Have you ever dreamed of being a pilot of a commercial jet? Or have you ever wondered what all those buttons are for in the cockpit of the plane?
Well I was curious, so recently I went along to Flight Experience at Harbourside Shopping Centre in Darling Harbour, Sydney, to find out. Flight Experience is home to a state-of-the-art Boeing 737-800 flight simulator, and I get to play pilot for the day.
When I arrive I meet my instructor Sam (aka my co-captain), and we sit down for a pre-flight briefing and to discuss my flight plan. As I am now the captain, I get to decide where we are (virtually) travelling to today. With over 24,000 airports to choose from this proves to be a tough decision. I go with my hometown airport of Sydney, and on Sam’s recommendation I try Hong Kong’s old Kai Tak Airport.
As I take my seat in the front left-hand pilot’s chair, I feel a bit daunted by all the knobs, screens and buttons. Sam goes through them all, and before I know it we are ready to taxi down the runway and off into the air. I use the foot pedals to control the aircraft while we are on the ground, and then pull the yoke towards me and all of a sudden we are in the air.
Whilst I am in control of the jet, it is a blur of instructions from Sam—flicking various lights on and off, bringing the land gears up, controlling the flap, monitoring the speed and steering the craft. We do a few touch and go landings in Sydney, before we head to the notorious Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong.
This airport is no longer used but Sam explains that it was well known for its dramatic scenery, surrounded by skyscrapers and mountains. Sam helps out with my first landing here, but we decide for my second landing we should turn things up a notch, and on the simulator we select a night landing during a thunderstorm.
Fireworks go off in my peripheral vision, so hopefully this is a good omen for a safe landing. I try to keep the aircraft steady and on-course, checking the various screens and controls.
Night flying is quite hard, and I look out for the airport beacons to guide me. I take my speed down and make the turn, ready to straighten up for landing, and as I bring the craft home safely, there’s a sigh of relief all round. It’s been an eye-opening experience to see all the controls and measures in place on these incredible aircrafts, and I feel a sense of achievement, even in this virtual world.
At Flight Experience you can choose from a 30-, 60- or 90-minute experience, which includes a pre-flight briefing, explanation of all the controls, taking-off, flying and landing in the simulator. Flight Experience simulators are CASA approved—pilots use them for training—which means this is about as close as you can get to actually flying a plane.