Spewing Hellfire missiles and machine-gun fire, Apache helicopters did battle at Davis High School on Tuesday. Few of the student pilots survived.
Most don’t, noted Army recruiters before rotating a new group through the Special Ops simulation semi parked on campus for the day.
But death held no terror for the teens, who emerged chuckling from the cockpit as the video screen announced their demise. “I accidentally went backwards,” freshman Nick Ness said after flipping his bird onto its back.
Others lost all sense of level and crashed, rotor blades slicing vertically into the Afghan hillsides, despite the calm tutelage of Staff Sgt. Brian Bischoff. “You were close,” he told a female flier encouragingly as she exited the simulator – also dead.
Low-altitude parachute jumps were the next most perilous exercise, with several students missing critical maneuvers that might have saved them – from the embarrassment of a flubbed virtual landing, at any rate.
“That was not too bad, probably still have your knees,” noted Sgt. Douglas Phillips as freshman Josue Bautista unclipped from the harness where he had hung, virtual-reality goggles tracking his upcoming splat.
Junior Carlos Escobedo at first waved off the parachute simulation, saying he was afraid of heights. But he called the virtual fall “pretty fun.” Unfortunately, his 16 mph landing equaled a topple off a three-story building, Phillips said.
Novice drivers got to try their hand at running a Humvee-style armored carrier with a classmate gunning down video bad guys in the back.
Lots of the Davis students, who went through in PE class shifts, opted for low-tech excitement, posing with disabled machine guns for cellphone pictures.
Freshman Raquel Tejea strapped on a full flak jacket with arm guards and lay down to aim a stand-held gun, sniper style. “My grandpa was in World War II and I wanted to know what it felt like,” Raquel said after removing the 40 pounds of combat protection.
Two “immers-a-domes” with timed air gusts showed helmet-clipped camera footage of a hostage rescue exercise and parachute jumps from 35,000 to 40,000 feet, or 5,000-foot free falls to a low parachute opening. Those are high-altitude, high or low (chute) opening jumps – HAHOs and HALOs in Army acronym-speak.
The domes spritz air blasts, scented with ocean or dirt where appropriate. “They’re the coolest thing on here, honestly,” said Staff Sgt. Chad Dudley, one of two men who travel nationwide with the Army’s special operations forces showcase.
The 30-ton semi spent Tuesday at Davis, the first Modesto stop in memory, said Dudley. The crew is based in Fort Knox, Ky.
Today, the truck will be on campus at Central Valley High in Ceres. Thursday, teens at Enochs High will get their shot. And Friday, it’s in Turlock at Pitman High.