When Alan Berning straps on his virtual-reality headset, he's off into the wild blue cyberspace

Alan Berning thrives on the challenge of flying singleengine Pipers and Cessnas. He used to escape to the clouds once a week at best. Now his hobby's zooming. "If I want to take a flight, all I have to do is put on my virtual-reality headset," says Berning, CEO of PEMSTAR Inc., a $10-million manufacturer of electronic components, in Rochester, Minn.

Berning's new flying machine comes from VictorMaxx, in Deerfield, Ill., one of a handful of companies offering a high-quality virtual-reality system (800-815-MAXX; $799) that can plug into a laptop or a desktop PC and run flight simulators, multimedia programs, and other applications.

"Virtual reality immerses the pilot in the world of flight," explains Berning. "Being able to try a roll or to do acrobatics in virtual reality is a hundred times better than doing so with a traditional simulator running on a desktop computer."

Berning uses his headset for more than flying the virtual friendly skies. He can plug it into a VCR and watch movies, cable TV, and music videos. "My wife wishes we'd had it when she was having our last child," he says.