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Review: Clark's Precision Machine & Tool's
F/A-18E Cockpit

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Is the Clark's Precision Machine & Tool F/A-18E Cockpit worth the $68,000 price tag? Given the fact that Neiman-Marcus is in negotiations to put it in the 2006 catalog, I'd say snap it up now before the price goes up. Why would you spend $68K on a cockpit? Why would you buy a Lotus Elise Turbo? Why would you buy an NHL team south of Kentucky? Because you CAN. Should I hit the pick six in the Texas lottery, the ink on the check I'd write B.J. Clark for one of these wouldn't be dry before I got the payout. Yes, a thousand times, yes. It is worth every penny for the visceral feel of flight your desk just cannot give you, but this machine can.

Herein lies the problem, at least from Miller's point of view. He firmly believes those that live and breathe aviation simulations would benefit the most from equipment like this. However, we'd have to sell our children into bondage in order to afford one. In order to bring it to down to a price that you and I could reasonably afford, he must perform a miracle. He has to convince the Department of Defense that his vision is more sensible.

Currently, the DOD spends on the average of $45 million for a full-motion simulation, each housed in a 40-foot dome offering a 360-degree field of view. Just one problem, Miller grimaces, "The motion of the simulation is virtually worthless because it bears little resemblance to what the actual aircraft will do while in flight." Worse still, he paints the following picture. A pilot gets a call-up warning and is ordered to the nearest simulation location. He flies there, gets a hotel room, and then stands in a line behind a hundred other pilots, all of whom need refresher training after experiencing down time out of the F-16. All of this costs money and time that the military desperately needs to spend elsewhere. Anyone recently filled up their car? Now extrapolate that into the cost of JP-5. For a carrier air wing.

By dropping the full-motion requirement, Miller reasons, he can offer a simulation cockpit to every pilot in a fighter wing. All of which would use the same software and could be connected to each other using wireless or RJ-45 connections. This gives everyone in the wing the ability to train in unison. After all, how often do you find a single F-16 flying all by its little lonesome in a combat zone? When the production numbers go up, he can tack on consumer orders, theoretically bringing the cost down into the reasonably affordable tens of thousands, maybe even less if discarded parts are used.

There is one problem I foresaw. The hardcore crowd is not going to be impressed by static MFDs. They'll want to push every button and have it do something. If they're spending $68,000, they're going to expect to be able to use the MFDs for something more than decoration. The LCDs needed for this added functionality will drive the price up even further and there currently is no combat aviation software title made whose code allows for the use of MFDs outside of the 2D-cockpit mode that you manipulate with the aid of a mouse. It's a trade off, and a minute one at that. Do you want the experience of sitting in a cockpit, hearing the sounds of Jane's F/A-18 (a fully compatible title) ringing in your ears? Do you think you'd enjoy knowing that when you select the GBUs and slew your TDC onto that hardened shelter you've been tasked to take out, you don't even touch a keyboard? You do? Then you'll have to sacrifice a little fidelity to the limits of available technology, knowing you have the closest thing in your very hands (or at least in your garage or game room) to the real thing that money can buy, because this is it. Unless you have unlimited funds, this is as close as it gets. Is it worth it? Yes, an unequivocal yes. But, for the sake of affordability, I hope and pray that B.J. Clark and Paul Miller succeed in getting the best and most affordable tools to the military arms that need it so that you and I can reap the benefits of their labor.

Clark's Precision Machine & Tool

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