BANGOR – The mission: climb aboard an F-16 fighter jet and engage in a daring game of “search and destroy.”
The targets: an enemy suspension bridge and a number of offshore oil rigs.
The task, however, proved more daunting than Felicia McArthur had imagined.
The 17-year-old student from Hampden Academy didn’t destroy any of the targets.
“I just kept flying around and crashing into things,” McArthur said.
McArthur’s shaky flight experience was common to many of the students at the United Technology Center on Tuesday. Thankfully, the flights never made it off the ground.
As part of a recruiting drive by the United States Air Force, McArthur and nearly 300 other students at the technical high school took turns flying simulated missions in a mobile flight simulator, the “USAF Experience.”
Constructed in the trailer of an 18-wheeler, the USAF Experience featured three connected rooms that gave an abridged, 18-minute version of an actual flight mission. After filling out their names and addresses on video touch screens in the “security check room,” six students at a time moved into the briefing room where the details of the mission were explained.
Then the students went on to engage enemy targets in a mock-up of an F-16 cockpit, complete with actual flight controls and a video screen to show the pilot’s field of vision.
“I was surprised with everything, like the sound,” said 17-year-old Kirk Werren of Central High School, who hit four out of 11 targets. “You’re up close and personal with it.”
The flight simulator truck will be available for students to try out at Brewer High School today, Ellsworth Regional High School on Thursday and Nokomis High School in Newport on Friday.
The Air Force has been using six of the USAF Experience trucks around the country over the last three years, although the trucks will be disassembled Oct. 1, due to the prohibitive cost of the program. The operation cost of the six trucks is roughly $15 million a year, according to the truck’s driver, John Bolam.
The state was lucky to be able to play host to the truck, according to the state’s recruiting supervisor, Sgt. Jim Thorne.
In a state where the Air Force doesn’t have an operational air base, the USAF Experience truck is a great way to show young people the opportunities the Air Force can offer, Thorne said.
“This vehicle helps to bring Air Force awareness to states like Maine that don’t have an Air Force base close by,” Thorne said.
Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford, Mass., is the closest, Thorne said.
Even with a limited number of bases, the Air Force is doing well in finding new recruits.
“Recruiting at a nationwide level is going fantastic,” Thorne said. “But we can always use more.”
While roughly 3 or 4 percent of the students trying out the simulators might show an immediate interest in the Air Force, taking part in the program helps keep the idea in mind, he said.
Four percent of the more than 300,000 people in the Air Force actually fly aircraft, although Thorne said people interested in the high-tech and electronic fields, special forces and pararescue are in demand.
“Basically, we’re looking for people between the ages of 17 and 28 with high school diplomas who are looking for challenging career fields,” Thorne said.
For information about career opportunities, visit the Air Force Web site at www.airforce-experience.com.