After a brief climb the plane leveled off somewhere around 24,000 feet. Its 30-plus passengers left their shoes and seats behind to spread out across the padded open areas ahead. There are no windows in this jet cabin. Its walls are bare save for the canvas cords running along each side, intended to be balancing aids in the absence of gravity. “Blue team!” flight coach Chace Johnson called as his group – one of three on board Monday morning – took their places lying down on the mats. “Bluuuuuue!” the teachers shouted back to signal they were ready. “There’s nothing else in the world like this, you’ll see,” Johnson had earlier told his crew. The full-time Florida science teacher has flown hundreds of such flights in his part-time gig with Zero G. He was on renowned physicist Stephen Hawking’s recent weightless flight. “Blue team!” he exclaimed again. “Bluuuuuue!” they all replied, thumbs high in the air. And so it began. In an airspace about 100 miles long and 10 miles wide, the plane flew in arcs – the technical term is parabolas – making a series of sharp ascents and descents. The former produce hard gravity, or G force, which to a 110-pound woman lying flat on her back feels like a car is parked on top of her. Yet it doesn’t hurt; it’s just heavy. Trying to lift an arm “in the pull,” as they call it, of G force, where gravity is almost two times a person’s body weight, is like lifting with 30-pound dumbbells at the gym when you usually stick with 15s: It’s doable, but it’s tough. After three warm-up parabolas that first mimicked the gravity of Mars (one-third body weight), then that of the moon (one-sixth body weight), the flight staff called out that the promised 12 zero-g parabolas were impending. “The liftoff was weird,” Marissa Whitmore of Torrance’s Madrona Middle School said later, reflecting on the feeling of being pulled from the floor. “I thought it would be more stomach-dropping, but it really wasn’t.” Going from feeling heavy near the point of immobilization to floating uncontrollably is, as Manhattan Beach Middle’s Brown would later remark, “a really weird sensation.” Control is challenging. With even the slightest push from the wall, the ceiling or a fellow passenger, a smaller person especially can be hurtling through the air like a football down a field. Teacher Jessica Dumpert of Will Rogers Middle School in Lawndale learned that firsthand during a game of “Teacher Toss,” one of several experiments conducted in-flight. (Some others: Attempting to eat M&Ms floating free in zero-g and trying to drink globules of water similarly suspended.) “It was disorienting,” Dumpert said of serving as the ball in a game of human catch. “I didn’t know where up or down was – and I didn’t really care.” Each period of zero-g lasted about 30 seconds. When time started running short, a Zero G staffer shouted “Feet down, coming out!” instructing everyone to get back to the floor to await the next parabola. If you’re not down low when gravity comes back, it will push you there – hard. When the final parabola was done – the pilot tossed in a 13th arc at zero-g, making it a baker’s dozen – the laughter and wild, incredulous exclamations of “Wow!” “Oh, my God!” and “Whoooo!” gave way to calm, quiet smiles. “Man that was awesome. I could do that a thousand more times,” said Wendy Creek of Torrance’s Calle Mayor Middle School, who at one point in her weightlessness managed to literally run up the wall and across the ceiling. “That was incredible!” Whitmore concurred, her blue eyes wide open, hands trembling in her lap. “The adrenaline is still pumping through me. I can feel it.” Calling it “the experience of a lifetime,” Eugene Nah of Lawndale’s Jane Addams Middle School wondered what he would say to his students. “It’s so hard to describe just with words.” To be sure, the feeling of being weightless is difficult to explain even remotely adequately. At once confusing and exciting, it’s simultaneously weird and wonderful and altogether exhilarating. It’s the wildest roller coaster in the park times 100, but somehow gentle and calming. It’s the stuff of dreams. “I always wanted to fly. I dream about it,” Creek said. “What we just did? That’s exactly how flying feels in my dreams. “I’ve bungee-jumped before. I’ve sky-dived. But nothing can compare to this.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! No, no, yes and yes. Several South Bay educators got those answers and more Monday when they took a zero-gravity, or “Zero-G,” airplane flight high above Los Angeles as part of a program designed to inspire students by putting their teachers through the ultimate science experiment – weightlessness. Dubbed Weightless Flights of Discovery, the program was founded by the Northrop Grumman Foundation in 2006 in partnership with the Florida-based Zero G Corp., which runs the flights. This is their first season flying from a Los Angeles location, with 60 L.A.-area teachers – including 15 from the South Bay – going along for the ride. The program is being conducted in five other places across the country, altogether serving about 500 teachers. “Are you nervous? I’m a little nervous,” said Jayne Brown, a math teacher at Manhattan Beach Middle School, shifting in her seat and fiddling some with her flight suit as the plane took off from Long Beach Airport. “But I’m excited. Are you excited? I wonder what it’s going to be like.” By Shelly Leachman STAFF WRITER Lying flat on the white-padded floor of a hollowed-out airplane, it’s hard to know what to expect. Shoes off, flight suit on, eyes aimed at the ceiling, waiting, the mind races: Will I get sick? Will it hurt? Will it be strange? Will it be amazing?