I believe I can fly: Patrick Freyne takes to the skies over Ireland
Our man takes the controls of a 14 tonne flight simulator
In a big building called Kestrel House, three 14 tonne machines on massive pneumatic legs are rising and falling and tilting and turning. I am walking along a metal ramp into a fourth machine, a cylindrical space on stilts. I’m at the Simtech facility where pilots come for retraining and to test their wits against simulated emergency scenarios, and today, before the Professional Flight Training Exhibition in the Convention Centre on March 22nd, they are testing my wits against emergency scenarios.
“You can have a pilot who has no issues until his 60th birthday and on his last flight he has an engine fire,” explains Simtech’s Engineering Manager Bob Sheehan. “So every six months they come in for refresher training.”
Down on the floor there’s a wooden pedal plane belonging to the director’s son. It’s briefly suggested I get my training on that.
“That’s probably my level,” I admit.
Instead, I sit in a replica of a cockpit with a bank of monitors and switches all around me. Sheehan is sitting to my right. I’m looking out at a digital representation of Dublin airport, where small lorries are driving around. At one point, senior simulator engineer Chris Harford, sitting at a bank of computer consoles behind us adds dark clouds and lightning flashes to the scenario by punching a few keys.
Sheehan is trying to impart to me how serious it all is, how many things there are to check and how many voices to listen to. “Have you ever been in the jump-seat flying from Dublin to London? It’s unbelievable . . . you have to be at a height at a speed and a time, and if you aren’t there on time you have to go out and come back in.”
I tell him that I fantasise about someone rushing out of a cockpit crying “can anybody fly this plane?” at which point I can volunteer to save the day.
“That happened some months ago,” says Harford. “Was it in Germany, Bob? Luckily there was an airline pilot on board.”
“Did you have the beef or the chicken?” asks Sheehan and Harford laughs. On long flights, Harford explains, the pilot and co-pilot eat different meals in case of food-poisoning.
As we taxi out towards the runway I’m guiding the plane with the rudder. “Don’t take out those signs,” says Sheehan, as we veer close to an embankment. “That’d be embarrassing.”
He tells me a few useful acronyms: RFM – Read the fecking manual. PFM – pure fecking magic. Sheehan loves aviation, is passionate about his job and repeatedly tries to explain technical details about flight paths and instrumentation, but I’m not the best student.
“Can I see my house?” I ask, when the simulated flight leaves the simulated airport.
“Probably,” says Harford. The panoramic vistas, he tells me, are generated by Google Maps.
We climb and Sheehan gives me control. When we dip too low I’m to pull back on the flight controls. He tells me to keep an eye on the altitude, but I keep getting distracted.
“Many accidents have happened because of misreading altitude,” says Sheehan. He and Harford recount a few examples. Indeed, they explain several aviation issues with reference to historic plane accidents. One story ends with the words: “They didn’t even die of the crash, the crocodiles got them.”
Later a Fear of Flying group is being brought into the same simulator. “That group isn’t taken by you is it?” I ask. It’s not.