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BEING THERE : Fighter Flight

March 13, 1994|Judy Raphael

Assignment: Fightertown.

Mission: Improbable.

I'm surrounded by all these guys who, like me, are wearing flight suits! I'm getting briefed on becoming a combat pilot-person. What am I doing? I'm far past draft age, and my boyfriend had to drag me to see "Top Gun." This is unreal.

Or as they say here: "The Flight Is Simulated, the Experience Is Real."

Fightertown is a 2-year-old indoor complex in Lake Forest that draws up to 80 aviation buffs a day. Co-owned by Dave Kinney, whose Kinney Aero makes flight simulators, and John Araki, an aerospace engineer, it puts would-be aces into simulators that use the latest in computer animation for half an hour of virtual flying. And two of the eight simulators--the F-117 Stealth fighter and F-14 Tomcat--use hydraulics to further replicate a real flight with jolts, jostles and drops. (Like every step up the high-tech defense ladder, full-motion simulators cost more: The two-person Tomcat costs $49.95, while the single-seater Stealth is 34.95; the others range from $14.95 to $29.95.)

"Whatever you want to do, we have the graphics to do," says instructor Brice Williams. "You can fly at sunset, dawn or in foggy weather. You can fly in formation with friends, fight each other or destroy nuclear bases. The idea is entertainment."

And how. As a controller gives me instructions, I get in an F-16. My hands on the throttle and eyes on a computer-animated panorama, I increase airspeed to 300 knots. The jets roar, and I begin to climb. The image changes with every touch of the controls; the illusion of reality is incredible. Here's the World War III fighter-chick, flying over land and sea, downing enemy planes with missile salvos!

Just call me the Red Baroness!

Then, from the tower: "302, increase altitude. You're heading for a mountain!" Ayyyyy . . . CRASH! Maybe you should just call me Snoopy.

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