- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Stuart Matthews has turned his interest in aerospace education into a business, providing folks ages 10 and older the chance to fly an airplane without leaving the ground.

The Wright Stuff at 121 Pineview Drive, near Korner’s Folly, offers flight simulation for entertainment and education. The business also provides some combat simulation and rocketry.

Through the simulators, customers can fly military aircraft from WWI, WWII, and Korea, as well as modern fighter aircraft such as the F-16 Falcon. They can fly against one another or fly single missions on their own. Customers can use fighter sticks or switch to control yokes, which are used to fly civilian aircraft such as a Cessna 172.

Matthews, 55, is a Marine Corps veteran. He is also the aerospace education officer for the Winston-Salem Civil Air Patrol and has about 25 years of experience as an airframe and power plant mechanic.

“I’ve just always had an interest in aviation,” said Matthews, who grew up in Trout Run, Pa.

His love for airplanes came natural because his father was an aircraft engine engineer.

In his 20s and 30s, Matthews enjoyed seeing aircrafts in museums, but there was one problem.

“You look at them, but you can’t get into them,” he said.

He said he didn’t have the grades to be a fighter pilot, but he figured he could one day become a helicopter pilot in the military.

But tinnitus, known as noise or ringing in the ear, derailed those plans.

He said he got ringing in his ears as a result of noise from mortars while he was assigned to artillery indirect fire support in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard from 1978 to September 1983 during peace time.

He served in the Marine Corps from October 1983 to 1987, working on power lines with the VMA-311, an attack squadron known as the

“Tomcats.” He was stationed in El Toro, Calif., also during peace time.

After retiring from the Marine Corps, Matthews worked as an airframe and power plant mechanic in Alaska, South Carolina and North Carolina. In his spare time, he took flight training to become a pilot.

After logging 72 hours of flight time, in the early 1990s while he was living in Greensboro, Matthews gave up his dream of becoming a pilot.

“I considered myself a professional student at that point,” he said.

Matthews said he started having difficulty understanding what air traffic controllers said on the radios.

In 1996, he met his wife, Melinda, and moved to Kernersville.

In recent years, Matthews has focused on aerospace education. In 2008, he started off selling aviation and military art and collectable diecast airplanes on the internet, at air shows and other events. Then, working out of his basement, he built two flight simulation stations from used computers with 19-inch CRT screens and new PC desktop tables.

He would take the heavy equipment to different activities, including Boy Scouts events to help Scouts earn merit badges, and Cub Scout fund-raisers. All his services were free.

“It took me 2 ½ hours to set them up so the kids would be able to fly,” Matthews said. “I noticed a lot of people were impatient while I was setting up.

Over time, he built desktop flight stations that were easier to disassemble.

Finally in 2010, Matthews decided to turn his hobby into a business.

“It got to the point it was going to be now or never,” he said. “I dug into my retirement to do this. So it’s make it or break it.”

He moved into his current location in October 2013. The name of the business -The Wright Stuff - is a nod to the Wright Brothers and to The Right Stuff, the book by Tom Wolfe and a subsequent movie, about U.S. test pilots after World War II and the early years of the space program.

Matthews now has four mobile flight stations that are networked together at his flight simulation center. His 14-year-old son, Cody, helps out at the center, primarily as a virtual pilot to train customers on using the simulators. Cody is already a tough virtual fighter pilot, his dad said. “He gets me quite often.”

Use of the center is by reservation only for birthday parties, office parties and other special events. Matthews loads the flight stations into his van and goes to customers upon request.

Matthews believes that The Wright Stuff is a great way to introduce children and adults to aviation. He also said that his flight simulation center is good for adults who want to show off their aerial “dog-fighting” skills.

“In World War II, they used to have aerial dogfights where fighter aircrafts would try to shoot each other down,” Matthews said. “That’s called a dogfight.”

To help grow his business, Matthews is currently building separate cockpits for the simulators that will have surround sound features to provide a more realistic experience. His plans are to eventually build a lunar lander simulator.

He said that customers like his simulators, but The Wright Stuff’s location is off the beaten path so it’s hard for them to find his business.

He recently started a Go Fund Me Campaign at www.gofundme.com/flight-simulation-center to help raise money to help pay rent, provide computer upgrades and advertise for his flight simulation center.

Some of his biggest supporters are veterans. Four vets from different branches of the military meet every third Tuesday of the month at The Wright Stuff.

Matthews calls the meetings “Bravo Sierra” sessions. The veterans have the option of using the simulators but typically just like to talk.

“Sometimes it’s military talk, but it’s different things,” said Edward Galbraith, an Army veteran.

Galbraith, who was a sniper in the military, said there are a lot of things he finds hard to talk about to just anyone.

He said he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, known as PTSD, after serving in the first Persian Gulf War and returned home with nerve damage to his right arm.

“Us guys who have been through war are kind of like counselors to each other,” he said.

He likes to play tank war games at The Right Stuff.

“I love it,” Galbraith said. “It’s peaceful and quiet, and you get to have fun with your friends.”

He said he was diagnosed five years ago with Parkinson’s disease, which causes body tremors.

“I come up here,” Galbraith said. “It gives me the ability to keep my concentration and my mind clear.”

Karol Suszynsky, an Air Force veteran, has not had a chance to meet the other veterans but likes to go to The Wright Stuff with his 12-year-old son, Karl. They have been customers now for about three months.

“I enjoy watching my son do stuff like this,” Suszynsky said. “It’s really good father-and-son time together.”


Information from: Winston-Salem Journal, https://www.journalnow.com

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