Come fly with me . . . if you dare
The first Airbus A380 landed at Shannon this week. Good job a professional was in the cockpit
The A380 is an impressive beast in reality, but its virtual incarnation leaves me distinctly unimpressed initially. Standing there on hydraulic legs, it looks more like a Doctor Who robot than a plane.
It is a different story when the door shuts silently behind me and I sit in the captain’s chair. This doesn’t feel like make-believe any more. All the dials, gauges, levers pedals, screens and seats are exactly as they appear in the real cockpit, right down to the sheepskin rugs on the backs of the seats, and all the simulated airport scenes that wrap around the three windows in front of me are exactly as they appear in the real world.
The simulator is so accurate it has been “zero flight time” approved, so a pilot can go straight from here to flying real planes full of real passengers.
Crash and burn
In a heartbeat we can switch our approach or our departure from Heathrow to Hong Kong or from Dubai to Dublin. After I crash and burn in Manchester I am off to the States.
I manage to take off and land at LAX, but I have barely finished telling myself how brilliant I am when I am back in the sky and flying over New York.
This is very unsettling. All the landmarks are instantly recognisable, but what is most striking are the two towers that are no longer there.
As I gently manoeuvre the plane left and right, I think about how similar my simulator experience must be to the experiences of the 9/ll bombers in the lead-up to the terror attacks on the World Trade Centre. Suddenly my copilot breaks the silence.
“You can head for the buildings over there,” he says, gesturing towards downtown Manhattan. I look startled and there is an awkward silence. “No, I mean the runway over at JFK is in that direction,” he says, reading my thoughts. “Use the buildings as a landmark.”
I land the plane, but only just. As I hit the runway too hard I doubt any of my passengers will be impressed, but, unlike the poor souls in Manchester, I have kept them alive, and for that they should be eternally grateful.