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At Pittsburgh's National Aviary, you can fly like an eagle — virtually

| Tuesday, April 18, 2017, 5:33 p.m.

People typically visit The National Aviary in Pittsburgh's North Side to watch birds fly.

But starting Thursday, visitors can join them.

The National Aviary will open Birdly, a virtual reality flying experience that lets people soar over New York City, to the public on April 20. The bird zoo showed off the system at a news conference Tuesday.

“Ah, look at that church,” said Rich Hudic, executive director of the Allegheny Regional Asset District and one of the first to try Birdly.

“I was soaring. I had cars beeping at me. It was awesome,” Hudic said after his flight. “That's a lifetime dream to try to fly.”

Birdly was designed and built by SOMNIACS, a Swiss startup that debuted its technology in 2015 at the Sundance Film Festival.

People wear a virtual reality headset and headphones and lie chest down on a platform with their arms outstretched like a pair of wings. Flapping your arms causes you to fly. You can control your speed, pitch and direction my tilting your arms and wrists. A fan blows lightly on your face to enhance the flying experience. The VR headset offers a 360-degree view of New York City, complete with the Empire State Building and Central Park and absent of cars.

The National Aviary has one of just two of the machines in North America, said its executive director, Cheryl Tracy. The other is in The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, Calif. Visitors to the Aviary can pay an additional $8 for a Birdly experience.

From May 22 to 25, Birdly will be at the Pittsburgh International Airport where passengers can fly for free, said Paul O'Rourke, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the Allegheny County Airport Authority. Birdly will be at Pittsburgh International Airport three times during the spring and summer and once at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin.

A Birdly system costs about $190,000, according to a spokeswoman for the company. The National Aviary wouldn't say how much it paid for its system.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach Aupperlee at aaupperlee@tribweb.com or 412-336-8448.

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