Sunday 16 June 2019

So what's it really like flying a Boeing 737? Deirdre Reynolds finds out

Deirdre Reynolds at the controls of a 737 Simulator at Simtech Aviation.
Photo: Steve Humphreys.
Deirdre Reynolds at the controls of a 737 Simulator at Simtech Aviation. Photo: Steve Humphreys.

As someone who spends most Transatlantic flights with her head deposited in a sick bag, I was just as shocked as anyone to find myself staring at the steering wheel of a Boeing 737 instead.

On the ground, I get around in a one-litre Nissan Micra, which shudders at 120 kph on the motorway and barely fits four nervous passengers - let alone 200.

Given that I had managed to get lost on my way to Dublin Airport Logistics Park, the prospect of whizzing seamlessly through the skies in a jumbo jet at speeds of 500 mph seemed as bleak as the clouds overhead.

So it's probably all for the best that the runway stretching out in front of me was, in fact, digitally rendered, and that the aircraft remained firmly on the ground throughout my hour-long 'flight'.

Just a few minutes from Dublin Airport, Simtech Aviation offers training for professional pilots and hobbyists alike. And this multi-engine jet simulator, modelled on the 737, is one of just four housed at the tech-tastic centre outside the city.

Faced with a befuddling array of dials, buttons, pedals and levers, as I slid anxiously into the captain's seat in the cockpit, suddenly parallel parking didn't seem so bad, after all.

First Simtech engineer and qualified pilot George Fox explained what each of the thing of the thingamajiggies - or, at least, the ones I'd need to virtually take the plane for a quick spin around the capital - actually do.

Mostly, I just gleaned that you pull back gently on the yoke - that's the actual name for the 'steering wheel' - to take off and 'lean in', just as women in the industry are now being urged to do, to touch down.

Obviously, there's slightly more to it than that, but with George's help, pretty soon I was doing a Westlife - and flying without wings.

"Women are generally easier to teach because they take their time," he says. "You're doing quite well considering it's your first lesson."

Confidence is key, he reminds me, as I start squealing at the sight of another plane coming right at us on the hyper-realistic display. And gadget geeks, and likely not someone who can barely operate her iPhone, are the perfect candidates to become pilots.

"It's not all sex and drugs like you see in the movies," adds George. "In the past, the captain was king - now it's all about being a team player."

Sadly what goes up, must come down. With professional pilot training costing up to €100,000, I'll be sticking to four wheels - not six - for now.

Chugging home in my lowly road vehicle though, I must admit I'm starting to understand why Ireland's real-life Mavericks feel the need for speed.

Irish Independent

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