Fayetteville Army museum hopes new simulator educates, heals

With less than a month away before a new simulator experience goes on display at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, the museum’s executive director has a sneak peek at what goers can expect.

On May 16, the museum will unveil its new five-minute, computer generated and historically accurate simulation experience called “Experience the Legend.” The experience was created by BREAKIRON Animation and Design LLC out of Raleigh.

“We’re excited to have the new experience which will take the rider from World War II to modern day,” said Paul Galloway, Executive Director of ASOM Foundation. “This new ride will share with the public a few of the missions that have brought out the best in America’s sons and daughters.”

And Galloway is no stranger to the experience, having 60 years of Army mission experience.

Before the experience becomes open to the public, Galloway provided WNCN with a sneak peek.

With any military tour, it’s safety first.

“Seat belts go from your left to your right,” Galloway said.

As a viewer, you’ll sit high above France’s Utah Beach, preparing to drop in the nighttime hours before the D-Day invasion. Powerful fans operating above the simulator mimic the airborne conditions, while the seats rock in unison with the sound of concussive force of anti-aircraft fire and natural flight turbulence playing through an upgraded sound system.

“It’s basically 4-D,” Galloway said. “But we really don’t want to say 4-D or 3-D because we don’t want people to think they have to wear 3-D glasses.”

No special glasses needed to “Experience the Legend,” but it helps to have a tour guide as well-versed and enthusiastic as Galloway. The tools of the trade may have changed, but there’s a disconcerting familiarity among the combat vignettes, regardless of the decade. Galloway is quick to point out time-period specific aircraft and uniforms in each one.

“[You] go from 1944 D-Day [and] the 101st going in on gliders [to] ending in Iraq on the Euphrates River with the Special Forces team, and everything in between,” he said beaming.

The ride includes moments with the 187th Rakkasans in Korea, the 82nd All Americans in Vietnam and the Ranger Regiment in southern Afghanistan. It’s a five- minute thrill ride where participants seamlessly transition from one combat zone to another.

Galloway came up with the idea of the new adventure. He did his research, ranging from reaching out to the different divisions, to scouring satellite imagery.

“This is Munsan-ni, [South] Korea,” Galloway said pointing to the screen as the ride lurched on. “This is the actual terrain, the actual drop zone.”

It’s taken five years for the nearly $500,000 project to come together, thanks to the Tawani Foundation and generous donor Jennifer Pritzker.

“This is all exciting for us,” Galloway said smiling. “We tried to make sure everything was historically accurate without sacrificing the fact that we’ve got to move it on a 24-seat platform.”

And they did it without what Galloway calls a “Spielberg budget.” The foundation couldn’t afford live-action footage similar to the blockbuster film “Saving Private Ryan,” so it invested in motion-captured, computer animation from BREAKIRON.

“You’ll feel it when we disengage,” Galloway said just before the platform dipped sharply to the right.

Although the ride may have a “Disney World” feel, the subject matter does not.

Everyone comes back alive in this tour, but the sights and sounds of combat are all too real, especially for the veterans who have lived them and may now battle with post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It could bring back memories,” Galloway said. “But the truth of the matter [is], our gallery does that sometimes. There’s sound effects in our gallery where guys sometimes stop and go, ‘I can’t do this.'”

That’s why it’s Galloway’s hope that veterans know the museum is a safe place to connect. He points out that many of the ASOM volunteers have connections to World War II as well as to more recent-day conflicts. Galloway says those volunteers are always ready and willing to lend an ear.

Galloway says he hopes veterans will be proud to bring their younger generations to the museum to share the experience with them.

The simulation will be unveiled May 16 and tickets will be less than $10.

Learn more about the Airborne and Special Operations Museum and its new attraction by visiting its website.

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