OMAHA, Neb. — Berkshire Hathaway shareholders got something they had never seen experienced before ahead of the conglomerate's annual meeting: the chance to fly a fighter jet, virtually speaking.
FlightSafety International, a company that builds flight simulators to train commercial and military pilots, had its first exhibit at Berkshire's shopping day in eight years. It featured about 10 simulators recreating what it's like to fly different planes like the Northrop T-38 Talon, a fighter jet used by the Air Force for a long time.
The simulator uses a virtual-reality headset along with real-life flight control for the thrusters and turning. But the real kicker is the simulator's blending of virtual reality and the real world, said Ed Koharik, vice president at FlightSafety International.
For example, users can look down and see their hands on the controls as well as their legs. "This gives it a more realistic feel than just putting on a pair of virtual reality goggles," Koharik said. "This gives the pilot a better feel for the cockpit."
As word of the showcase spread, the line to try the simulators out quickly swelled up to the point it bled out to the next exhibit.
"It was really fun," said Tom Olinger, a 67-year old shareholder from San Diego, who tried one of the simulators. "I want one for my game room."
Claudia Strain, a Berkshire shareholder from Omaha, said she liked it, but "it made me kind of seasick, though. I have an issue with motion sickness."
Berkshire bought FlightSafety International for $1.5 billion in 1996. At the time, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett said: "FlightSafety is a business that I like, run by a man I like and admire."
However, the company was a drag on Berkshire's bottom line last year. Berkshire said in its annual report its pre-tax earnings growth was "partially offset" by lower profits from FlightSafety, which were pressured by lower margins from simulator sales.
An analyst at the meeting on Saturday asked if the recent troubles of Boeing with its 737 Max jet could impact FlightSafety financials, but Buffett said he does not think so.