Piloting a Boeing 737

As well as photography, aviation is a major passion of mine… In fact, if I had my time again I’d probably have a career as a pilot or air crash investigator.  It probably stems from growing up around aviation, my father worked on various aircraft (Concorde, Hercules, Tornado, Nimrod) and we both spent many hours on Microsoft Flight Simulator on the home computer.

The ‘real’ flight simulators were always out of reach, used only by airlines to train their pilots, but over recent years have become accessible to the public.  Before today I’d done two flight simulator sessions – a static Boeing 737 simulator (April 2012) and a full motion 737 simulator (August 2015) – as well as having a real flying lesson in a Cessna.

Today I had a two hour experience with Fly a Flight.  Fly a Flight run a 737 simulator built into a residential garage (will add that to my list of lottery win buys!).  Although that might sound a bit odd, it’s actually been done really well and it’s the same simulator that Ryanair use.  The simulator is based on a real 737, with seats from a 737, video screens and surround sound.  All in all it’s the best simulator I’ve piloted, even better than the full motion one.

To get to grips with this simulator I took off from an airport I know well, Bristol Airport, and had a short hop over to Cardiff Airport.  Next, I relived my recent Canadian holiday and took off from Toronto Pearson Airport, did a lap of the city, and landed there again.  The instructor said I was doing well, and with lots of time we decided to make it a bit more interesting…

So I headed to St John’s Airport, also in Canada, to try flying in the fog with a cross-wind.  When I was in St John’s on holiday earlier this year I got chatting to Air Canada pilot Tracy Barrett who said “taking off is easy, it’s the landing that’s hard”, and that’s certainly the case in fog.  With fog the runway can be seen from a distance, then suddenly disappears from view, before reappearing again at the last minute.  Once I’d mastered that, it was time for a final challenge.

Any aviation fan knows of Kai Tak airport – the airport in Hong Kong (now closed) where pilots had to dodge skyscrapers and do a sharp final turn to reach the runway.  I had three landings here, in the dark, with fog, and a cross-wind.  Luckily I avoided the skyscrapers, landed on the runway, and apart from my pounding heart and sweaty palms there were no dramas.