Fly without wings -- until you earn them
ON a wing and a lot of prayers I managed to take off and land an airplane at Dublin Airport without ever leaving the ground.
While passengers would surely have been assuming the crouch position and praying for deliverance, we lurched into the air on a leisurely flight over Dublin Bay before touching down at night in a far from perfect landing.
Hundreds of pilots are now keeping their wings by training and upgrading their skills on the latest full flight simulator -- the only one of its type in Ireland and the UK and described as the closest thing to flying without leaving the ground.
The €7m simulator is also available to anyone wishing to train and qualify to fly turbo-propeller airplanes -- and for a price is also being used to help nervous passengers get over their fear of flying.
"This is a very, very serious piece of kit and is far more than a high-tech video game," said Aer Arann's chief of training, Captain Brendan Cahill.
"For any pilot this isn't a game. If they are not sweating when they come in for a session on this, they're certainly sweating when they come out," he said.
The airline is now benefiting from the arrival of the new simulator, which replicates in every detail the ATR 72/42 twin engine turbo-prop airplane the company uses.
Amazing graphics give a real-life image of Dublin Airport, while traffic moves realistically on the M50 motorway as the simulated flight banks over the city.
Up to 100 Aer Arann pilots, who up to now had to travel to Toulouse in France to train, are using the simulator at Dublin Airport.
New and existing pilots are put through their paces in sessions lasting up to four hours at a time on a machine that mimics the precise handling of a plane in actual flight.
Emergencies, systems failures and day and night time flying can all be realistically simulated at the tap of a few computer commands.
"The simulator is an exact replica of one of our aircraft in every detail. It has to be," said Mr Cahill, who began his career in Aer Lingus in 1963 and was the airline's head of training for a number of years before joining Aer Arann in 2000.
"We can reproduce any situation in flight, scenarios you couldn't possibly replicate on an aircraft because it would be too dangerous to do so," he added.