Air Force ROTC Expands Flight Opportunities for Cadets

May 29, 2024 By Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu Matt Kelly, mkelly@virginia.edu

The wild blue yonder will soon be closer for some Air Force ROTC cadets.

The Jefferson Trust, a donor-led initiative of the University of Virginia Alumni Association, has contributed $10,000 toward flight simulators for the cadets.

“The bulk of the funding is intended to increase the number of virtual reality stations we have by purchasing Oculus Rift headsets, software and desktop computers,” said Capt. David A. Gupton, assistant professor of air science and recruiting officer for the Air Force ROTC detachment. “We presently have two stations and intend to increase this to five stations.”

Andrea Seese, associate director of promotions and events for the Jefferson Trust, said this is the first grant the trust has awarded to an ROTC detachment. The trust has two grant cycles, annual and flash funding. The latter focuses on short-term projects or immediate-use opportunities and primarily student projects. The flight simulator was a perfect fit for flash funding.

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“Our Board of Trustees reviews each proposal and makes funding decisions. They liked the student impact and involvement of this project,” Seese said.

“Having support through funding from the Jefferson Trust affords UVA cadets and prospective UVA students the opportunity to develop procedural knowledge and potential interest in serving as a pilot in the world’s greatest air force,” Col. Jason B. Bell, commander of ROTC Detachment 890, said. “These simulators are easy to operate and provide a photo-realistic replica of the same training aircraft used by the United States Air Force and Navy. We fully expect this program to enhance the training opportunities for our students as they prepare to go to pilot training and bolster the number of pilots graduating from the University of Virginia.”

Gupton said the Air Force ROTC is currently using X-Plane 12 software with virtual reality headsets to offer unofficial “flight” sessions on Mondays and Tuesdays. UVA’s Air Force ROTC detachment is rated among the top 10% in the country, including in producing alumni who go on to become pilots.

Capt. Zach Jones, left, and Air Force Cadet Jacob Lewis test the flight simulators purchased with Jefferson Trust funds.

Capt. Zach Jones, left, and Air Force Cadet Jacob Lewis test the flight simulators purchased with Jefferson Trust funds. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)

“We do expect interest to increase with the availability of these simulators,” Gupton said. “We expect the training received by prospective pilots will enhance their application for pilot training as third-years.”

The ROTC also is accepting a used flight simulator from the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

“We’ve had a flight simulator in our building for a long time,” department chair Richard Kent said. “We use it in a number of ways. One is in some of our coursework, and we also have students who are working on private pilot licenses. They can actually use that for hours toward their pilot’s license.”

Kent said that the engineering simulator has the student sit in a virtual cockpit.

“You have screens all around you, controls in front of you and it’s like sitting in a plane,” Kent said. “… You can sit two or three people inside there and feel as if you were flying around.”

Kent said the department was replacing the simulator with a newer version. 

“It’s actually pretty cool and it works well,” Kent said of the old simulator.

“We intend to use part of the grant funding to address any mechanical issues with the simulator,” Gupton said. 

Gupton said the ROTC is looking into coordinating with the aerospace engineering department on a one-credit flying course using the simulator.

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications