Everything you Need to Know About a ZERO-G Flight
Throughout all of humanity, only 536 people have been to space. Suffice to say, the chances of you being the next lucky passenger are pretty slim. But that doesn’t mean you can’t experience the thrill of ZERO-G travel. Say hello to a reduced gravity aircraft: the high-flying vessel sends you soaring on what’s easily one of the most thrilling excursions on the planet! Over the course of the flight, you’ll experience 15 intervals of microgravity, floating around like an honest-to-goodness astronaut.
To say that this experience is off the beaten trail would be the understatement of the century. Obviously, you’ve got questions: How does it work? Is it safe? Will I experience motion sickness? How long am I floating around for? So you know what to expect, we’ve broken down every step of this out-of-this-world excursion.
What is a ZERO-G Parabolic Flight?
Don’t worry—you’ll stay within the stratosphere. In fact, a reduced gravity aircraft flies at approximately 24,000 feet, just like any other commercial aircraft. Unlike a flight in regular commercial aircraft, these planes perform parabolic maneuvers. The manner in which the aircraft quickly shifts position is what gives you the feeling of weightlessness.
You’ve probably seen it in action before. The film Apollo 13, for instance, used this flying technique to replicate the historic mission. You’ve also likely seen that photo of the late, great Stephen Hawking floating around in a capsule—he was taking this very flight. Buzz Aldrin, Elon Musk, and even Martha Stewart have also embarked on the journey.
How Exactly Do Reduced Gravity Flights Work?
Reduced gravity flights have been around since the ‘50s; though the basic principle behind the adventure can be dated to Einstein’s 1907 thought experiment where he visualized himself freefalling in an elevator moving at the same speed he was. Einstein realized that falling in an accelerated frame of reference would be absolutely indistinguishable from floating in mid-air. And that’s exactly what a reduced-gravity flight is—it’s falling.
In a nutshell, a modified commercial aircraft approaches 24,000 feet in altitude. High up in the air, it performs parabolic maneuvers at 45-degree angles. In other words, it lifts 10,000 and then quickly plummets 10,000 feet. During the plummet, you’re floating!
You see, it’s actually impossible for us to “escape” gravity, particularly when we’re still within the earth’s atmosphere. So technically, a reduced gravity flight isn’t reducing gravity at all—it’s embracing it. You’re freefalling in Einstein’s elevator.
But don’t go thinking this is some sort of fancy skydiving excursion. Reduced gravity flights give you a true feeling of weightlessness. These are aircraft frequented not only by thrill-seekers; they’re often employed by the scientific community to perform legitimate zero-G studies. NASA, for instance, uses this very aircraft to study the effect of weightlessness on the human body. The experience is genuine!
What Kind of Aircraft Do you Fly In?
Your ZERO-G experience comes courtesy of a modified Boeing 727-200. This aircraft is often used as a cargo carrier and thus features an extensively large interior. It easily transforms into the perfect vessel for floating around.
The aircraft was also selected because of its ability to perform parabolic maneuvers. On your reduced-gravity flight, the plane ascends at 1.8g and descends to 0g. The 727 withstands the range of 2.5g and 1g, ensuring a safe journey.
How Safe is It?
Extremely. These aircraft undergo far more inspections than regular commercial airplanes. Moreover, before okaying the flying machine, the FAA tested approximately 1,000 parabolas with it. Among the many things inspected by the FAA was potential stress on the plane’s frame. To ensure everything checked out, strain gauges were added to the aircraft’s outer shell, which determined that no structural modifications were necessary. To account for the flight’s rapid pressure changes, an enhanced hydraulics system was added.
The staff also makes it an extremely safe flight. Rather than having one flight attendant responsible for dozens upon dozens of passengers, your zero-G flight features numerous guides ensuring the safety of only 27 thrill seekers. The highly-trained personnel guarantees the safety and comfort of everyone on board.
How Old Do I Have to Be to fly?
A testament to how safe the experience is, fights permit anyone eight years and older to fly. In fact, anyone over the age of 13 is invited to embark on the adventure solo!
How Does the ZERO-G Experience Unfold?
The experience begins early morning. You’ll arrive at the launch site and be briefed along with the flight crew. The orientation provides you with an in-depth review of the flight’s logistics. You’ll also learn all about the science behind the journey.
Next, it’s time to suit up in your zero-G flight suit, which feature large pockets for storing items (be advised: this flight, like any other commercial flight, requires security clearance before boarding; during the brief, you’ll be told exactly what you can and can’t bring onto the plane).
Next, you’ll receive a quick medical briefing that covers how your body might react to parabolic flying. While air sickness isn’t as common as one might expect (more on that in a minute), your instructor will equip you with some useful preventative measures.
Time to board! After a quick photo op, you’ll get seated and ready for takeoff. After flying for 30 minutes, the plane reaches around 2,400 feet. At this point, you’ll unbuckle your safety belt, approach the zero-G zone, and ready for the first parabola!
What Does it Feel Like During the Ascent?
While you may think that a plane plummeting 10,000 feet is what gives you the butterflies, it’s in fact the upward momentum that often makes passengers feel a little woozy. As the plane quickly ascends, you’ll experience 1.8g. Your body will feel rather weighed down (try lifting a limb; it’s like doing weights). During the ascent, passengers often lay flat on their backs, which helps with the sensation.
What Does it Feel Like During the Descent?
Like your floating in outer space! Actually, it may at first feel more like you’re trekking the surface of the moon or Mars. To ease you into the sensation, the pilot first performs a few smaller parabolas. As you rise from the surface, you’ll begin jumping around, giggling like a five-year-old you.
After the first few trial descents, your pilot will proceed with parabolas that give you the full-fledged zero-gravity experience!
And no, it doesn’t feel like you’re falling. Most of the aircraft’s windows are blocked off so you have no frame of reference. You’re floating, plain and simple. Of course, if you’re the daring type, there are a select few windows at the end of the cabin that you’re invited to peer out of.
How Long Does the Weightless Experience Last?
Every time the plane descends, you’ll receive a 20- to 30-second burst of weightlessness. Throughout the entire flight, the pilot performs 15 parabolas, which amount to approximately 7-8 minutes of the reduced gravity sensation.
What Does Weightlessness Feel Like?
When flying in a parabola, the plane doesn’t experience any “downtime” between ascent and descent. One second, you’re feeling the weight of 1.8g, the next, you’re flying! Some liken it to being underwater without the sensation of water pressure. You’re so light that moving around requires nothing more than a tiny push. And because the cabin is designed with no clear up or down references, you get to determine your own orientation—it’s quite the trip.
Often, a passenger’s first inclination will be to push carelessly from the surface—not the best idea. Push too hard and you’ll be bouncing around wildly. Losing control can potentially give you the sensation of falling, putting your brain into survival mode. You’ll end up spending the 20 seconds trying to get your bearings instead of appreciating the magical feeling. Take our advice, ease into it. Let the sensation wash over you before experimenting with all the things your body can do.
What Do You Do When You’re Floating?
All kinds of things! Pushups, jumping jacks, summersaults. During the ascent, place a small object in your open palm and then watch it float away from you the instant you hit zero-G’s. There will be bottles of water on board. You’ll see droplets gather into bigger balls of H2O and try to catch them in your mouth. Equip yourself with a GoPro; this is definitely an experience you want to capture!
Do Passengers Ever Get Sick?
When researching this flight, you may have come across the nickname “vomit commit.” Certainly, it’s a funny name that captures the extreme nature of the flight, but truth be told you’ll likely to be fine. If you do have a week stomach, consider taking over-the-counter anti-nausea pills prior to the flight such as Dramamine and Meclizine; doing so can significantly reduce motion sickness. Without the anti-nausea pills, chances of being sick are approximately one in three. With the pills, the probability is generally reduced to one in ten.
Also, you’ll be privy to several tips that ensure the smoothest possible ride. For instance, during the ascent, it’s advisable not to turn your head too quickly. The 1.8g you experience has an effect on the fluid in your ears, which messes up your balance. If you do want to move around to get comfortable, shift your entire body at once.
What you eat prior to the flight will also affect how you feel. It’s suggested on the day of the flight to stick to light meals that are high in protein and dairy. And obviously, no alcohol or any other mind-altering substances—the sensation of weightlessness is a high in and of itself!
Should you start feeling sick, don’t worry. Everyone is equipped with sickness bags in their spacesuit. Moreover, you’re being watched over by a quick-witted staff that keeps you comfortable. There’s nothing to fear.
Where Can You Book Your Zero-G Flights?
These ZERO-G flights take off from four primary locations year-round. If you live around the West Coast, flights are available in San Francisco and Las Vegas. In Florida, there are lift-off sites in Orlando and Miami. In addition to these regularly-scheduled takeoffs, the ZERO-G experience also features occasional flights out of Seattle, Los Angeles, New York, DC, Austin, and Houston. You can explore the full schedules when booking.
Ready for Lift Off?
This is the only flight of its kind opened to everyday citizens. Space-travel enthusiasts from around the globe venture to the US of A to experience what’s likely to be the most thrilling journey they’ll ever embark on. We needn’t try to convince you to take the trip. Chances are, if you’re still reading, you’ve been fantasizing about floating around like an astronaut since you were knee high. Now’s your opportunity to actually live out the zero-G dream!