By Michael Friedberg, at SIHH in Geneva, Switzerland
Ever want to pilot an airplane? How about a jet? How about a supersonic jet? How about an F/A-18E/F Super Hornet , the single-seat twin-engine carrier-based multirole fighter aircraft. Yes, the one used by the United States Navy Fighter Weapons School, for which the instructors –the best of the best—are Top Gun pilots.
It’s simple, in a way. All you have to do is to obtain a pass into the hallowed halls of the SIHH, the Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie. Once inside this exclusive event, wander over to the IWC Booth. You’ll see the jet there. Get in line to get into the cockpit.
First Look: The IWC SIHH Flight Simulator
It’s a flight simulator, but what an incredible simulator. Even the plastic canopy is from a real Super Hornet. You have to climb into the cockpit, and you feel tucked in. And very vulnerable, except that Lt. Felix is there to guide you. There’s a joy stick but this is no video game. It’s how the plane is really controlled, and it has a tension and heft that feels exactly like you’re moving a multi-ton light weight fighter jet. Lt. Felix shows you the buttons and triggers surrounding the stick, of which there’s about five. It isn’t as easy as a computer game: there’s a tricky sequence, some work in combination and there is some sense of touch. After that explanation, you’re off and away!
Grit your teeth and have every sense at the ready. You start with the catapult-assisted takeoff, with you raising the wall behind the plane and exerting power. The screen in front of you moves blazingly fast. Too fast, but you can’t brake to lift-off. There’s an exhilarating thrill as you have all that power in your hands.
Felix “Wildcat” Schoppen: Your IWC Flight Simulator Instructor
The screen looks exactly like the view a pilot might have. There’s the carrier deck on take-off, and then water –and a lot of sky. If you have the guts, even try to do a loop. But you bank too steeply your plane might even up in that Ocean.
Your training flight is done. You raise your arms in triumph on landing, and gingerly climb out of the cockpit. You’re awarded a certificate and patch, and you now can be your own Top Gun pilot!