Weightless trip to nowhere yields thrills, nausea

Fancy an airplane trip that takes you nowhere, costs about $3,000, and may make you vomit?

That's the latest attraction on offer for well-heeled thrill-seekers from a company offering an airplane ride that allows you to experience weightlessness like an astronaut.

Zero Gravity Corp. says it is the first and only company approved by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to offer "weightless" flights to the general public.

And the Ft. Lauderdale, Florida-based company is hoping astronaut-wannabees will pony up $2,950 to be repeatedly plunged thousands of feet in a Boeing 727-200 that spends most of its regular flight time shuttling cargo, including livestock, around the United States.

"It's the world's largest roller coaster," says Peter Diamandis, chairman of Zero Gravity.

The ride begins with 27 passengers and five crew members strapping themselves into seats in the back of the jet. In front is a disconcertingly empty and windowless area, with a padded floor stretching about 66 feet (20 metres) to the cockpit.

After takeoff, crew members collect and stow everyone's shoes, and passengers spread across the empty floor, sitting cross-legged or on their knees.

About 100 miles (160 km) out over the ocean at about 24,000 feet (7,315 metres) elevation, the pilot makes the plane climb sharply to about 32,000 feet (9,750 metres) before leveling off, then puts it into a dive for about 25 seconds.

With expressions of shock or fear, passengers slowly rise off the floor and flail as though trying to swim, with every movement sending them tumbling and spinning, bumping into each other and the ceiling and sides of the plane.

"When you find yourself getting light, and coming up off the floor: that was really an eye-opener for me," said Rick Greenhut, a search and rescue pilot with the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, "There really are no words to describe it."

After several of the zero-gravity plunges, some of the passengers became so used to the sensation that they somersaulted through the plane or soared in Superman poses.

Others did not react as well and scrambled for motion sickness bags before retreating to the rear of the plane and strapping themselves back in their seats.

"Hey, I did get sick, but that was so cool I would definitely do it again," said one woman as she wobbled out of the airplane at the end of the 90-minute flight.