"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.
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.
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.
Flyers arrived here as early as 8 a.m to get suited up and have a quick pre-flight breakfast.
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.
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.
That's why the menu this morning consisted of croissants...
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.
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.
All passengers also need to get their temperature and blood oxygen levels checked prior to departure via a thermometer and oximeter.
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.
Just like an airliner, the onboard crew explains before departure what to do in case of an emergency and how to evacuate.
It's the calm before the flight as participants, who often come in pairs or groups, await the once in a lifetime experience.
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.
As Steve was giving his photo tips, the first Blade helicopter appeared outside the lounge windows to pick up the first batch of flyers.
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.
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.
Though some did go by land instead of air.
And with little traffic on the ground or in the skies, they'd arrive at their chariot just a few minutes later.
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.
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.
In the US, the Boeing 727 could once be found flying for the likes of United Airlines...
Trans World Airlines...
And Delta Air Lines, among others.
Donald Trump even used the Boeing 727 for his airline, Trump Shuttle, and as his private jet before upgrading to a Boeing 757.
The aircraft can now be found flying cargo, mostly.
G-FORCE ONE is a former cargo freighter itself; hence why there are no windows along the cabin wall.
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.
Powering the aircraft are three Pratt & Whitney JT8D engines located at the rear of the fuselage, giving the 727 its iconic look.
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.
The plane dates back to 1976 but the sleek blue, white, and black paint job keeps the secret quite well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Emergency oxygen masks also come from below, with containers like this one spread across the cabin walls.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When the plane turns over, gravity is gone. Each parabola lasts around 2 minutes and the weightless experience, surprisingly, only lasts around 30 seconds.
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.
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.
The pinnacle is zero gravity where passengers are truly weightless.
Other experiences include simulating lunar gravity and martian gravity.
Props like candy and water bottles are also employed so passengers can get a true astronaut experience.
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.
It's all to get a small glimpse of what it's like to be an astronaut.
Strong seatbelts help keep pilots grounded and able to fly the plane while performing the intense maneuvers that push the plane to its limits.
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.
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.
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.
After the flight, ZERO-G disinfects the entire plane before the next launch.
Passengers exit back via the rear air stairs.
But the flight isn't over as it's time for a final ritual before they're helicoptered back to Manhattan.
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.
The flight can also be a family experience, as the age requirement is only eight.
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.
Read the original article on Business Insider