We flew a plane into Hong Kong old airport with a Boeing 737 simulator
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If you live in East Putney, London, you have probably noticed this already, but on the main road right outside the tube station there is a glass building with a grey-blue sign inside saying “Flight Experience London”.
The National Student have been invited to have a chat with Nick Taylor and Paul Kendrick who opened the business in London, and to try the Flight Simulator ourselves.
“The business has two sides,” said Nick, former senior manager at Virgin Atlantic. “There is Flight Experience, that’s … a global brand. We hold the UK license to trade as Flight Experience. It’s the only business of this type that is credited globally by Boeing.
“The other side, totally of our own making, is the training side.”
When asked to elaborate, Nick said that the training they provide is not in terms of licensing, training people to become fully-fledged pilots.
“That’s a two and a half year process. However, what we identified long time ago was a gap in the market before people went into formal training.
“It might be someone who’s a little bit older - after university - on a cadetship working their own way through the whole system or it could be younger people, exploring career choices.”
According to the former pilots, choosing a possible career in aviation could be extremely hard.
“As currently stands there’s a huge demand for places,” said Paul, former pilot for different American companies. “It’s such a sought after job. The actual figures for L3 pilot training company, working with 10 airlines and based in Southampton for example, are of 27,000 applicants and only 1,154 places available.”
“With that number of applicants you need to stand out somehow. You could have some outstanding academic qualifications and a top degree, but that’d not be enough.
“They’re looking for people with practical experience, too. And the formal training costs around £120,000. If you’re lucky you get an airline cadetship and you don’t have to pay, but otherwise it’s quite though to raise that kind of money.”
“What makes Flight Experience stand out in the flight-simulator scene,” Nick said, “is the Boeing endorsement. It was a big part of the business for us.
“They had to make sure that we’re not trashing the product and they spent a lot of time with us. The simulator is actually a real aeroplane, the controls are those of a Boeing 737, and if you look at the floor of the simulator, even that is real.”
The Flight Experience
Upon stepping on the inside of the simulator, I could immediately perceive I was in a real aeroplane. It felt odd, being on the other side of that heavy door, but I sat on the pilot seat, and following Paul’s instructions – who was acting as my co-pilot - I pulled a lever that brought my seat in front of the control panel.
Paul carefully guided me through all the basics, he told me which levers to pull to start the engines and how to steer the plane when on the ground using the pedals instead of the yoke (steering wheel).
Our first simulated trip was to circulate around Heathrow airport and to land again. The take-off was not too hard, despite the impression that Paul helped more that he was willing to say out loud.
Once in the air, it took some time to get used to the steering. “You have to think as if you were under water”, Paul said. “Don’t release the yoke immediately after a turn, but gently bring it to the central position.”
The perception or left and right becomes funny where in the air, so I quickly learned I could trust my eyes only up to a point.
We flew in daylight conditions and nice weather, but I could imagine how hard that could be in a rainstorm at night. The altimeter and the other quadrants are sometimes your only eyes when in the air.
The landing was a bit rough. My speed was still too high and Paul had to slow down the aircraft to land properly. The runway was long and wide though, so I didn’t experience particular issues with that.
A whole different story was when we tried a landing in the old Kak Tak airport in Honk Kong.
Situated in between hills and with a very short runaway plunging into the water at the end, I think I must have been quite tense in attempting the manoeuvre, and it was only a simulation.
“When taking off and landing, the difficulty of the operations depends on many factors,” Paul had told me. “Surely, the size of the runway is one of the most important.”
“We can land in airports with five and a half miles runaway but you use the whole runaway and you need to get it right the first time. While for example, when taking off from Heathrow, which is 12 miles, we don’t even use half of it.”
I haven’t been to Honk Kong yet, but now I’m surely not planning on boarding any flight with destination Kak Tak (the new airport’s runway is much bigger, although the view is surely less breath-taking).
At the end, I managed not to virtually kill ourselves in the landing, but again, I think that was strongly thanks to my experienced co-pilot.
Paul still congratulated me for my efforts though, and seeing how realistic the experience was, I understood how they could be running there also courses to overcome fear of flying.
“We have a local psychotherapist and so we work in conjunction with her” Nick explained. People spend some time with her, then back in the simulator with us and so on. They can choose whether to fly or just seat in the back seat. In groups of singularly.”
It was a great experience meeting Nick and Paul, and to try the simulator. I don’t know if I’ll have a career in aviation, but surely next time I’ll step on plane I’ll have a better idea of what’s going on behind the closed door of the cockpit.