SBHD: Fancy flying around the world, tasting the excitement of taking the controls but without actually travelling one inch from good old Blighty? Now you can, thanks to the very latest in corporate incentives – a visit to the flight simulator.
It’s 17.30 on a cold day in mid-November and the British Airways Pilot Briefing Room is buzzing with pre-flight activity. Senior First Officer Camile Bibby explains the details of our Boeing 747-400 route this evening: we’ll be departing New York’s JFK airport on a north-westerly heading before taking a sightseeing tour of Manhattan and landing approximately ten minutes later at San Francisco. Then it’s out across the Pacific and one of civil aviation’s more “interesting” manoeuvres: a landing on Hong Kong’s Runway 13. The total airborne time for this journey halfway round the world: less than half an hour.
There will be no passengers and no in-flight refreshment. And as for the weather: well, we can choose high winds, thunderstorms, violent turbulence, or clear, calm conditions. After all, however realistic our journey may feel, we will not be going any-where except along a hallway, across a gangplank and into one of British Airways’ multimillion-pound training simulators.
According to British Airways Training Centre manager Tony Cree, these miracles of modern science go far beyond providing a lifelike situation for pilots. “You can set the simulators for situations most pilots could expect never to face in a real aeroplane,” he says. “Volcanic ash in the engines or multiple bird strikes are two examples.”
We stride purposefully across the gangplank and into the Jumbo simulator, a shed-size capsule supported by six hydraulic legs. Inside everything is exactly as it should be, and soon the lights of JFK’s runway 31 flicker ahead of us. Camile explains a few of the dials and gauges, I press the “ding-dong” button to warn the imaginary cabin crew of our imminent departure, then release the brakes and call for full power. As instructed I use my feet to guide us down the runway’s centreline. “Rotate!” barks Camile and I ease the stick back for a gentle climb to our cruising altitude of 2,000 feet.
Landing is a little more hair-raising, especially when I take the aircraft down too fast at San Francisco. We bounce spectacularly before settling onto the runway and applying reverse thrust. “Did we land or were we shot down?” asks Camile. “We’ll make it a bit more fun going into Hong Kong, shall we?” Camile’s idea of fun was to lose first one engine, then another, then a third so that we negotiated the sharp right-hand turn over residential Hong Kong with only one engine working. Sweat was pouring off me on “finals”: the electronic voice called “100 feet… 50… 30…” and the wheels kissed the runway with hardly a rumble. “Poetry!” said Camile. “Pure poetry.”
It’s very easy to see the huge attraction of such an experience in terms of a corporate incentive. Angus Grahame of Simulation, which arranges simulator sessions, cites three main advantages: “There’s no worry about the weather, as it can be as good or bad as you want to make it. Then there’s the excitement of VIP treatment in surroundings not usually accessible to the public. Finally, it’s a true test of skill that’s guaranteed to get the adrenalin flowing. To all intents and purposes, you really are flying, and the fate of that Jumbo is in your hands!”
Simulation’s packages range from three-person groups on a 747 or Concorde simulator at Heathrow to far bigger day events combining real flying in vintage aircraft with the simulator experience at Gatwick.
For further details tel: (0255) 421333.