Ryan asked me to write a little to accompany some photographs that I sent him following a brilliant experience that I had on Monday.
Like everyone else in the airline, I am an aviation and flights fanatic. I have been involved with flight simulation since the original Flight Simulator (Version 1.0) by Bruce Artwork was released in around 1982. If I remember correctly we were limited to block graphics and four colours! We were all thrilled to fly our computers around the simplest representation of the famous Chicago Meigs Field. I highly recommend that you Google Flight Simulator… the Wikipedia article contains some great pictures of the early simulators.
At around that time I began to learn to fly and earned my PPL. Of course the airlines used simulators but these were hugely expensive training devices, often with no graphics at all!
It amazes me just how far we have come. When I fly the PMDG-738 using Oculus Rift, I marvel at what flight simulation on the desktop has become. Of course there are those who are technically clever enough and have the budget to have built stunningly impressive full sized simulators in their own homes!
I LOVE the 737 and decided that a great addition to my setup would be the 737 Throttle Quadrant. Although I fly using the Oculus, being able to have proper throttles, flaps lever, spoilers, start levers etc. would greatly enhance my experience… the less I have to use a mouse the better!
I found a company that builds a unit at a reasonable price (these can literally cost thousands if you want a fully motorised version) and learned that they would be exhibiting at the Just Flight Flight Simulator show being held at RAF Cosford Museum on Saturday 7th October. Whilst looking at who else would be there I came across a great company called “Virtual Flight Experience” (www.virtualflightexperience.
The owner of this business is Steve Mount. Steve, like the rest of us, started out as a flight sim enthusiast. Eventually he built his own panel (which, I understand, he sold only recently). His hobby transformed into a business when he converted a large building at the side of his house into a fully fledged simulator centre. At present the centre is the home to a full-sized Boeing 737-800 static simulator which Steve imported from the Canadian Company, Flightdeck Solutions. Graphic are provided by a projection system onto a 180 degree curved screen.
The simulator will soon be certified for commercial training. Steve is awaiting motored control columns to replace his current arrangement. Apart from this, the simulator is realistic in every detail.
One of the features of this particular simulation company is that they offer a “Virtual Type Rating Course”. This covers all aspects of the operation of the Boeing 737-800 including flight planning, operation of all of the aircraft systems and emergency procedures. The course includes 5, 2-hour sessions followed by a flight test. This culminates in earning a virtual first officer rating. The course is designed with flight simulator enthusiasts in mind. This who pass the course will have access to the simulator at reduced rates and will also be invited to special events. The course is conducted by fully trained pilots and was designed by a commercial pilot.
I was immediately attracted to the course but wanted to ensure that this was the right step before parting with my money. Thus, I opted to do a full flight from Gatwick (EGSS) to Innsbruck (LOWI).
When I arrived at the centre I was greeted by Steve and by my instructor, Adem. My partner, Tracy, was with me. She was able to sit behind the cockpit in a mock up the front end of the 737 cabin. I understand that this is a recent addition to the set-up. It is a nice touch that adds something to the whole experience.
As the “First Officer” for the flight I sat in the right-hand seat. As familiar as I am with the 737-800 is it surprising how disorientating this is… I had to hunt around for all of those overhead panel switches I am usually so familiar with. Adem had done all of the preflight work in terms of calculating fuel, C of G’s etc. Nevertheless, the aircraft was in a cold and dark state so I was afforded the opportunity of going through the full preparation of the aircraft prior to start-up.
One of the greatest pleasures was programming the FMC. I cannot describe the joy of typing in our route using real keys as opposed to my usual mouse-clicking experience!
The one slight disappointment was that there was no ATC or virtual traffic. I know that they fly on VATSIM but we did not do this.
After going through the start-up and pushback, Adem taxied us to 26L for our departure. Adem sat back and let me take off. After departure, I flew manually for quite a while before I engaged the autopilot.
During the flight Adam gently tested me on my knowledge of the aircraft. He made it absolutely clear that I was free to play as much as I liked!
The flight over to Austria was quite cloudy so views of the ground were limited until we started our descent through the Alps. I understand that the system uses “Active Skies” to provide real weather.
Prior to our descent, Adem took me through the approach. The aircraft is equipped with tablets that access the Navigraph Charts. Trust my luck that the winds dictated that we would be landing at LOWI on RWY 08! As most of you will know, LOWI is tricky at the best of times but 08 adds a real challenge! The descent is steep towards an offset beacon. It is then a matter of flying a tight descending turn and then flying a path with the mountains to the left. They felt dangerously close! I was relieved that the excellent terrain radar allowed me to ‘stay in the green’ and fly towards a church that is a convenient turning point for the final approach. The whole approach and landing was flown manually.
One of the things I found tricky was that the full-sized control column feels very different to my little Pro-Flight yoke. This is the excuse that I am offering you for my embarrassing landing. However, to give myself a little credit, I landed on the runway (albeit horribly left of centre) at a descent rate that would not have been rejected by our PIREP assessors! and we stopped well before the end of the runway even if we did have to taxi to the end and teardrop back to the apron!
Needless to say, I loved the experience! I have signed up to do the Virtual Rating which I will start in early November.
I have promised Ryan that I will do a write up after each lesson for those who might be interested in doing something similar.
So, how much did this experience cost me? It is hard to calculate it completely but I reckon is was about £12000-00….. Following my experience I have finally bitten the bullet and decided to buy a JetMax 737-800 panel with overhead, throttle system and central console… The unit is being built by Flight Deck Solutions in Canada and should arrive in the UK in about 12 weeks.
Seriously though, the course is advertised on the site for £950-00. This is discounted to £650-00 at present. I reckon this is excellent value for money.
As soon as I begin the course, I look forward to reporting my experiences on the site!