If God had meant for us to fly, He would have given us wings.
Or He would have invented Flyaway.
In lieu of divine intervention, a group of Ocean City investors and a Las Vegas entrepreneur are conspiring to bring Flyaway to the Maryland resort town.
Come Memorial Day, if all goes as planned, mere mortals will be able to fly for a few minutes like birds--or maybe like bricks--for $15 a flight.
Flyaway defies categorization. It certainly isn't your run-of-the-mill carny ride. Housed in a five-story, 45-foot-wide octagonal building, the action takes place in a two-story, 20-foot-high chamber.
As a floor-mounted propeller appropriated from an old DC-4 sets up a 120-mph blast of air, fledgling fliers, wearing baggy suits designed to catch the air currents, float above, diving, looping and doing other things that birds know better than to try.
"It's man's oldest dream--from the tales of Peter Pan and Superman, man wanted to fly," says Dan Heinecke, a member of the five-man limited partnership that is investing about $1 million to bring Flyaway to Ocean City. The group is negotiating for a site for the ride and hopes to begin construction in a few weeks.
Heinecke first read of Flyaway from a magazine article. That led him to visit the first Flyaway, built by a Canadian ex-paratrooper in Montreal, and to contact Marvin Kratter, a colorful 67-year-old Las Vegas businessman who bought the rights to the device two years ago for $1.5 million.
Kratter, a former New York real estate magnate who presided over the demolition of Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, spent some time as chairman of the Boston Celtics and in recent years has been touting a controversial wonder drug for the elderly called Gerovital, hopes to spread Flyaways all over the nation.
One has been operating a half block from the Las Vegas strip for the past few weeks, and Kratter, who is offering franchises for $100,000 to $500,000, hopes to have people floating on air in 100 locations within a year. The one in Ocean City will be among the first.
"From the minute I saw it, I knew it was right for Ocean City," says Heinecke, who owns a pottery manufacturing business and captains sport-fishing boats there.
Participants will sign forms releasing the Flyaway operator from responsibility for damage or injuries caused by poor aerial navigation, and the facility will carry a $5 million liability policy. Heinecke says the safety record of the Montreal Flyaway is good, with only a few sprained ankles and bloody noses to show for several years of operation.
The Flyaway experience will take about an hour in all. Customers will be given their special suits and shown a 10- or 15-minute training film; an instructor will then be available to answer questions. The instructor will also stand in the chamber during the flight to provide ground control.
Thus briefed, it's time to fly. As many as four fliers can flit around the heavily padded chamber at the same time, spreading their arms and legs to give the webbed suits full lift, and contorting themselves into other positions for flight maneuvers.
Because of the padding and the strong rush of air, those who have experienced Flyaway say it's fairly difficult to crash too seriously, although first-time fliers tend to bump into the walls with some frequency as they test their wings.
If five minutes seems short for a flight that is somewhat less than supersonic, don't worry, Heinecke says. "It seems short, but when you're in the chamber it seems like an eternity," he says, speaking from experience--he landed, fatigued, 2 1/2 minutes into his second flight.
If you want to fly longer, though, you can for $10 per five-minute segment ($5 of the first $15 fee goes for rental of the suit). Or you can make an appointment for longer flights after regular hours, or in Ocean City's off-season. The record Flyaway flight, set by a Montrealer who obviously has a strong strain of the Right Stuff, is 31 minutes.
Although it will be nothing like the crowded summer months, Heinecke expects business to keep up in the off-season. He envisions renting the facility to youth and athletic clubs, and has already had inquiries from skydiving societies, who find the Flyaway experience the nearest thing to free-fall--and a lot longer lasting.
Fliers won't be the only ones paying the rent. There's also a $2 spectator fee, which is, however, refundable if the spectator is enticed to try some flying. Heinecke says the fees planned for Ocean City's Flyaway are similar to those at the Las Vegas version, and in line with those charged for other Ocean City diversions like jet-skiing and parasailing.
"With a million-dollar machine that can only hold four people at a time, we've got to charge what we're planning to," he says.