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July 31, 2010

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Fly the friendly Latvian skies

You don't need wings to fly.

Proof is at the Latvia Pavilion, where its vertical wind tunnel has made it a star attraction and people are queuing for long hours to experience what it feels like to fly.

"It's a fun job," said Jurgis Grigorjevs, one of the five flying instructors at the pavilion. "Flying makes people happy and it means freedom for me."

The youngest, at 19, instructor on the team loves giving demonstrations each day and teaching people how to fly and fall in a vertical sealed tunnel that is 8 meters tall and 3.6 meters in diameter. The wind whips around at more than 320 kilometers per hour.

Putting on the flying suit and the helmet, equipped with earplugs and goggles, you are ready to go through the "once in a lifetime" adventure to be lifted in the air.

But flying is not easy. A series of body gestures must be learned beforehand, which can help the beginner enjoy the experience better.

"The principle behind it is quite simple. The bigger the area of the human body that contacts the wind, the higher you can fly," the instructor said.

Chin-down, arms and legs stretching out lifts you up, while chin-up, arms-crossed and a little bit of leg bending makes you go down.

Visitors are advised to keep their chins down most of the time because it is safer, lets you breathe easier and feels more comfortable.

Grigorjevs said it might be a little difficult for heavy people with a big belly to fly.

"A rounded stomach reduces the area that contacts the air. A flat surface is better," he said.

If you stretch one arm and bend the other, you can spin in the tunnel. "But this is strictly forbidden for beginners who are not professionally trained," Grigorjevs said.

All five flying instructors come from Latvia and are aged from 19 to 27. It's their first time in Shanghai.

Every day they perform various exciting, yet risky flying movements in the flight cylinder, including spinning, crossovers and head-down flying.

Three wind turbines are on the roof of the pavilion. Every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 7:30pm, the coaches give a flying acrobatic performance 20 meters above the ground in the night sky, complemented by a special sound and light show.

Visitors have a chance to try flying in the vertical wind tunnel by participating in an interactive quiz about Latvia on the touch-screens on the third floor.

The computer will randomly select 50 lucky people at most everyday. The instructors will guide them during the experience.

Each flight is filmed by two video cameras and automatically edited, mixed with music and sent to the person's e-mail address afterwards.


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