shooting off in any uncontrollable way) and the instructor stepped into the tunnel and called the first flyer...................who promptly got the collywobbles and refused to go in. After wasting half of her 75 second session deciding not to fly, her boyfriend stepped in and started his go. I was the last of the four to step in and by the time I started the scheduling was already all over the place because someone else hadn't turned up. I lifted my chin, tucked my hands into my chest and fell into the tunnel. OK, I wasn't elegant, I wasn't classy and I flopped around from my back to my front with the biggest grin on my face and a massive amount of saliva dribbling down my chin. Thank goodness we didn't opt to buy the photos as I'm sure I looked like an over-excited Labrador. The instructor grabbed the sausages down my arms and legs to flip me around and I was as happy as a pig in doodah flopping about for all my worth but actually getting the hang of propelling myself around the tunnel by bending and straightening my legs before being unceremoniously chucked out at the end of my time.
After my first slobbery flight I was loving it totally and was really disappointed to realise I was only scheduled for one more go. Whilst Bodyflight insist that 75 seconds is equivalent to one and a half free-fall parachute jumps, it still feels like a ridiculously short time. Hubby had bought me the basic voucher that gives you just two sessions in the tunnel but due to the late arrival of someone who'd booked a quadruple lesson (8 flights) and the fannying around of the girl who'd decided it wasn't for her, I got an extra flight flown in. There was nobody at the door, the instructor looked at me and I just grabbed my moment and got in again. By the third flight I was starting to feel that I'd got the hang of what I was doing and I really wanted more but it was all over and I had to get back to the real world.
~Sorry, what was that? I can't hear you~
What I hadn't appreciated was that once the session starts, it's just so noisy that there's no possibility to get anything explained to you on how you might improve next time you step in. I also found the total chaos of not knowing who was supposed to be up next was very confusing and, whilst it worked to my favour, I wished it had been clearer from the beginning what would happen once we started the session. The instructor spent a lot of time man-handling the flyers into position so that the camera could get good shots of us gurning like slobbery idiots (and hence sell us pictures afterwards) and I found that a bit annoying. I also felt that the poor instructor was heading for a life time of back problems based on how much throwing us around she had to indulge in. One of they guys in our group was easily over six foot tall and quite chunky and literally a bit of a handful.
~Back down to earth~
All too soon it was all over and we were back in the dressing area removing our flight suits, and handing back the equipment. I wanted more but I could also see that it was probably one of those things that would become very expensive, very quickly and would entail spending more time in Bedford than could be considered wise. I wanted to fly, I wanted to be a superhero and wear my pants over my flight suit, but I also knew I needed a new computer and had a holiday to pay for. In some ways, it was actually quite a relief to realise that this expensive hobby was something I really shouldn't get into. On balance I'd have to say that it was pretty fantastic but didn't really come close to the sense of flying I can get through SCUBA.
~Money Money Money, Always Sunny, In a Richman's World~
I'm not exaggerating to say that this is sport for the rich or those with very few other expenses in their lives. My two and a half minutes had cost £39. The guy who'd had 8 sessions (or would have if he'd turned up on time) had spent £120 on his 10 minutes of flight time and quite honestly, probably wasn't that much better at the end of those 10 minutes than he'd been at the beginning. The experienced flyers get better prices of course but even so an hour will set you back £690. The most 'economical' way to buy tunnel time is to take 15 hours at a massive £8250 (or £550 per hour). I have to say that I'm struggling to see that as a bargain. Coaching will cost you £60 an hour on top.
~Lights, Camera, Action~
We didn't stick around long enough to see the photos or video of me flopping around and I don't think I'd have bought them if we had. In my mind I was an elegant soaring eagle - I didn't need to see the video or photographic evidence of my delusion.
~Other ways to spend lots of money at Bodyflight~
You can jump off the outside of the tunnel tower for £25 (reduced to £20 if you've just been inside the tower) but I couldn't really see much point in that. They're also about to commission a really long zip line slide which looked like a lot of fun but was stupidly expensive for something that would be over in just a few seconds. There's also a surfing simulator planned for opening in May so by the summer there will be plenty of options for doing something daft at Bodyflight but for me none of those other options would come close to the flying.
~A Final Note~
Try really hard not to call the place 'Bodyform'. Poor hubby had been subjected to me singing the 'ooooooo bodyform, bodyform for me' jingle in the car on the way over and several times referred to the place as Bodyform in front of the instructor and the receptionist who obviously didn't think that being mistaken for a sanitary towel (even one with wings) was very funny.
36 Twinwoods Business Park
Summary: Thanks hubby - great present
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