Air Combat Zone relocates to Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum

Air Combat Zone, previously located on Dixie Road in Mississauga, Ont., recently relocated its four high fidelity F/A-18C Hornet simulators to the Canadian Warplane Heritage Museum in Hamilton, Ont.

Air Combat Zone specializes in delivering an authentic fighter pilot experience through state-of-the-art simulation. Here, owner Steve Bigg climbs into the cockpit to demonstrate how to fly the F/A-18C Hornet simulators. Ben Forrest Photo
Air Combat Zone specializes in delivering an authentic fighter pilot experience through state-of-the-art simulation. Here, owner Steve Bigg demonstrates how to fly the F/A-18C Hornet simulators. Ben Forrest Photo
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“It always seemed like a fit that Air Combat Zone would be located in something like an aviation museum,” said company owner Steve Bigg.

Air Combat Zone specializes in delivering an authentic fighter pilot experience through state-of-the-art simulation.

Skies recently visited the new facility and experienced firsthand what it’s like to fly the only F/A-18C Hornet simulators available to civilians in Canada.

Now situated on a 750-square-foot balcony inside the museum, overlooking legendary aircraft such as the de Havilland Tiger Moth, Supermarine Spitfire, and an Avro Lancaster bomber–the latter being one of two in the world that are still airworthy–Air Combat Zone has been offering aviation enthusiasts a chance to climb into the cockpit of an F-18 to experience live head-to-head air combat since 2004.

Steve Bigg says the simulator cockpit is as close to the real thing as it gets, without travelling to Cold Lake or Bagotville and getting in the actual CF-188 Hornet simulator. Everything on the instrument panel is functional and the instruments are all live, which allows guests to use the cockpit the way they would in the actual airplane. Locked On Photography Photo
Steve Bigg says the simulator cockpit is as close to the real thing as it gets, without travelling to Cold Lake or Bagotville and getting in the actual CF-188 Hornet simulator. Locked On Photography Photo

“You’re actually in a cockpit that represents the F-18,” said Bigg. “It’s as close as you can get without going to Cold Lake or Bagotville and getting in the actual CF-188 Hornet simulator. Everything on the instrument panel is functional and the instruments are all live, so you can use stuff in the cockpit the way you would in the actual airplane.”

Before climbing into the cockpit, each person is given 20 minutes of training on PC simulators, which teaches them how to fly the simulator, how to use the radar and the weapon systems, and goes through a quick briefing on threat indicators and using flares.

“When I was thinking about the concept for the business, I was like, ‘Well if I’m going to put someone in an actual F-18 simulator it is ideal if they know a little bit about what they’re doing before we unleash them to have some fun,’ ” said Bigg.

Before climbing into the cockpit, each person is given 20 minutes of training on the PC simulators, which teaches them how to fly the simulator, how to use the radar and the weapon systems, and goes through a quick briefing on threat indicators and using flares. Locked On Photography Photo
Before climbing into the cockpit, each person is given 20 minutes of training on PC simulators. Locked On Photography Photo

Air Combat Zone also offers training on air-to-ground weapons delivery and taxi takeoffs and landings for pilot essentials. “Once somebody has done air-to-air, air-to-ground and pilot essentials, now they can do complete missions in the simulator–taxi takeoffs, navigate through a target, deal with threats, try to take out a target, and then try to work their way back home again,” said Bigg.

Then, once customers are in the simulator, it’s time to unleash them on the bad guys. “We let them chase after the targets with the computer, get used to how everything works that we’ve trained on, and get a feeling for what they’re doing before we actually network all four simulators and everybody dogfights against each other. They can do live head-to-head air combat.”

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Anyone 10 years and older can fly the simulators, and no experience is required. Locked On Photography Photo
Anyone 10 years and older can fly the simulators, and no experience is required. Locked On Photography Photo

Once the skirmish is complete, guests will receive an after-action report that provides statistics on who they shot; who shot them; how many airplanes they went through; and other statistics.

A quick scramble mission is also available for those who still have exploring to do around the museum. The scramble mission consists of a five-minute demonstration and then 15 minutes in the simulator.

“The scramble mission is for folks that are here [visiting the museum] that didn’t know we had the simulators and they weren’t planning on spending 40, 60 or 80 minutes flying simulators. That 20-minute option gives them a chance to experience the simulators, but just jumping in wherever space is available in the day’s schedule,” said Bigg.

Anyone 10 years and older can fly the simulators, and no experience is required. Visitors can book their flying experience online or over the phone. If they book in advance, admission to the museum is included in the cost of the mission.

Air Combat Zone offers birthday parties, bachelor/bachelorette parties, corporate events, and/or just a fun-filled day exploring the museum and flying the F/A-18C Hornet simulators.

“I can’t imagine a better corporate event space than this to hold a morning meeting, cater a lunch, fly the simulators and visit the museum in the afternoon. It’s such a great fit for what we’re doing,” said Bigg.

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