Thursday 19 July 2018

'Take-off was exhilarating but landing was terrifying' - We test fly Irish company's pilot training simulator

My respect for pilots has soared after trying to land a simulated plane

Micheál O'Scannail

If you ever wondered just how good the latest commercial flight simulators are I can confirm they are terrifyingly real.

As a celebration of ten years since winning the National Enterprise Award from the Local Enterprise Offices, Simtech Aviation Ireland were allowing people to try out their simulated flight training pods.

The devices are Level D aviation simulators which means they exactly replicate commercial aircrafts while allowing training in a much safer environment. The first thing that struck me was the vast number of buttons, dials and gauges on the artificial cockpit - a mockpit if you will. Pilots spend months solely learning these controls before even stepping into a simulator so you couldn’t be blamed for being overwhelmed.

My captain, Dave Sheppard who has over 11,000 hours of flight experience, guided me throughout, however I couldn’t help but feeling uneasy at the speed at which the extremely detailed graphics, on the monitors replacing windows, sped by me.

Having only ever experienced planes from the uncomfortable seats of the cabin, what I found most surprising about a pilot’s job is how simple it is to fly one. Granted the conditions were perfect on my simulation, but I could count on one hand the number of controls that were actually required.

Take-off was exhilarating with the 10 degree tilted plane soaring into the pixelated sky, but landing was terrifying. As we approached the runway it was clear how sensitive the steering is on a plane. Almost like a go-kart, the slightest hand movement sent the aircraft left and right above the runway.

The captain told me that “no matter how you perform throughout the entire flight, all that matters to people is a smooth landing” and for me that was the most difficult part. It might surprise, and also scare you to know, when the pilot deploys the landing gear and approaches the runway the aircraft is travelling at 120mph.

It is no surprise that Simtech Aviation are European leaders in aviation training because, while I’ve never been in a real cockpit before, if it resembled the real thing as closely as the graphics on the monitors, being in their training pod is as good as flying an actual aircraft.

Reassuringly for those with aerophobia, if the aircraft is even slightly off course or speed, a warning will tell the pilot to alter their controls.

If you are ever sat next to me on a plane, take solace in the knowledge that in the worst case scenario, I can now shakily take you home safely.

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