FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

The joy of flight simulation is that you get all the thrill of flying multiple…

Posted: 16-Dec-2020 @ 19:01z
FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

The joy of flight simulation is that you get all the thrill of flying multiple aircraft, wherever you want in the world, without the large price tag of training or having to leave the comfort of your desk chair. Most people, for one reason or another, are limited to the experience of sitting in front of their PC, learning different aircraft systems and basic flight handling without even touching a real aircraft. In the effort to immerse yourself even further into the realm of virtual flying, one step further would be to start to build a home cockpit. For the same price as a Private Pilot’s license, a Boeing 737 cockpit will certainly quench the thirst for the ultimate virtual flying experience but can be both time consuming and costly. A satisfying middle ground is visiting one of the pre-built simulators that can be found in garages, caravans, lockups and business parks all around the globe. Most of these are meticulously put together by like-minded virtual flight enthusiasts, with the view to achieving the highest level of immersion possible and sharing that with visitors who purchase block time to spend in the sim.

Airline Experience - Boeing 737 Airline Pilot Experience

I visited recently established Airline Experience, a 737NG flight simulator based at Fairoaks Airport (EGTF), in Surrey, UK. Airline Experience has been assembled and run by four real-world airline pilots: James, Anna, Graham, and Nick who all met at Fairoaks over the past few years whilst learning to fly or operating different aircraft from the small WWII GA airfield. Now, James and Anna operate an Airbus A320 fleet out of Heathrow, Graham flies 737s from Luton and Nick flies out of London City using Embraer aircraft. The team have all progressed to real-world flying from experiencing simulation in one form or another and provide great insight as to what it takes for others to do the same.

When I arrived, I was greeted by the whole team who were friendly and approachable. The first thing I noticed was the remarkable buzz that Fairoaks had, even during restrictions put in place due to covid. The quaint little airport was busy. Fairoaks has lots of small businesses located on-site, from small aircraft charter companies to car workshops. I found just being at the airport, added to my excitement in getting hands-on with the simulator. I have previously been to 737 simulators based in office buildings in central London, so the novelty of being engrossed in the surroundings made a big difference compared to my past experiences.

James and the team first asked if I would like a tour of the airfield. How could I refuse such a thing? So, Graham called the tower to ensure they knew what we were doing. I was led through to the main hangar, still standing from WWII, where around 10-15 privately owned aircraft sat, all tucked up under their dust covers. It was great to see such a vast array of aircraft up close such as the Cirrus SR22, Diamond DA42, Piper Cherokee as well as a Guimbal Cabri G2 helicopter. The team seemed to be as excited about walking around the hangar as I was, pointing out the different types and even mentioning their own experiences with them. We exited the hangar right next to the tower, we then climbed the external stairs, to a vantage point overlooking the entire airfield from the perspective of a controller in the tower. Graham explained to me the purpose of each of the large hangars and which companies operate them. The tour around the airport was a great touch and something that the team wish to provide for all their guests, providing they have approval from airport operations and enough time to facilitate the tour. After the tower visit, it was time to head over to the Airline Experience office, where the simulator is located.

FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

I entered through the main door to be greeted by a large whiteboard with a personalized welcome message which made me smile. In my experience, the little things go a long way. I was offered a bottle of water and ushered to take a seat in front of the TV mounted on the wall, ready for my pre-flight briefing.  Graham was my Certified Flight Instructor for today, as a real-world pilot of the 737, there was not a question Graham couldn’t answer. The briefing started with Graham asking me questions to gauge my level of experience with the aircraft, as to not brush over important information but also to make sure that he doesn’t waste valuable time explaining things I already knew. I found this to be valuable as the briefing is included in the total time booked at the simulator. In the briefing, graham explained about the aircraft, the cockpit and systems, how the aircraft is operated daily, also known as ‘on the line’, as well as how airlines and pilots optimize the aircraft in terms of fuel, passenger comfort and to limit overall wear and tear. I found the briefing really interesting and I learned a great deal even with a fair number of virtual hours on the 737, both from asking questions, and the brief that was presented. We then agreed what we were going to do once we get into the sim. The plan was to fly up to Manchester from Heathrow with some basic aircraft manoeuvres and handling along the way.

After the flight briefing, we moved to the simulator, located just next to the briefing space. The Simulator has everything you need to operate the aircraft but only from the left-hand seat. The right hand, first officer position, has been replaced by the instructor’s panel used by the CFI. Initially, I thought that this would take away from the experience but after getting into my seat, I soon forgot that the right seat didn’t exist as you can’t see much passed the main 737 panel. The simulator consists of everything the real cockpit has minus the right seat’s Primary Flight Display, Navigation display and FMC some centre pedestal modules such as fire warning panels, but we luckily didn’t need them on my flight. The entire cockpit is built using a wooden frame to hold everything in place, not that you would know unless you get up close and personal with the panel. The simulator visuals come from Prepar3D and impressively, the simulator and visuals are all run from a single PC which is capable of flying on VATSIM too.

FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

The cockpit, just like the real aircraft, is made up of modular parts that James and the team have sourced from stores around the world such as Open Cockpits, CP Flight, FD Solutions and Cockpits For You. The build took over five months and was completed in October of this year. The flight yoke was larger than expected and required much more effort to try and move the aircraft which forced me to use more trim than I do in my home sim. The simulator doesn’t currently have a tiller so I found myself having the same amount of strength applied to the rudder pedals when taxiing too. Having to put more effort into moving the control surfaces made it feel like you were moving something big, heavy and mechanical which gave the impression of flying an big airliner.

FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

Above my head, sat the overhead panel which looked and felt like it could be straight from a 737. Every button, switch, light and gauge worked as they should. There is something quite satisfying about flicking actual switches and pressing real buttons rather than virtual ones. When I asked which parts were from a real 737, I was shocked to learn that only the seat I was sitting on, which is screwed into the original runners to allow the chair to slide backwards and left to gain access, was from an old Jet2 Boeing 737-300. The rest of the cockpit is made up of replica parts made specifically for a simulator. On the pedestal sat the throttle quadrant along with radio panel and transponder. The throttle quadrant was the biggest surprise for me as it moved with the autopilot system without any physical input from myself or Graham. Even when I trimmed the aircraft using the yoke, the trim wheel on the pedestal span as it would in the real aircraft. Again, the little things really make a difference to improve the overall immersion of being in a simulator.

Once we had set up the aircraft, it was time to depart Heathrow. Advancing the throttles and waiting for the gauges and engines to react, the sounds of the engines came through at a nice volume, enough to engine pitch changes but not too loud so I couldn’t hear Graham. 30 seconds later and with a hard pull on the yoke, we were airborne. Being in an immersive environment requires much more concentration than flying from a desk but having the ability to look over the 737 glareshield panel to the simulated world below was quite surreal. We reached low-level cruise and disengaged the autopilot. Graham talked me through some handling at the aircraft’s limits such as maintaining a 30-degree bank whilst trying to keep the speed and altitude steady. It was far from easy to manage but being outside of my comfort zone helped me learn even more about the aircraft. Thankfully, we were back on track with the help of the autopilot, heading for Manchester. Graham talked me through the approach as we set the aircraft up to land together. After gaining confidence in the handling exercise during the cruise, we decided that I should hand-fly the approach. After a very high-energy, high approach, I ‘touched’ down long and off centre with a rather embarrassing thud.

FSElite Original: Airline Experience 737 Simulator

In the blink of an eye, over an hour in the sim had passed. Time really does fly when you’re having fun. The experience from start to finish is professional, exciting and enjoyable. Many simulators in the UK offer a 737 experience but what Airline Experience has to offer is something more than just the simulator, it’s the access to real pilots who have a passion for everything aviation who want to engage with those with similar passions to stem feed the next generation of pilots both virtually and in the real world. Collectively, the team has enhanced a regular simulator experience by providing lots of little added extras that exceeded my expectations with a very competitive pricing structure. Airline Experience also wants to help engage with others who support those interested in becoming pilots, giving the ability for up to two people to spectate the abilities of their pilot in command.

For those who are just finding virtual aviation and want to see what a day in the life of an airline pilot might be like, right through to real-world pilots who want to keep current, especially at a time when flying might not be a possibility, flying in a physical simulator is a world away from desk flying and Airline Experience has something to offer anyone across the board. The team are open to discuss the needs of any guests and customers are urged to reach out to discuss any requirements they may have regardless of experience. Through their website, customers can request support to help with ATPL, instrument rating and type revision as well as Multi-Crew Cooperation and Jet Orientation courses.

Airline Experience is offering 2 for 1 on all experiences purchased alongside a gift box, which will be sent out before your experience and includes a quick reference guide, ‘remove before sim’ keyring and other goodies which would make for a rather nice birthday or Christmas gift. Experiences start from £70 for 60 minutes and go up to £99 for 1 hour 30 minutes but FSElite readers can receive 30% off any experience by quoting code ‘FSELITE’ when booking.

The team has also recognised that during the pandemic this year, many pilots have been made redundant and therefore they would like to offer the use of the simulator to brush up on skills or practice for assessments in receipt of a small donation. You can register interest in doing so, here.

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Jordan Williams
Jordan works in operations for a brewery, pub and hotel company in London. Discovering flight simulation when the 3x CD FS2002 was released, he then followed the natural progression up until P3D, where he switched platforms to X-Plane 11.
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