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Home » What it’s like to ‘fly’ one of the world’s few F-35 flight simulators

What it’s like to ‘fly’ one of the world’s few F-35 flight simulators

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The Israeli Air Force is no joke — and neither is The Squadron, the new management training center in Manhattan’s Financial District, where ex-fighter pilots use F-35 flight simulators to give corporate executives lessons about business and life.  

Never before have civilians had access to those high-tech flying machines. 

“This is the first time this is offered is at The Squadron,” says Kobi Regev, the company’s founder and a retired senior commander in the Israeli Air Force. As an F-16 pilot, Regev flew over 500 operational missions in what he modestly calls a “challenging” Middle East environment. 

The 54-year-old believes the “lessons and methodologies” he lived during a 34-year IAF career made him the man he is today, and could help anyone achieve the best version of his or herself.

At The Squadron, the new management training center in Manhattan’s Financial District, ex-fighter pilots use F-35 flight simulators to give corporate executives lessons about business and life.  
Stephen Yang

In 2018, Regev’s team opened The Squadron’s first Center of Excellence in Tel Aviv.  Over the last four years, 935 companies — including Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Google — have taken flight at more than 5,500 workshops there, many enjoying multiple visits; one organization has returned 55 times. 

Businesspeople don flight suits and strap into Lockheed Martin military-grade flight simulators worth millions of dollars each. Before taking off, The Squadron’s instructors provide specific plans regarding a mission’s goals, whether that’s improving teamwork or communication, perseverance or pluck.  

The 360-degree mixed-reality practice is an experiential training program like no other, providing customers the unique opportunity to “fly” an F-35 while also offering them “soft skill” insights from IAF aces, like how to cope with challenges in life. 

But the chance to try out one of the world's few F-35 simulators is also like playing "the greatest video game ever," according to Shake Shack CEO Randy Guratti.
But the chance to try out one of the world’s few F-35 simulators is also like playing “the greatest video game ever,” according to Shake Shack CEO Randy Guratti.
Stephen Yang

“During the flight we evaluate how you approach the mission, how you plan ahead, what kind of risk you are willing to take,” Regev says. 

Afterward, they offer debriefings highlighting all the ways the neophyte pilot succeeded or failed.

While The Squadron can produce complex statistical analysis of each simulator flight  —  speed and altitude, but also data showing, say, where a pilot’s eyes are pointed at all times — Regev says they’re only interested in a pilot’s personal growth. 

“By following our methods, you’re not improving by 10 or 20% — but two, three, four or five times more, which is a tool people want to take home with them,” Regev said. 

Squadron founder Kobi Regev is a retired senior commander in the Israeli Air Force.
Squadron founder Kobi Regev is a retired senior commander in the Israeli Air Force.
Stephen Yang

Count the CEO of Shake Shack as a believer. Randy Guratti spent a day at The Squadron’s Tel Aviv facility and raved about his experience, saying that even better than the thrill of flying the simulator— which he called “the greatest video game ever” — was focusing intently on self-improvement. 

While Guratti was proud of completing his first simulated flight without crashing, for example, his instructors suggested he wasn’t pushing himself. When he wasn’t controlling his speed in subsequent flights, they attacked his errors “in an organized, disciplined way,” pinging him in the cockpit every second to check how fast he was flying.   

“More than being super cool, The Squadron is using a ‘Top Gun‘ moment to teach about attacking challenges, leadership, collaboration and on-going training,” he told The Post. “I can’t wait until New York opens so I can return with my whole team.” 

While the Israeli Air Force has only two of the simulators, according to Regev, The Squadron's Manhattan facility has 18.
While the Israeli Air Force has only two of the simulators, according to Regev, The Squadron’s Manhattan facility has 18.
Stephen Yang

Built in collaboration with Silverstein Properties, The Squadron’s New York Center of Excellence spans 14,000 square feet on the 10th floor of 7 World Trade Center, in the shadow of the Freedom Tower and looking down into the 9/11 Memorial. Officially opening September 20, the facility includes 18 military-grade F-35 simulators — more than “double the amount” that exist in the rest of the entire world. 

“The Israeli Air Force has only two!” Regev said. 

During The Post’s recent visit, The Squadron’s flight simulators were up and running, meaning this reporter got to go “Maverick,” enjoying the sort of simulated fighter jet flight once only available to military pilots.

Under the expert tutelage of Ariel Brikman, a 40-year veteran of the Israel Air Force, and watching on the 360-degree screen surrounding me, I piloted my F-35 down the runway at Tel Aviv airport and roared into the sky above. 

Participants learn how to push themselves and attack errors.
Participants learn how to push themselves and attack errors.
ZUMAPRESS.com

Pushing the throttle all the way down — I was channeling Tom Cruise, after all — and grabbing the joystick, I steered the jet above Tel Aviv and buzzed its skyscrapers. With Brikman’s help there was a loop-de-loop, so a second foray over the city was done entirely upside down. By the time my jet and my equilibrium were righted, we were flying fast and low over the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.   

But targeting a mysterious vessel in the sea below, this first-time pilot flew too close to the waves and crashed into what, in real-life, would surely have been a watery grave. I’d sunk my fighter jet. 

Brikman shrugged like it didn’t matter though, explaining that the issue wasn’t making mistakes but overcoming them.  

“To be able to shake off the dust and keep moving forward, this is one of the things that distinguishes between excellence and just very good,” he said. 

Trying out the simulator, The Post's reporter felt like he was living "Top Gun."
Trying out the simulator, The Post’s reporter felt like he was living “Top Gun.”
Stephen Yang

 And excellence is what The Squadron is all about. 

“We’re all about providing you tools to be a better worker, a better teammate, just better, better, better,” Regev said. “The Squadron is about making you a better version of yourself.” 

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