“The difference between looking up and looking down at people is stark.” So wrote a commenter on a YouTube video featuring Head Rush Technologies’ new FlightLine freefall device. The FlightLine, introduced in November, requires users to jump from a platform at least 60 feet in the air, but often it’s even higher.
Sixty feet is high. It’s equivalent to a six- or seven-story building. Or the annual Rockefeller Christmas tree in New York City. So it’s not surprising that most of the FlightLine jumpers shown on YouTube follow the same pattern: profanities (upon jump) followed by laughter (at the end). Most seem to like it, but especially so when their fall is over.
Hurling yourself off a structure as much as 100 feet in the air goes against human nature, but freefall devices that encourage just that are catching on at adventure courses around the country. With several manufacturers offering versions, parks are adding them as a more extreme option to their existing attractions.
At a glance, a freefall might look like a new-age bungee jump, though freefall suppliers aren’t fans of that comparison. Unlike a bungee jump, freefall devices offer a soft catch that begins to slow riders about midway through their fall, and from there presents a gradual descent. Braking kicks in gradually over a nice, slow curve, so there’s never an abrupt jerk to the body.
“I think that’s really why it’s a commercial success compared to bungee jumping and other things,” says Micah Salazar, senior business development manager at Head Rush. “It’s more consistent.”
Freefall devices entered the U.S. market in 2010, when U.K.-based Dropzone, Inc., started distributing its Powerfan. Head Rush’s introduction of the QUICKJump and QUICKJump XL in late 2013/early 2014 seemed to really put freefall on the map.
“People hadn’t really heard of freefall devices until then,” says Salazar. “We had to explain why you’d want to clip in and jump off. It was completely different, especially for operators and guides.”
Salazar says that as of June of this year, more than 600 QUICKJumps had been shipped worldwide, at a cost of $3,000-$3,800 each. Head Rush offers a free 30-day demo to any operator interested in trying one.
Freefall technology varies. The QUICKJump uses magnetic braking technology that’s been adapted to allow an initial rapid descent. When a user has gone a certain distance and built up a certain number of RPMs, the braking begins, slowing the descent. The Powerfan dissipates potential energy by means of a fan driven by the descending person’s mass. When the rope reaches a certain point, the fan spins faster and creates more resistance, slowing the fall.
Installation of a freefall requires only a platform with some type of mounting that’s at the proper height, and a method of getting there. However, the “proper height” aspect can be prohibitive as jumps get higher. The Powerfan is available in three sizes: the PF13 (requiring at least a 40-foot platform); the PF20 (65 foot); and the PF30 (100 foot). Similarly, among Head Rush’s products, the QUICKJump needs at least a 26-foot platform, the QUICKJump XL, 33 feet, and the new FlightLine, 60 feet.
And the higher the fall, the more infrastructure changes may be necessary, which adds to the cost. Alicia Green, director of marketing at Aerial Adventure Tech, the U.S. distributer of the Powerfan, says her company sells mostly PF13s, mainly because most parks don’t have towers to facilitate a 100-foot drop. Green says that after five years of marketing, only two U.S. locations have the PF30: Branson Zipline in Branson, Mo., and the Historic Banning Mills Adventure Park in Georgia. There are more than two dozen PF13s and PF20s installed across the U.S.
Still, Green says larger sizes are gaining momentum. “The PF20 is becoming a bit more popular,” she says. “Folks are now building structures to handle that sort of experience.”
Another indication: pre-orders of the FlightLine have maxed out, according to Salazar. And more parks are installing or building towers specifically for higher freefalls, or leveraging pre-existing infrastructure to accommodate the devices.