I purchased two Viper 1 Air Combat sessions, one for myself and one for my father, who was flying in from the East Coast to visit. The Viper 1 session is a specific high-end session which takes a little over 3 hours. It includes detailed training and 3 "flights". First, I want to explain the "above and beyond" treatment we received. Second, I'll go through the experience, and lastly I'll give information on things to be aware of when you go (and I know you will - it's so much fun!) This review is only on the longer Viper 1 Air Combat sessions, I haven't done a shorter session yet (but will in the future!)
I had called FlightDeck weeks before our scheduled appointment, and speaking to their friendly receptionist, I was informed that I could call a couple of days before our actual session to schedule a time. Fast forward to my father now in Los Angeles, visiting me, with this program being the big reason he came all the way from Washington DC. When I called to lock down our date, I was informed that the Viper 1 program requires more of a heads up to reserve a time, as they shut down the facility to focus on those attending the program! I was immediately concerned - she informed me that there really wasn't much they could do, large parties were already scheduled and she couldn't get us in until AFTER my father would be flying home. She kept me on the phone for a while, exploring options, until she let me know she'd call me back.
When she did, she had fantastic news. They would be able to take us the next day. She had spoken to one of the founders/owners, and he decided to go above and beyond and come in to have a special session for us. When we arrived, we were surprised to find out that the trainers we met had all decided to come in - just for us! It was their day off, but they felt it was important to give us the best experience possible. We were truly amazed - not only where they coming in on their day off - they were also the nicest, happiest group we'd encountered in quite some time. We were also pleasantly surprised to know that a few additional pilots had come in to do some training - talk about extra special treatment!
The program is simply awesome. You suit up in flight suits, get your leg boards to take notes, and sit in the briefing room to learn from your instructor. We had "Sockeye", who was a joy to learn from. Photographs are welcome, many times they offered to take our photo, which was very helpful.
Be aware that you truly "climb" into the simulators on small ladders, replicating the feeling of really getting into a fully operational F16 cockpit. It can be a bit tricky to get in and out, just an FYI. My father is 6'7" and fit just fine. Having the cockpit canopy close and hear your flight leader speak to you via headset really adds to the experience. A few reviews state that the screens are old and need to be updated. Yes, the graphics of the screens are dated - but these are not Xbox 360's or PS3's. We were told that the entire facility is going through an update, which will update the screens. Regardless, the graphics did not negatively impact our experience in any way.
A few things to be aware of that would be helpful;
-- They do have soft drinks/snacks on site. If you need a break, simply ask for it. You do get breaks between each of the 1 hour training/flight sessions.
-- Ask the instructors anything at any time. Don't be nervous, they're incredibly welcoming.
-- Speak with the instructors after your flights to get candid feedback on your flight. It was really exciting to talk to them and a pleasure to hear their tips.
-- Dress casually. You may want to wear a long sleeve shirt, but no need for a jacket. Although it's cool in the space, the flight suit keeps you warm!
-- Bring your camera! Not only can you get shots of you during the day, at the end of the Viper 1 program you receive a call sign and plaque. It's a great opportunity to get photos with your instructors.
-- You don't have to have any flying experience to enjoy the day. The instructors are thorough, fun, and incredibly helpful.
I have to say this was a fantastic experience throughout. It's a joy to recommend FlightDeck to any and all. It's taken me too long to get this review up. A huge thanks to the entire crew that was there that day - my sincere apologies that I've forgotten your names and call signs!
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