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Walking in the air at indoor skydiving centre.

Abu Dhabi: Everything is happening so fast and your brain is getting flooded with so many different sensations that there is no time to think about being scared any more. The fear disappears. You are free once you start skydiving.

You, however, do not jump from an aircraft and perform acrobatic manoeuvres in the air under free fall before landing by parachute.

You will not jump off a cliff either. But you will experience the thrill of bungee jumping and skydiving. You will do it all, but indoors.

"There's no feeling like it in the world," said Navy Colonel Grigory Pervukhin, a Russian resident in Abu Dhabi, as he described his skydiving experience at the SpaceWalk in Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club, the first indoor skydiving facility in the Middle East.

Ten more indoor skydiving facilities across the country are planned, including two in Dubai.

As he entered the flight chamber, Pervukhin said he felt like he was floating in midair.

"Free fall is such a stupendous sense of freedom. You're flying through the air, you can do flips and twists, stand on your feet or stand on your head. There are absolutely no limits as to which direction you can move your body, you're absolutely free," he said.

Pervukhin thinks skydiving provides a refreshing break from stress.

"Skydiving is a super stress reliever. When you are skydiving, you focus on skydiving and nothing else. This keeps away all problems and distractions of life. No room for stray thoughts or worries. The pump of adrenaline [leaves] you feeling mentally and physically cleansed."

The experience is not limited to adults, but children as young as three can fly too.

Ahmad, an Emirati third grader, said he enjoys skydiving.

"Like a pigeon, I fly & Skydiving turns me loose from all restrictions& I'm truly weightless, with an incredible amount of wind being blown into my face," he said.

Another flyer, Mohammad, a sixth grader, said skydiving gives him a thrill. He likes nothing better than skydiving in a simulated free fall in a four-metre wide flight chamber where air is sucked in and out. It generates a ferocious wind of up to 170 kilometres per hour capable of lifting people off their feet into mid-air.

My first impression of the SpaceWalk was intimidating. The machine gives off a low rumble, which grows to a roar as you approach. The front gate trembles.

The flight chamber is octagonal in shape, and functions like a massive vacuum cleaner. The powerful fans high above fire air in and out of the chamber.

During my first visit to the SpaceWalk tunnel, which was designed by aerodynamic and mechanical engineers, my wrong movements sent me careering into the wall and spiralling uncontrollably upwards.

Fortunately, Jason Payne, an instructor, was always on hand, assisting me at all times.

SpaceWalk is open to the public and has nine instructors. "SpaceWalk is a realistic skydiving simulator - a vertical wind tunnel in which participants can fly and experience the sensation of free fall in a safe, controlled environment," said Christopher Gray, manager of SpaceWalk.

"Professional instructors provide all of the training necessary for a first-time experience. Our only requirements are that flyers must be at least 3 years of age and must weigh less than 90 kilograms."

Participants are given a pre-flight briefing by an instructor.Following the briefing, participants gear up in proper skydiving equipment provided by the centre.

Inside the flight chamber, participants receive one-on-one supervision from an instructor.

All flights are recorded on video and participants may purchase a DVD.

SpaceWalk factsAa - Where: Abu Dhabi Health and Fitness Club, on the corner of Al Saada and Al Karamah streets in Abu Dhabi.Aa - Contact: Tel : +971 2 446 3653; -Aa Working hours: 9.00am 11.00pm, 7 days a week.Aa - Reservations are encouraged, but walk-in customers are welcomed on a first-come, first-serve basis.Aa - The flight chamber measures 4 metres in diameter and 12.5 metres in height.Aa - The bottom 3.5 metres of the flight chamber is comprised of clear Lexan (similar to plexi-glass). This design feature allows spectators to watch the action inside the tunnel, as well as allowing the flyers to enjoy their amazed expressions.Aa - The flight chamber is designed so that air pressure gradually decreases the higher one flies. This is a built-in safety feature which prevents flyers from reaching the top. -AaThe wind speed inside the flight chamber is carefully controlled by an instructor at all times and is adjusted for each flyer's height and weight. This ensures that every flyer has just the right amount of air pressure to be able to fly comfortably.Aa - Five powerful fans with a combined total of 875 horsepower generate wind speeds of up to 170 kilometres per hour.

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Geographic Code:7UNIT
Date:Apr 18, 2009
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