Birdly virtual reality flight simulator. Image courtesy of SOMNIACS.

Now at the National Aviary you can experience what it’s like to be fly like a bird with Birdly, a full-body virtual reality flight simulator.

The National Aviary announced the opening of Birdly as part of a permanent exhibit. Created by the Swiss startup SOMNIACS, Birdly uses a combination of motion, wind, sound and visuals to fully immerse users in the experience of flying over a virtual New York City.

“It’s likely many of us have, at one time in our lives, wished we could experience what it would be like to fly freely through the air,” says National Aviary executive director Cheryl Tracy in an official statement. “The Birdly experience is a perfect fit with our mission as we engage visitors through experiences that inspire in them a connection to birds and the natural world.”

She describes the Birdly experience as “very unique and highly realistic.”

This marks the second time Birdly has landed in North America; the first was at The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose.

Birdly's virtual version of New York City. Image courtesy of SOMNIAC.
Birdly’s virtual version of New York City. Image courtesy of SOMNIACS.
Birdly’s virtual version of New York City. Image courtesy of SOMNIACS.

Birdly creates the illusion of flight by outfitting the rider with an HTC Vive VR headset that provides visuals. While lying chest-down on the simulator, the rider flaps a pair of hinged wings that control direction and speed. A fan simulates the feel of wind while a series of motors and actuators tilt and dip in response to the rider’s movement.

As the rider soars over treetops and buildings, curious spectators can watch the journey on a large monitor.

The state-of-the-art simulator comes to National Aviary thanks to a partnership with the Pittsburgh International Airport, which serves as the presenting sponsor. Birdly will also travel to the Pittsburgh International and Allegheny County airports to entertain travelers during the busy summer season and throughout the year.

Paul O’Rourke, the Allegheny County Airport Authority’s senior vice president of marketing and communications, said, “We are happy to partner with the National Aviary for this high-tech exhibit as we work to bring more of Pittsburgh’s cultural scene into the terminal.”

He describes the Birdly partnership as an effort to “enhance the Authority’s sense of place initiative for visitors by connecting the airport with the region it serves and partnering with important institutions, such as the National Aviary.”

Birdly officially opens at the National Aviary on April 20 and will be offered at various times throughout the day. The cost is $8 per flight. Birdly will also make an appearance at the Pittsburgh International Airport from May 22-25.

Watch a video of Birdly in action in the video below, courtesy of SOMNIACS:

Amanda Waltz

Amanda Waltz is a freelance journalist and film critic whose work has appeared locally in numerous publications. She writes for The Film Stage and is the founder and editor of Steel Cinema, a blog dedicated to covering Pittsburgh film culture. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and oversized house cat.