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Kids give flying a spin at Discovery Station

August 14, 2007|by MARIE GILBERT

He seemed an unlikely pilot - about 5 feet tall and just shy of his teenage years.

But there he was, sitting in the cockpit of a C-119 "Flying Boxcar," working the controls, checking the instruments and awaiting instructions from airport flight controllers.

Michael Kabler said he had never flown an airplane before but thought he was doing a pretty good job - even managing to maneuver the plane back onto the runway as it skidded across a nearby field.

But there was no need to panic. Michael, 12, from Greencastle, Pa., wasn't really flying. He was having fun with a flight simulator - the newest addition to the Hagerstown Aviation Museum at Discovery Station.

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"It was pretty cool," he said, handing over the controls to the next would-be pilot. "I really felt like I was flying the plane. It's a lot more involved than a video game."

Michael was among the museum visitors - young and not so young - who lined up Saturday afternoon for a chance to try out the flight simulator. The hands-on activity was one of Discovery Station's Saturday Plus programs.

"The simulator is, basically, an electronic device run by a computer," explained Kurtis Meyers, president of the Hagerstown Aviation Museum. "It's a version of Microsoft Flight Simulator. But with a plasma screen and controls, it makes it more realistic."

Meyers said the flight simulator was something the museum had wanted for some time. The acquisition became a reality this year with money received from the Washington County Gaming Commission.

"We've had it for about six months and already it's one of the more popular attractions in the museum," Meyers said. "When kids or school groups come through, they run right to the flight simulator."

While it's a fun, interactive activity, the flight simulator is also used by pilots to build up training hours, Meyers said.

"It's very real-life," he said. "And all flights are real time. If you're planning to fly from Hagerstown to California, you can expect to be in front of the screen for several hours."

Meyers said you can set the flight simulator for day or night skies and select which plane you would like to fly - ranging from fighter and commercial planes to helicopters. Most are of the vintage variety.

You also can talk with air traffic controllers, who will hand you off to each tower along your trip.

The only thing it doesn't do is allow the planes to crash.

"We've changed the settings so if a plane hits the ground or a building, it bounces," Meyers said.

Richard and Cherri Kennedy of Frederick, Md., brought their three children to Discovery Station for something fun to do on a summer Saturday.

Making their way to the aviation museum, it wasn't long before Connor, 11, Cullen, 9, and Caden, 2, spotted the flight simulator.

"We learned a great deal about aviation during a recent trip to Kitty Hawk, N.C.," said Richard Kennedy. "It was an eye-opening experience, seeing where the first flight took place. Our visit here, today, will just add to that."

Brian Hines, 10, of Hagerstown, peered over the shoulder of a young pilot, as he waited for his turn at the flight simulator.

"It looks really neat," he said. "I wish I had one of these at home."

Michael Kabler said his experience with the flight simulator has now piqued his interest in aviation.

"I think I would definitely like to learn more about planes," he said. "This was a fun day."

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