Passengers pay $7,000 to fly on this plane to nowhere and endure stomach-turning maneuvers to experience zero gravity – here's how it works

Thomas Pallini
·13 min read
Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider
  • "G-FORCE ONE" is the name of a converted Boeing 727 that offers customers the chance to float like astronauts in a zero-gravity environment. 

  • Zero Gravity Corporation is sending the flight across the country for flyers to experience weightlessness for a few minutes, though the price tag is quite high.

  • Extra precautions are being taken during the pandemic including requiring face masks, disinfecting the airplane before each flight, and limiting flight loads.

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

You are now free to float about the cabin.

The realm of zero gravity has historically been reserved for astronauts as they explore the depths of space but one aviation company is offering the opportunity to become weightless while very much still in Earth's atmosphere.  The Zero Gravity Corporation, or ZERO-G, is the company behind "G-FORCE ONE," a converted Boeing 727 airliner that can simulate the feeling of being in space through what's known as parabolic flight.

While a traditional airliner might be focused on being straight and level, G-Force One pilots are focused on climbing as fast and high as possible before turning over, at which point the effect of gravity is reduced for a few seconds and everything on the plane becomes weightless.

The COVID-19 pandemic hasn't stopped these flights, though additional precautions are being taken. ZERO-G recently came to the New York City region where it partners with Blade to offer a helicopter flight and the weightless experience all in one morning.

Take a look inside G-Force One and see how ZERO-G achieves the weightless effect that so many people crave, even during a pandemic. 

Participants in the experience during our visit began their day early at New York City's West 30th Street Heliport near Hudson Yards.

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New York City's West 30th Street Heliport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As part of ZERO-G's partnership with Blade for New York area flights, a special rate of $4,750 was offered for the experience and for an extra $390, helicopter transportation to and from Newark Liberty International Airport.

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The Blade lounge at the West 30th Street Heliport in New York City. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Flyers arrived here as early as 8 a.m to get suited up and have a quick pre-flight breakfast.

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ZERO-G participants awaiting their helicopter flight to Newark Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Contrary to popular belief, eating the right food before the flight actually helps with the experience and won't ensure vomiting, as is the main concern. It's not the "Vomit Comet" that people expect and very few people get sick on each flight, the staff told me.

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ZERO-G participants awaiting their helicopter flight to Newark Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But it can't be just any meal. ZERO-G's conclusion after thousands of flight hours shows that high-carb foods, in particular, are ideal for flyers.

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A complimentary breakfast before the ZERO-G flight. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

That's why the menu this morning consisted of croissants...

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
A complimentary breakfast before the ZERO-G flight. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And bagels.

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A complimentary breakfast before the ZERO-G flight. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Before heading over to Newark, all participants suited up in their one-piece jumpsuits, similar to what a fighter pilot would wear, as well as long socks.

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The ZERO-G flight suits worn by staff. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The newest feature of the uniform is the ZERO-G-branded face mask, required for all flyers as part of the company's COVID-19 precautions that allows them to keep flying and offering the experience during the pandemic.

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The ZERO-G flight suits worn by staff. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

All passengers also need to get their temperature and blood oxygen levels checked prior to departure via a thermometer and oximeter.

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ZERO-G participants awaiting their helicopter flight to Newark Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Here's the first glimpse they get at the plane they'll be flying on, a Boeing 727-200 cargo plane specially configured for these flights via this safety card. It's arguably the most exclusive safety card in aviation.

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The safety card for the ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Just like an airliner, the onboard crew explains before departure what to do in case of an emergency and how to evacuate.

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The safety card for the ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It's the calm before the flight as participants, who often come in pairs or groups, await the once in a lifetime experience.

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ZERO-G participants awaiting their helicopter flight to Newark Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Just before the chopper flight to Newark, ZERO-G staff gave a short briefing that included how best to interact with the company's in-flight photographer, Steve. Flying in zero gravity is an Instagrammable experience if ever one existed so Steve helps get those photos while the flyers enjoy being weightless without worrying about getting the perfect selfie.

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ZERO-G participants receiving a pre-flight photography briefing. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As Steve was giving his photo tips, the first Blade helicopter appeared outside the lounge windows to pick up the first batch of flyers.

Blade helicopter
A Blade Bell 407 helicopter. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The 5-minute Blade flight between Manhattan and Newark normally costs at least $1,575 one way for a private charter but as normal retail for the flight is $6,700, these participants still around $1,500 on the entire experience thanks to the ZERO-G/Blade partnership.

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A Blade Bell 407 helicopter. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The helicopter flight also included a quick fly-by of the Statue of Liberty as they crossed the Hudson River and New York Harbor to the New Jersey side.

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A Blade Bell 407 helicopter carrying ZERO-G participants. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Though some did go by land instead of air.

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ZERO-G participants on their way to Newark Liberty International Airport. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And with little traffic on the ground or in the skies, they'd arrive at their chariot just a few minutes later.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Affectionately known as G-FORCE ONE, it's one of the few remaining Boeing 727s still flying passengers – if that's what you can call them – in the US.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The Boeing 727 has a long history of flying in the US but newer aircraft have made it largely obsolete for passenger flying, especially as its three-engines drive up fuel consumption.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

In the US, the Boeing 727 could once be found flying for the likes of United Airlines...

United Airlines Boeing 727
A United Airlines Boeing 727. © Ralf Finn Hestoft:CORBIS/Corbis/Getty

Trans World Airlines...

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A Trans World Airlines Boeing 727. Bill Greenblatt/Liaison

And Delta Air Lines, among others.

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A Delta Air Lines Airlines Boeing 727. QualityHD/Shutterstock.com

Donald Trump even used the Boeing 727 for his airline, Trump Shuttle, and as his private jet before upgrading to a Boeing 757.

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Donald Trump's Boeing 727 private jet. John Roca/NY Daily News Archive/Getty

The aircraft can now be found flying cargo, mostly.

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An AmeriJet Boeing 727 cargo plane. Ivan Cholakov/Shutterstock.com

G-FORCE ONE is a former cargo freighter itself; hence why there are no windows along the cabin wall.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The status the aircraft enjoys among aviation enthusiasts has been a big boost to the ZERO-G program, with some participants simply wanting to fly on a Boeing 727 and getting the weightless experience as a bonus.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Powering the aircraft are three Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines located at the rear of the fuselage, giving the 727 its iconic look.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And much like the uniforms of this weekend's participants, the aircraft is adorned with Blade decals as it performs flights in the New York area.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The plane dates back to 1976 but the sleek blue, white, and black paint job keeps the secret quite well.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

After being shuttled by helicopter to the plane and watching a mandatory pre-flight demonstration video, participants boarded through the rear airstairs, a unique feature of the 727.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

A small passenger cabin occupies the rear of the aircraft where flyers will sit for take-off and landing. ZERO-G is capping its loads at 70% with a maximum passenger limit of 24 flyers, down from 34.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It's just like any other you'd find on an airliner, although these cloth seats are more indicative of an earlier 2000s airliner more so than a current one.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

There's no seat-back screens or in-flight WiFi as the entertainment will come in a more interactive fashion once the plane gets airborne.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The Boeing 727 is an ex-cargo freighter so some of the luxuries found on an airliner are long gone. The cabin crew, for example, hook up a headset here to talk directly to the pilots upfront.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Emergency oxygen masks also come from below, with containers like this one spread across the cabin walls.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The plane is windowless except for the emergency exits. It's for the best as watching a plane angle up and down as steep as this one does can be slightly disconcerting to the casual observer.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Once the pilots are ready to perform the parabolas, passengers move from their seats to the forward cabin where they'll lie flat and endure a 26,000-foot-per-minute ascent to upwards of 30,000 feet.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Here's the main cabin where passengers will go weightless. The padded walls for safety resemble what science fiction has taught me a space ship might look like.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

As the aircraft reaches its cruising altitude of around 19,000, all flyers will head here and lie flat on the floor so their internal equilibriums can adjust to the new orientation during the parabolas.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Pilots then bring the plane from 19,000 feet to 35,000 feet in a matter of seconds. Pulling 1.8 Gs, that's almost double their body weight pushing down on them as they climb.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

When the plane turns over, gravity is gone. Each parabola lasts around 2 minutes and the weightless experience, surprisingly, only lasts around 30 seconds.

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ZERO-G participants floating in zero gravity. ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty

But staff say that it's long enough to do a lap around the plane. If the headwinds are strong enough, that can extend the duration by a few seconds.

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ZERO-G participants floating in zero gravity. Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/Getty

A total of 15 parabolas are performed – the perfect number, as ZERO-G found after numerous trial and error flights. Parabolas come one right after the other and each with varying degrees of weightlessness.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The pinnacle is zero gravity where passengers are truly weightless.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Other experiences include simulating lunar gravity and martian gravity.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Props like candy and water bottles are also employed so passengers can get a true astronaut experience.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It's a time to do anything that gravity would normally prevent. The most common maneuvers include mid-air spins, push-ups, flips, hand-stands, and even break dancing.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

It's all to get a small glimpse of what it's like to be an astronaut.

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An astronaut eating a snack while in zero gravity. Space Frontiers/Getty

Strong seatbelts help keep pilots grounded and able to fly the plane while performing the intense maneuvers that push the plane to its limits.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

And while special instruments tell them what the gravity conditions are like, the most accurate is a rubber duck strategically placed over the main panel. Gravity affects the duck, too, and it reacts faster than their instruments.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

The flight departed from Newark at around 11 a.m. and headed to the Atlantic Ocean to perform the maneuvers. Its flight path appears normal but the green line doesn't show the rapid ascents and descents that the aircraft is doing nearly the entire way after take-off and before landing.

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The flight path for the ZERO-G flight on October 4. FlightAware

It's just under two hours from take-off to touchdown back in Newark where passengers "snap back to reality" and experience gravity again in all of its glory on Earth's surface.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

After the flight, ZERO-G disinfects the entire plane before the next launch.

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The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Passengers exit back via the rear air stairs.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

But the flight isn't over as it's time for a final ritual before they're helicoptered back to Manhattan.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

Passengers are given their name tags upside down and wear them that way during the whole flight. It's only once they land that they have them turned right side up by the crew.

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Participants deplaning their ZERO-G Boeing 727. Business Insider/Thomas Pallini

The flight can also be a family experience, as the age requirement is only eight.

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Participants deplaning their ZERO-G Boeing 727. Business Insider/Thomas Pallini

ZERO-G plane will continue flying across the country for more of these flights, even during the pandemic, and return to New York in May 2021.

Zero G Experience Boeing 727
The ZERO-G Boeing 727 aircraft. Thomas Pallini/Business Insider

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