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Reporter tests flying skills as pretend F-35 pilot on simulator flight
I have always wondered if all those long hours I have spent over the years playing flight simulators would actually prepare me to fly a real aircraft. I still don't know the answer to that question, but as a FlightSim pilot with probably over 300 hours, I always joke that if I ever wound up in an airplane disaster movie I would at the very least have a chance.
So, needless to say, when my editor asked me if I wanted to do a story on an F-35 flight simulator that Lockheed Martin brought to Million Air on Friday as part of the Yuma Air Show, I jumped at the chance. Besides, who wouldn't want to streak across the virtual skies in the cockpit of the same simulator being used to train pilots how to fly the military's newest fighter jet?
While I can proudly say I earned my wings going on a simulated bombing run and landing safely back at Nellis Air Force Base, it's probably best that I don't give up my day job anytime soon.
Although it was a scaled down version of the ones F-35 pilots actually train on, this was still easily the most impressive flight simulator I have ever been in. It was like going on a theme park ride. It featured a five-screen wraparound visual system and a complex system of flight controls and a sophisticated heads-up display. It was so realistic that I almost forgot I wasn't flying a real jet.
My flight instructor was Rick Royer, who is a senior system engineer for Lockheed Martin. As a former military pilot, Royer talked me through my flight and explained all the readings I was seeing on the heads-up display, which made it so much easier to concentrate.
During my flight, I remembered one of the F-35B pilots at MCAS Yuma who I interviewed a while back told me the plane was so advanced it could practically fly itself. He was right. Despite how technologically intimidating it appeared, it was actually simpler than I thought it was going to be.
While I chose to do a bombing run and then land back at Nellis Air Force base, the simulator has several scenarios a pilot can train for, including taking off and landing on a carrier, firing missiles at enemy planes and bombing ships.
Given I consider myself a pretty decent FlightSim pilot, I asked Royer how well I did, to which he replied, “You landed and didn't wreck the plane.”
But that wasn't his only good-natured critique. He also mentioned that my landing skills could use some practice.
“You probably need to learn what the throttle does,” Royer laughingly said. “It makes you go faster.”
Once I was finished, Dan McLain, a former Navy photographer, gave it a try.
“It was great,” said McLain, who also has spent some time in flight simulators and chose the scenario to takeoff from a carrier and bomb a ship. “I want one of these in my house.”
I couldn't agree more.
In October, a flight simulator facility was completed at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, where future F-35B pilots train on multi-million dollar, state-of-the-art versions of the flight simulators we got to fly in on Friday. The two-story, 43,150-square-foot flight simulator building was part of $150 million worth of construction projects taking place at base at the time.
My one regret about my Friday simulator flight, however, is that I never got one of those really cool call signs. Someone later suggested “Cue Ball.” Now that I think about it, though, it's probably best we leave call signs for the pilots who actually earn them, not some pretend pilot from the newspaper.
James Gilbert can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6854. Find him on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/YSJamesGilbert or on Twitter @YSJamesGilbert.