Flight Simulator Club Formed

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To his colleagues, he's Frank Ferrante, photocopier repairman. But on weekends, he's Trapdoor, the flight leader of a flight of five F-14s from the famed VF-103 Jolly Rogers squadron, yankin' and bankin' over the desert expanses of Nellis Air Force Base. Or, at least what Nellis looks like on the screens inside a nondescript industrial building in Irvine, Calif. Ferrante and his friends are members of a flight simulator club, getting their tech fix on hardware worthy of an Air Force training center at Flightline Flight Simulation Center. For about $40 an hour, devotees can spend an hour in a simulated cockpit that features flight controls made from the same molds as are used in production of real F-15s. Couple that with modified software and all those cool call signs and the armchair daredevils can pretend to be Top Guns without taking the oath. "Some guys have a bowling club; we have this," Rich Rebenstoff, a "squadron leader," told The New York Times. Flightline uses off-the-shelf software, Jane's USAF, to run the simulators but it has an agreement with Jane's that allows it to tinker with the code. That, for example, enables Rebenstoff's group to add realistic battle scenarios and even satellite imagery to their fun. "We'll tailor our flights to resemble missions being flown," he said. "Although we will fun it up quite a bit." Members often wear flight suits and use their call signs in conversation. "They're looking for real-world camaraderie," said Ferrante. "You can get out, shake hands and brag with each other face to face."