A crowd of curious thrill-seekers gathers around the large, lurching virtual-reality ride at Palace Park in Irvine. They watch as the shuttle-like, fiberglass hull leans forward and back, shifts side to side, bounces up and down. Many people smile as they hear the gleeful shrieks from the youngsters sitting inside the roiling machine.
"I enjoy knowing that we've turned a technology with military applications into a technology that lets kids feel like they're flying," said Larry Hayashigawa, president of McFadden Systems of Santa Fe Springs, the engineering company that built the simulator.
The ride, like the 200 other VR machines McFadden has created in the last five years, is driven by electronic hydraulic cylinders. This same technology plays a growing role in theme park attractions--Universal Studios and Disney World both offer amusement park film rides--as well as with prop work for Hollywood movies and Broadway productions.
Founded in 1963, McFadden started out building motion simulator parts for the military and aerospace industry. The company's core products incorporate hydraulic systems that allowed pilots to feel the yaw and roll of flight without ever leaving the ground.
In 1992, Warner Bros. Studios approached McFadden and asked the company to use its technology to create a VR simulator ride for "Batman." Soon after, the engineering firm broadened its scope and began manufacturing motion-ride mini-theaters for amusement parks, malls, museums and hotels throughout the world.
This summer, McFadden began working on "Star Trek: The Experience," a VR ride that will be part of the $70-million, sci-fi revamp of the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel.
P.J. Huffstutter covers high technology for The Times. She can be reached at (714) 966-7830 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.