Learning to Fly

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Acrophobia is defined by Webster's dictionary as "abnormal dread of being at a great height." A common condition, acrophobia can induce dizziness, nausea and intense vertigo accompanied by debilitating panic attacks. Some sufferers cannot even climb a flight of stairs. As far as syndromes go, this one makes sense. Humans are, by nature, grounded -- and with good reason. According to the Skydiver's Handbook, by Dan Poynter and Mike Turoff, a free-falling human being can reach speeds of up to 200 mph in 60 seconds, the same amount of time, it turns out, for the average tandem fall at Skydive Spaceland.

Walking into the huge Skydive Spaceland hangar in Rosharon where two planes sit under its immense roof is enough to make a height-conscious person's head spin. Then owners Steve and Michelle Boyd come forward, and their confidence in the whole death-defying process spreads like a virus. You watch some films and get acquainted with the gear (an hour-long class gives all the instruction you'll need to reach the ground safely). After you find out that modern parachutes are equipped with an explosive charge that deploys the chute automatically at a preset altitude, fear begins a strange transformation into unadulterated excitement.

Careful, though, about letting all that adrenaline go to your head. After the rush of the first jump, people have been known to progress to professional skydiving levels in months. It's that addictive. But no matter how many times you take that leap of faith from a moving airplane, you still can't ignore the physics of the situation. You're still free-falling at 200 mph on a direct descent toward the earth, with only a sheet of silk and a plastic helmet to protect you.


Skydive Spaceland

16111 FM 521 in Rosharon, about 25 miles south of Houston

Open 8 a.m. to sunset seven days a week. Tandem jumps are $189 on weekdays and $169 on weekends. Other jump packages of varied skill levels are available. For more information or an appointment with destiny, call 800-SKYDIVE.

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