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As promised, here is “Episode 1” of my account of my progress doing the Virtual First Officer rating with “Virtual Flight Experience” based in Wolvey Warwickshire.

Those of you who read my account of my first experience with this company will know that “Virtual Flight Experience” operate a full static B737-800 simulator. The owner of the business, Steve Mount told me that he will be taking delivery of a Piper Seneca fuselage tomorrow which, over the next 3 or 4 months, will be gutted and refitted to create a Seneca 5 glass cockpit simulator. The company hope to appeal to those undergoing commercial training. I understand that real hours in a Piper Seneca cost around £400 per hour. So this could be a great way to get some practice in and save a small fortune. For those interested in simming, a range of bush experiences will be available on the new simulator.

The focus of my flight today was general handling of the 737-800. The course assumes no experience. As you might expect, this first flight included a take-off, turns following the flight director, climbs, descents, straight and level flight and an approach and landing. The training flights are based at EGKK (Gatwick). To keep things as realistic as possible, we were flying real time and real weather. The “world” on the simulator uses P3D V3 and the weather is provided by Active Skies and Cloud Art.

This morning EGKK was almost totally fogged in with a poor RVR…  Not ideal but it all added to the challenge. Because the focus was on flying the aeroplane today, no automation was permitted. The autopilot remained switched off as did the auto-throttle.

The flight began at the holding point for 8R. My instructor, Adam, sat in the left-hand seat (this is a first officer course) so he taxied us out on to the runway. There is no ATC or virtual traffic on the system at present (which is to do with time available for customers – who might not appreciate being No. 5 to depart from a busy airport!). Prior to lining up, Adem asked me to set up the FMC. We were free of passengers and cargo and had a couple of hour’s worth of fuel on board.

I executed the take off with 24k thrust and flaps 5. Immediately we were into thick cloud with zero visibility. I climbed straight ahead to 8000’ using the flight director to maintain the climb and heading. At 8000’ we levelled off and went straight into a serious turns. The visibility was still appalling and I had to use instruments alone. Adem then turned off the flight directors to assess my ability to use basic data alone. Even though I have some experience of instrument flying from decades ago when I did my PPL, I found the task very tricky and it took me a while to relax into maintaining level turns at set speeds. The control yoke felt very different to my current little CH Pro set-up as did the throttles.

The other curious experience is flying in the right-hand seat. As I have mentioned before, the perspective is totally different. Also having my left hand on the throttles and right hand on the yoke felt very strange!

After a few steep turns, Adem asked me to look down and cover my eyes while he put the aircraft into an extreme attitude. The idea was to carry out a recovery. My first attempt at this was embarrassing to say the least. I honest cannot explain or describe what happened next with any degree of accuracy. All I can confirm is that I managed to loop the 737! At the bottom of the loop we were no more than 50 feet above the tree tops!!!!

Some minutes after we had recovered and were back up at 8000’, Adem asked me what I could see out of the right window. The answer was… nothing; just grey cloud. However, when I glanced back, he had put the aircraft into another crazy attitude and had pulled back the throttle on the left engine! This time I did a much more respectable job of recovering the aircraft.

The final part of the lesson was to set of the ILS frequency for 8R and then execute a descent into the pattern and landing. Whilst my landing was not textbook, it was respectable and safe.

My next lesson is a week on Friday. The focus will be flying circuits… Those of you who have done this will know that it is an excellent way of covering most aspects of flight in a short and very busy 15 minutes. Adem assures me that by the 6th one, I will be flying perfect circuits and landings! We’ll see….