In elementary school, I spent three months learning sign language to I believe I can fly by R. Kelly. So my 11-year-old self was freaking out when I realized I would be one of the few to experience flying in virtual reality at the VRLA Summer Expo over the weekend.
As I was being strapped into my suit, the technician explained to me with a straight face that other experiences might simulate flying with a jet pack or free falling, but this experience was built to mimic the movements of flying through the air like Iron Man.
My suit consisted of two motion sensing straps around my arms, a full-body harness, two straps to keep my feet elevated and an Oculus Rift DK2. In front of me sat two industrial fans pointed at my face.
As I was lowered into position, I went through a 30 second flight training. Hands out front for a leisurely flight, hands back to my sides to go full throttle, and arms out like a bird to fly somewhere in between. The rest of the instructions were instinctual: To go down, look down, to go up, look up and to turn you needed to lean your body and arms in the direction you wanted to go.
Minutes later I was transported into every beautiful landscape you have ever seen from the cramped window of an airplane, without the airplane. It was awesome. As I began flying, I felt wind from the fans against my face. The wind picked up as I flew faster and let up as I idled to give the sensation of air flowing by me as I sped across blue skies. Controlling which direction I flew was more difficult than I anticipated, but this might have been because I didn’t occupy enough real estate in the sensory suit. Speed, however, was easy to control and felt completely natural. It was exciting to feel as though I was being propelled forward in the absence of gravity.
When my joy ride ended, the forces of nature did come together to present me with the gift of motion sickness. It was unsurprising. Without an anchor, like a cockpit or even a body, it was easy to get queasy when I lost site of a horizon. If you do it, anticipate needing to lay down for a second afterwards to get your bearings if you’re prone to motion sickness like I am.
Overall, this technology is pretty impressive and let’s be real, insanely fun. If you get a chance to try it out, I give it two arms up.