One of the presents I got my brother for Christmas was an ‘experience’ in a fighter plane simulator. I liked the sound of it so I booked myself a go too. The day after Boxing Day we drove to an industrial estate in Stalybridge where the Top Gun Flight Simulator is situated. In the small office and reception space on the first floor of an scruffy looking warehouse we were sat down and shown our flight route on a map. The instructor also explained what can be seen on each of the three computer screens that are set up in the reception area. One is basically the radar, another one shows the terrain the plane is flying over as seen from various watch towers. As the plane flies into the distance it becomes a dot on the screen, when it flies closer it can be seen filling the screen. The third screen is the view of what the pilot can see through the windscreen.
After a briefing on where we would be flying, it was time to get changed into RAF flying suits. John decided to fly first and I sat with a coffee and watched him on the screens. The instructor’s wife explained what was going on and told me a bit about their business. Ian, the instructor, had previously flown Cessnas but hadn’t done any flying for a while when someone bought him the Microsoft flight simulator. Pretty soon he became bored of just flying with a keyboard and wanted more of the real thing. That led to him buying a 1970’s Czech fighter plane and setting up a flight simulation business. They’ve been going for less than 2 years and so far it’s been successful. They’ve recently moved into their new premises from their original location in Ashton.
After half an hour John’s flight was over and I went down to the simulator on the ground floor to take photos of him in the cockpit all kitted out in the helmet and oxygen mask.
Then it was my turn. I squoze into the front seat and put the helmet and mask on. It felt quite heavy and made it difficult to turn my head. Once I was strapped into the seat I could barely move my body – I had just about enough arm movement to work the levers at the side of me and the controls in front of me. My legs only just stretched to the peddles.
Ian sat behind and gave me instructions over the intercom built into the helmet. Although it all seemed very complicated and a lot to remember, I don’t think it’s any more difficult than in a car. I remember when I was learning to drive, it seemed like I’d never remember to watch the speedometer and roadsigns, and turn the steering wheel, change gears, use the brakes and clutch appropriately and NOT run anyone over or crash, but with time it became second nature and now I don’t even have to think about it. What did seem much more difficult however, was keeping the damn thing straight! I’m sure it was never this difficult in a car. The slightest movement sent me veering on to the grass verge at the side of the runway, or when I was in the air, would tilt the plane alarmingly on to its side.
|Upside down flying|
For my flight we took off from a base near Prince William’s gaff in Anglesey, flew across the Menai Strait towards Snowdonia, followed a few gorges and then the river to Conwy. Out at sea I flew along the coast learning to do rolls and loops before heading back along the Menai Strait and flying under the bridge. I did a flyby past the tower, a few more rolls and loops and then came into land and got parked up.
It took a lot of concentration and was really difficult – I could feel the instructor over-riding me with his dual controls a lot of the time. I’m actually more apprehensive now about the real flying lesson I have booked, but at the same I enjoyed the simulator and so I’m sure I’ll enjoy the real thing too.
Would I recommend this or do it again? Yes and no. Yes, I’d recommend it as a fun way of spending an hour or so and it’s a good first introduction to flying, but no I probably wouldn’t do it again as it is one of those things to really be tried once. If I want to make a hobby out of flying then it’s better to save my money and do the real thing as the simulator would probably get monotonous after a while.