Pilot Program: Inside the Popular Simulators at Wonderworks

At Wonderworks in Orlando, Fla., visitors can take a trip like never before. The popular space exhibition – which attracts tourists from around the world each season – includes not only a replica of the Mercury capsule with a control panel and large astronaut suit, but it also features full-motion MaxFlight simulators that give everyone the chance to play pilot for a day.

Like most other attractions at parks, the simulators have fairly strict requirements to ride. At Wonderworks specifically, riders must be at least 48 inches tall to hop on board. Two riders (no heavier than 500 pounds) can engage with the exhibit simultaneously, taking turns rotating the cockpit of this mock fighter jet while shooting down enemies via a graphic-friendly screen.

“MaxFlight simulators are the only ones in the world that can perform fully aerobatic (360-degree pitch and roll) movements,” said Brian McClintic, an account executive with MaxFlight Corporation, the product’s manufacturer in Toms River, N.J.

He describes the “ride” as being duel system, meaning it comes with two fully interactive flying programs, and more than 10 unique roller coaster tracks. The simulators can also be customized to feel like a mini-submarine ride or a trip around the solar system. There are several themed opportunities, including a World War II fighter jet, and interfaces now available in 3D to compete with some of the bestselling gaming systems.

“You can even design your own rollercoaster on a kiosk and ride it in full motion,” explained McClintic, who estimates there are a million different combinations for theme parks, museums and other destinations to install. And unlike traditional games, the simulators are fully movable so the flighter or coaster experiences feel authentic.

Customer Feedback

Richard Green, a long-time contractor with Wonderworks, who recently handled the new construction of the Myrtle Beach, S.C., location, said what makes the simulators such a great attraction is that both kids and adults enjoy the features.

“We have the flight simulators at Myrtle Beach since they came out with new 3D underwater and undersea adventures and a 3D rollercoaster,” explained Green. Not only do visitors have the chance to design their own rollercoaster rides, but they can find out what it’s like to be a deep sea diver or fighter pilot.

“It’s one of our most liked attractions,” admitted Green, “probably because there’s nothing else up here like it. It turns you around 360 degrees in three ways and there’s nothing else that can do that.”

For Adventurers of All Ages

With MaxFlight simulators installed around the country – and at multiple Wonderworks locations in Orlando and Panama City, Fla., Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Myrtle Beach, S.C., the attractions have become synonymous with family fun with a bit of an educational focus.
“It really just comes down to the minimum height requirement of 42 inches,” said McClintic, who admitted that usually means most riders starting at ages 5 and 7 up through grandparents in their 70s and 80s. “People of all ages love to get an adrenaline rush on thrill rides,” he said, “and our sims are no different. However, we do offer a few ‘milder’ tracks that don’t go fully upside down, etc., for the squeamish or guests that might want to just test it out first.”

Another difference between the simulators and gaming platforms is the full-motion effect and a 360-degree pitch and roll. “Most other simulators out there are just passive and rock back and forth,” admitted McClintic. “Ours engage the guest – whether they are taking off an aircraft carrier in an F-18, shooting down their friends in a World War II dogfight or designing their own fantasy rollercoaster ride. No other platform comes with this amount of variety and replay value built in.”

That can often amount to profit for attractions like Wonderworks that opt to include the simulators as a sophisticated option to gaming and educational exhibits.

Everything You Need to Know Before Installing

Wonderworks has installed eight MaxFlight simulators in four locations. The most recent installation was in the new Myrtle Beach attraction that opened this past April, according to Green.

“The installation and training process only takes about three days depending on the location, number of simulators and how many technicians need to be trained,” said McClintic. “We have installed our flight ‘sims’ on a few different aircraft carriers – so we can pretty much put them anywhere.”

There are over 40 countries now that have MaxFlight simulators in operation for both training and entertainment purposes.
“I have noticed that many companies have transitioned over to the 3D and 4D theater approach instead of the old 6-to-10-seat capsule simulators from the 1990s,” he said. “However, we really have our own little niche in the global amusement industry due to our unique, forward-of-the-axis motion platform. It enables us to create a level of excitement and realism that just isn’t possible with any other motion system or simulator.”

A quick search on YouTube showcases a wealth of videos of simulators being used – many at Wonderworks. “People are still so entertained when they hear their friends laughing and screaming inside one of our simulators while it’s flipping upside down,” said McClintic, who loves the amateur videos because they showcase the real-life experiences of family and friends, often on vacations.

At Myrtle Beach – a very popular, family friendly destination, as well as the three other Wonderworks, Green said, “Overall adults love it. And so do the kids.”

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