ARLINGTON, Va.- If you've ever dreamed of donning a flight helmet and getting into the cockpit of a fighter jet, now is your opportunity. The Orlando Science Center, in partnership with the Office of Naval Research (ONR), last week held a ribbon-cutting for its new Flight Lab. This permanent exhibit will provide visitors with a virtual, hands-on experience where they can learn how to pilot an F-35B-the Marine Corps variant of the most advanced aircraft on Earth.
For actual Navy and Marine Corps pilots, learning to fly takes dedication and years of specialized training. However, visitors to this interactive exhibit can skip all that and experience real-world missions-while having fun and learning about the science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, concepts used during flight.
"Visitors to the exhibit will leave knowing what it feels like to be a fighter pilot," said Dr. Peter Squire, a program officer in ONR's Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare Department. "But the experience will also provide an understanding that there is more to it than just flying around. Whether in an F-35B or a commercial airliner, there are similar math, engineering and other scientific principles used when in the sky."
And as the Navy and Marine Corps look to develop the next generation workforce-be it aviators, scientists or engineers-it will be important for them to have a strong understanding of STEM concepts.
"Having a workforce with STEM skills is critical for ensuring that the Navy and Marine Corps can continue to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow," said Squire. "What this exhibit does is provide broad exposure to the types of scientific principles our future workforce needs, while increasing student interest and understanding of science applications to military challenges."
The Flight Lab, using 13 Oculus Rift virtual display units, will invite visitors to test their aviation skills as either a pilot or co-pilot and work together to complete a mission. During these missions, co-pilots will have to solve math problems-such as determining the amount of fuel, the speed and weight among other factors, before telling the pilot where to go and how fast to get there. And though the missions vary-some requiring all 13 teams to work together, with others pitting the best pilots against one another-the goal is the always the same: Help Sailors and Marines maintain the advantage and return home safely.
This Flight Lab was funded by a grant from ONR. Additional support has been provided by the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, TEQGames and Lockheed Martin, whose flight training software has been used to teach real pilots to fly.
The exhibit will be used not only as a daily experience for visitors to the science center, but also as part of summer camps and workshops. It joins the Orlando Science Center's other experiences including an observatory, traveling exhibits, educational films, live shows and various other exhibits and discovery labs.
Sierra Jones is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.
Office of Naval Research