Raving in zero-gravity

Ravers enjoy the world's first zero-gravity dance party while soaring above Germany in a customized Airbus A310.

Posted: Feb 10, 2018 3:06 PM
Updated: Feb 10, 2018 3:06 PM

Electronic dance music is thumping out of the subwoofers. Superstar DJ Steve Aoki is on the decks. Colored lights are flashing across the room.

It's just your regular dance party -- right up until the moment when everyone starts floating.

Then Aoki's long hair takes on a life of its own as the DJ performs backflips in mid-air. In front of him, people are actually dancing on the ceiling, or at least trying to as other club-goers bump into them, arms flailing as they hover uncontrollably.

Want more weirdness?

What's being billed as the world's first zero-gravity dance party (although organizers of a 2016 beer commercial beg to differ) is taking place on board a hollowed-out Airbus A310 airplane normally used for scientific research by the European Space Agency, or ESA.

Genuine, serious astronauts are among those getting down to the crazy techno beats as the aircraft plummets through the sky on free-fall maneuvers designed to induce weightlessness.

And, by all appearances, those astronauts absolutely love it.

CNN Travel also managed moonwalk its way in to the hottest dance party on (or off) the planet. OK... tried to moonwalk.

So how did we all get here, busting some moves in zero-G?

The flight, organized with the help of ESA and the airplane's operator Novespace, was the work of BigCityBeats, a German promotion company whose annual World Club Dome electronic dance music festival in Frankfurt claims to be the "largest club in the world."

Dance party in space

While looking for outrageous ways to promote the June 1-3, 2018 event, BigCityBeats CEO Bernd Breiter stumbled on a TV show about astronauts and, after daydreaming about putting on a dance party in space, came up with the idea of using a zero-gravity flight.

He says more than 30,000 people entered a video competition to grab a place on the flight, with 14 winners from places including Australia, South Korea, England and the United States eventually passing the stringent medical requirements for taking part.

"It was so crazy at first I didn't have the courage to tell anyone," Breiter tells CNN Travel in Frankfurt Airport on the eve of the party as winners gather for a pre-flight safety briefing.

Surprisingly, ESA was open to the idea. While the Zero-G jet is normally used to train astronauts or conduct experiments, it's also available to hire, recently seeing action in Tom Cruise movie "The Mummy," when it was disguised as an out-of-control C-130 cargo plane.

"Our first reaction was, 'What?'," says French astronaut Jean-Francois Clervoy, a veteran of the Space Shuttle program and by far the coolest person involved in the zero-G dance party experience.

"Then we realized it must be possible as there are no rules of physics or civil aviation that say no, so let's make it happen."

At the safety briefing, Clervoy, fellow astronaut Pedro Duque of Spain and pilot Eric Delesalle explain how a zero gravity flight works.

The A310 flies in a parabolic curve, inclining steeply at angles of up to 50 degrees on full throttle to reach an altitude of about 32,000 feet.

Flattened by hypergravity

During the sharp ascent, they warn, everyone on board experiences hypergravity, pinned to the floor as their bodies feel almost twice as heavy as usual.

The airplane then reaches an "injection" point and begins to pitch forward, eventually free falling down to a height of 24,000 feet. During this transition everyone on board experiences 20-30 seconds of beautiful, floaty weightlessness.

Clervoy, who has clocked up more than 3,000 zero-G flights reassures us it's all completely safe. The 30-year-old A310 airplane is perfectly capable, even if more modern fly-by-wire planes have safety systems that block the maneuver.

There are a few unusual rules to heed.

First, everyone is to be issued with a barf bag that they must keep with them all times. Zero-G flights are known as "vomit comets" for their sometimes nausea-inducing effects.

Secondly, the onboard restrooms are out of action. Since zero gravity means potential spillage of toilet contents, any business needs to be done in a bag.

And no booze the night before -- and obviously no drugs either, unless they're to treat motion sickness.

"We don't know what's going to happen," says Stuttgart, Germany-based radio DJ Rob Green, who's also coming along for the ride. "Let's hope we keep everything inside."

'Winging it'

When morning rolls around, the 14 winners plus other passengers and crew gather in Terminal 2 of Frankfurt Airport, where the zero-gravity flight has its own check-in desk issuing boarding passes. The flight is even listed on the airport's departure board.

Celebrity DJs now join the group -- Steve Aoki, plus Wardt van der Harst and Willem van Hanegem, a Dutch duo known as W&W. Missing is Armin van Buuren, another blockbuster DJ, who can't make it due to illness.

"I'm just going to wing it," Aoki tells CNN Travel. "When you play a club or a festival, you play with gravity and you can see the vibe because you can see how people move about. But with this one, they're just going to be floating around."

After clearing security, we're bussed out under brilliant, icy sunshine to where the airplane, callsign F-WNOV, is waiting. Inside, we take seats in the cramped rear compartment where we need to be belted in for takeoffs and landings.

The rest of the airplane's interior -- an area of 100 square meters lined by white cushions -- is now the dance club. Large subwoofer speakers and a set of mixing decks have been positioned at the far-end, behind the cockpit.

Pink, purple and green lights flash and bass beats throb through the cabin.

There's a delay until the big event. We need to make a brief landing at France's Strasbourg airport to comply with aviation regulations, but the DJs and competition winners get a chance to warm up in "normal conditions," pounding the sky-high dance floor to rave rhythms.

The crew cautiously measures the sound level at about 100 decibels -- as loud as a jet engine -- and checks the movement of the cabin floor as dancers bounce up and down. Reassured, they visibly relax and begin swaying to the beats.

When the signal comes -- intoned by a specially pre-recorded sexy female voice -- that we're heading into zero-G, everyone lies down to brace for hypergravity. It's an intense rush, heightened by the insistent beats of the electronic music, as the G-force pushes down hard and then eases into weightlessness.

Dancing on the ceiling

Pre-planned dance moves are discarded as everyone tries to figure out how this new sensation works. For nearly half a minute of sheer joy, we ricochet off the cabin walls and each other. Then gravity kicks back in hard and we all drop to the floor like corpses.

Over the course of 90 minutes, the pilots complete the maneuver 16 times, allowing everyone to refine in-air tricks like trying to dance on the ceiling, floating in the lotus position or just goofing around.

Competition winner Christopher Purdy, a 30-year-old trampoline acrobat from Las Vegas, steals some of the limelight with his self-designed LED suit, but even he struggles to execute rehearsed moves in unfamiliar weightlessness.

Florence Macauley, a lively and elegant professional dancer on terra firma, is completely thrown by the zero-G experience and spends some of the flight sidelined by nausea.

Others, like South Korean student Myoung Jung Lee, 25, and his cuddly rabbit mascot Dopey, just go for it. They leap to their feet when normal gravity returns and punch the air to the music, an unstoppable energy pulsing through the increasingly sweaty fug of the cabin.

Most of us learn to negotiate the chief hazard, which is finding yourself upside down on the ceiling when the plane pulls out of its dive. DJ Wardt van der Harst learns the hard way, whacking down painfully hard on his back after confusing up with down.

Aside from one brief moment of dead-air before a downed Aoki manages to scramble back to the decks, the music never lets up, even if the DJs struggle to work their tunes during weightlessness.

"It was impossible to control anything," W&W's Willem van Hanegem says later, when we're all back in Frankfurt. "Maybe if we did about eight more of these flights, we'd get the hang of it.

"I wouldn't have missed it for anything," he adds. "It's the greatest thing we've done. All the other gigs, playing on a truck or a train or whatever, are going to be easy after this."

No one hurls either -- a rarity on a zero-G flight and something the astronauts credit to the distracting power of the dance music.

Strange new worlds

The competition winners, still feeling gravity wobbles in their legs despite being back on solid ground, speak of highs that ordinary club-going is never likely to eclipse.

"It was really amazing, everything I'd hoped for," says Alicia McDonnell, a 20-year-old makeup artist from Bristol, England. "But also really annoying because nothing else I can ever experience will beat that."

While the whole zero-G dance party may have been a gimmick, laid on by a club promotion company that has previously used trains, planes and cruise ships to promote its insanely lucrative brand, astronaut Clervoy is quick to point out that there is a benefit to humankind.

More than a third of Novespace's income from the flight goes towards funding new science flights, he says.

"This was the first for us, it was a big event," Clervoy adds. "In space we say we are exploring strange new worlds and boldly going where no man has gone before, and that's what we did today. I think the music was the perfect factor to unite people."

But is this a one-off, or could this open up a new frontier for science, aviation and dance music?

BigCityBeats boss Bernd Breiter isn't sure, but 59-year-old Clervoy -- a man who has spent a total of 675 hours in space, orbiting the Earth on three Shuttle missions and repairing the Hubble space telescope -- has a very clear idea of the future.

"Now I'm going to try to learn to DJ myself to deliver music in a weightless environment," he tells CNN Travel.

Move over Steve Aoki, another superstar DJ is ready for takeoff.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 51612

Reported Deaths: 2760
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion12074693
Lake5650249
Elkhart361860
Allen2952134
St. Joseph214869
Hamilton1708101
Cass16459
Hendricks1466100
Johnson1345118
Porter84038
Tippecanoe7799
Vanderburgh7686
Clark71144
Madison67864
LaPorte62328
Howard60758
Bartholomew60145
Kosciusko5824
Marshall5579
Noble52028
Boone49144
LaGrange48610
Jackson4783
Delaware47552
Hancock46836
Shelby45925
Floyd41444
Monroe34828
Morgan34531
Grant32226
Dubois3096
Montgomery29820
Henry29618
Clinton2903
White27610
Dearborn26523
Warrick26129
Vigo2588
Decatur25632
Lawrence25225
Harrison21822
Greene19632
Miami1942
Jennings17912
Putnam1738
DeKalb1694
Scott1659
Wayne1586
Daviess15117
Perry14910
Steuben1382
Orange13723
Jasper1362
Ripley1347
Franklin1288
Gibson1242
Wabash1163
Carroll1142
Starke1083
Whitley1076
Fayette1067
Newton10110
Huntington942
Jefferson872
Wells821
Randolph804
Fulton731
Jay720
Knox710
Washington681
Pulaski661
Clay645
Rush623
Posey610
Spencer571
Owen521
Benton510
Sullivan501
Adams491
Brown431
Blackford402
Fountain362
Crawford330
Switzerland320
Tipton321
Parke270
Martin260
Ohio230
Vermillion200
Warren151
Union140
Pike120
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 65592

Reported Deaths: 3058
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin12035447
Cuyahoga9208399
Hamilton6950208
Lucas3007306
Marion274839
Montgomery251336
Summit2351209
Pickaway222741
Mahoning1948239
Butler186347
Columbiana138560
Stark1225116
Lorain115269
Trumbull105378
Warren100926
Clark81610
Delaware72415
Fairfield69217
Lake60923
Tuscarawas60910
Medina58932
Licking58312
Belmont57024
Miami51031
Portage50260
Clermont4977
Wood49451
Ashtabula44844
Geauga42843
Richland3786
Wayne37355
Allen36641
Greene3469
Mercer30210
Erie28622
Holmes2615
Darke25926
Huron2472
Madison2229
Ottawa19324
Sandusky16915
Athens1671
Ross1483
Washington14620
Coshocton1424
Putnam14215
Crawford1415
Hardin12312
Morrow1211
Jefferson1152
Auglaize1114
Muskingum1041
Union1021
Preble911
Clinton892
Monroe8917
Hancock861
Lawrence860
Guernsey813
Hocking819
Williams762
Shelby754
Logan711
Scioto710
Carroll703
Ashland682
Fulton670
Brown631
Wyandot635
Champaign551
Fayette550
Knox551
Defiance543
Highland531
Van Wert491
Perry461
Seneca412
Henry350
Paulding320
Jackson300
Pike290
Adams261
Vinton232
Gallia211
Harrison141
Noble140
Meigs130
Morgan110
Unassigned00
Fort Wayne
Clear
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 73°
Angola
Clear
70° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 58°
Feels Like: 70°
Huntington
Few Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 80° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Decatur
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 81° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Van Wert
Scattered Clouds
73° wxIcon
Hi: 82° Lo: 57°
Feels Like: 73°
Dry start to the work week
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events