Florida Prepares for Zero G Flights

Now Boarding: Zero G Flights for the Public
The airborne roller coaster is a specially modified 727. (Image credit: Zero Gravity Corp)

TheresaTrawick of Melbourne remembers "bouncing around like a pinball" in aplane during a flight last month. In this case, she couldn't have been happierabout it.

"Itwas unbelievably fun," she said.

What mightbe cause for panic during a regular flight is a marketable experience for FortLauderdale-based Zero Gravity Corp.

Thecompany, which is planning flights out of the Titusville area and Orlando inNovember, sells spots on what's known as "parabolic flights" for$3,750 per person. The trips offer passengers the thrill of weightlessness.

Thecompany's planes -- modified Boeing 727 cargo jets -- perform a series ofup-and-down maneuvers that provide short periods of varying degrees ofweightlessness inside the plane's cabin, mimicking what astronauts experiencein space.

NoahMcMahon, Zero Gravity's chief marketing officer, said it's nothing too drastic.

"It'slike a bell-shaped curve," he said about the plane's
flight pattern.

Nevertheless,it was something that the Federal Aviation Administration had to check out andauthorize.

Inaddition, Zero Gravity requires passengers to sign waivers to absolve thecompany from liabilities if anyone is injured, which McMahon said has nothappened in the company's brief history. The flights started in September, andabout 1,500 passengers have taken the flights, which have a capacity for 27passengers and three crew members.

Trawick, aschoolteacher who works in Rockledge, took a Zero Gravity flight out of FortLauderdale in July. She didn't have to pay for it. She was sponsored byeducational organizations.

She saidher trip had educational purposes -- such as getting her students excited aboutthe science behind flight and space travel.

At first,she was worried whether it would be safe.

But thoseconcerns quickly faded. She was supposed to conduct some experiments onboardduring the weightless periods, but she got caught up in the moment and washaving so much fun that she didn't get everything done.

"Iwas able to float," she said. "That was the most incrediblepart."

Trawicksaid she and other passengers were not used to weightlessness, so they wouldpush off the cabin wall or bump into each other and go flying the other way.

"I'm50 years old, and I don't do a lot of flips, so I was sore the next day,"she said.

ZeroGravity is planning 10 to 15 flights in Brevard County, Fort Lauderdale andOrlando in November.

Thecompany may operate flights out of North Brevard on a regular basis because the"space tourism" connection at Kennedy Space Center would be a goodfit for the company, McMahon said.

For now,Zero Gravity plans to have flights Nov. 5 out of Space Coast Regional Airportnear Titusville. The company also may have flights out of Kennedy Space Center,depending on whether NASA permits it, McMahon said.

InOrlando, the company plans to have flights Nov. 6 to capitalize on a scienceteachers' conference in Orlando that weekend.

Inaddition, Zero Gravity has planned more flights out of the Titusville area onNov. 20 geared toward visiting passengers from The World cruise ship. McMahonexpects about 50 passengers from The World will take the flights during aport-of-call stop at Port Canaveral.

Childrenunder age 12 are not allowed on the flights. Those between 12 and 14 arepermitted to fly with parents or guardians. And those 15 and older can fly ontheir own.

ZeroGravity charters two planes for the flights from Miami-based AmerijetInternational.

Amerijetprovides the crew and maintains the planes, while Zero Gravity markets andbooks the flights.

Theflights last about two hours. During that time, the plane performs about 15parabolas or arcs that provide varying degrees of weightlessness that lastabout 30 seconds each.

Before theflights, passengers receive some training and get flight suits, among otheractivities.

The wholeexperience lasts about five hours, McMahon said.

For thelocal flights, the plane will fly west over the Gulf of Mexico to perform themaneuvers at heights from 24,000 to 32,000 feet.

There areno windows in the cabin, which has a padded floor to soften the landing forpassengers.

McMahonsaid they "slowly drift down" to the floor once gravity returns tothe cabin.

"It'sextremely smooth," he said.

FAAspokeswoman Kathleen Bergen said the FAA has inspected Amerijet International'soperation and has had no problems with it.

ScottCarr, executive director of the Titusville-Cocoa Airport Authority, whichoperates Space Coast Regional Airport, said the Zero Gravity flights shouldprovide a lift for local space tourism.

"Ithink it will be a good thing for the community," Carr said. "It willhelp bring space tourism to the local economy -- coupling it with NASA and thespace program."

Publishedunder license from FLORIDA TODAY. Copyright ? 2005 FLORIDA TODAY. No portion ofthis material may be reproduced in any way without the written consent of FLORIDA TODAY.

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