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Ultra high-tech flight simulators unveiled at Camp Pendleton. (The Obama girls saw them last month)

July 16, 2010 | 12:16 pm

Flight simulator at Camp Pendleton
In the upcoming Pentagon budget battles, the Marine Corps' new, expensive and ultra high-tech flight simulators for Huey and Cobra helicopters may have allies in the White House: President Obama’s daughters.

The simulators at Camp Pendleton were unveiled Thursday to the press, but Malia, 12, and Sasha, 9, got a sneak peak June 13 while their mother, First Lady Michelle Obama, was giving a morale-boosting speech to 3,500 Marines and family members elsewhere on the base.

As per the Secret Service order, no pictures were taken and word of the visit was hush-hush until the formal unveiling ceremony.

Bell Helicopter employees who were there say the girls were allowed to sit in the pilots' seats and "fly" the copters, including "firing" weapon systems. "They were amazed at how real it seemed," said Mohammad Usman Ali, a Bell integrated-product team leader.

Malia was particularly taken. "After she flew Yankee (the Huey), she said, 'I think I want to be a helicopter pilot,'" said Rod Beechey, an air crew trainer for Bell.

Bell Helicopter of Ft. Worth was the primary contractor. Among the subs was Cubic of San Diego. The Huey simulator cost $14.7 million; the Cobra $16.2 million.

The simulators allow pilots to get the experience of flying in difficult conditions, without the attendant risks. Videos can display the terrain of Camp Pendleton, Afghanistan, or Iraq. Simulators can be hooked into each other so that the pilots have the experience of flying in tandem.

One of the trainers said the new simulators are like a new BMW and, by comparison, the old ones are like a Ford Taurus.

"We're going to save lives," Col. Thomas D. Weidley told the audience gathered in the converted warehouse at the base air station. "It does make a difference. Every dollar spent on these simulators is worth it."

On the dollar part, the first daughters might agree.

-- Tony Perry at Camp Pendleton

Photo: Flight simulator at Camp Pendleton. Credit: Tony Perry / Los Angeles Times