Features Videos — 07 September 2011
Mike Parer in the cockpit with Alyson at Flight Experience, Darling Harbour.

Mike Parer in the cockpit with Alyson in the Flight Experience flight simulator at Darling Harbour, Sydney.

Imagine flying a Boeing 737 — Its a stupendous experience having thunder at your fingertips. Is it worth $200-$300 ? Yes. Absolutely.

We arrived at Darling Harbour to be greeted and briefed by Manager Justyn Griffin and check pilot Alyson who would be giving me cues on my first ride as Pilot In Command of a 737. We were to fly the famous “Chequer Board” approach into Hong Kong’s (old) Kai Tak Airport do a touch and go and a quick scenic pass over Hong Kong city, followed by a full stop landing.

The first thing that came to mind was the amount of thought that had gone in to the design of this cockpit. We adjusted our seats as I had a quick run down from Alyson on the speeds and the autothrottle TOGA (which selects the correct power settings for the flight simulator’s autothrottle).

With the speed selected, we made the appropriate flap settings, set the power levers to 40 percent and then, when rolling, press the TOGA switch, rotate, and we are climbing out of Hongkong’s Chep Lap Kok airport, changing the autothrottle speed, retract the landing gear and following the glass cockpit preselected course.

It is strangely quiet, considering you have about forty-thousand horses blasting you through the heavens. We travel at 2000 feet to ensure we don’t alarm Hongkong’s high-rise tenants, and the aircraft takes some pressure on the control column to change course; but speed changes are made easily with a tiny button on the EFIS panel. In the cockpit, it sounds more like a huge electric engine than two turbo-fans. Pilots who are used to chasing speed with a combination of throttle, attitude and flap settings would be delighted to have this arrangement on their aircraft.

So, why are people paid so much to fly these things ? It’s because, about once every five years, a pilot will earn his or her keep – in spades – when something goes wrong on takeoff or landing. When this happens, there is very little time to react to an engine, airframe or control malfunction, and this is one of the main uses of flight simulators… to ensure that air crews are up-to-speed with their emergency drills. Using a flight simulator allows all kinds of unusual (but perfectly possible) scenarios to be practiced without burning thousands of dollars of fuel, taking up airport movement slots and, most importantly, if you stuff it up, nobody gets hurt.

Mike brings the 737 in to land at Kai Tak Airport

Mike brings the 737 in to land at Kai Tak Airport

But flight crew often dread a sim check because they may need to fly an accurate instrument approach, despite having an undercarriage malfunction, a possible engine fire and with hydraulic problems. It’s called “loading you up” and, believe me, it is very stressful.

The Flight Experience Flight Simulator is a very realistic representation of a Boeing 737- 800. Twenty-five percent of the world’s commercial aircraft are Boeing 737 aircraft of various models — this does not include the military aircraft which are AWACS VIP transports and many other types. NASA even has a 737 they called the Vomit Comet to give astronauts experience of weightlessness .

So if you are a pilot or just interested in aviation is this experience for you? Is the Pope a Catholic? Do pilots have big watches and small computers?

Yes – after 9/11 sterile cockpits are now the order of the day, i.e. during take off and landing procedures, no communication is permitted with the cockpit. The old days when you could ask to have a look up front are probably gone forever, so this is the nearest most of us will get to being in the cockpit and, most definitely, the closest most people will come to flying a jet. I do recommend it and ya won’t need to take any travel medication. Don’t miss this if you are a pilot or an aviation enthusiast coz ya can establish boasting rights with the DVD you get to take home, and watch yourself flying a jet. It is very close to the real thing and a must for all serious aviation enthusiasts.

What part do simulators of this kind play in mainstream aviation? This simulator is built by Pacific Simulators and does indeed play a major part in mainstream aviation for airlines, security agencies, commercial pilot wannabes, and, for commercial pilots who already fly a jet and need to fly a legislated amount of instrument approaches in order to be able to legally use their instrument rating to fly a jet in to land on instruments. For without “recency” pilots are not permitted to fly by instruments, as this is a highly-demanding type of approach. It needs exacting parameters in terms or minimum altitudes and distance that can be seen from the cockpit to be applied. Many of these approaches are flown in what is called ” coupled” mode, which means the autopilot is closely-monitored by one or both pilots and flies the aircraft down a predetermined beam projected by ground systems or, more recently, by a constellation of US satellites. The instrument approach of the near future will be entirely orchestrated by a constellation of American satellites, and there will be very few ground-based instrument procedures.

If you are in Sydney and you’d like to have a go on this awsome slight sim, you will find the Flight Experience Flight Simulator at Shop 503, Level 3, Harbourside Centre, Darling Harbour, NSW 2000. Their phone number is +61 2 9280 2455 and their fax number is +61 2 9280 2466; but in Australia, dial 02 9280 2455. The company’s web site is www.flightexperience.com

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