I went to Devon for a weekend of cream teas and beach walks.
But ever one for adventure when I discovered that the UK’s best flight simulator is right here on the south coast, I set aside a couple of hours to try it out.
This is the story of learning to fly a 737 in Devon…
It is quite by accident I come to learn that Devon’s Virtual Jet Centre is the best place in the UK to learn to fly a 737 on a state of the art simulator, but it seems quite serendipitous.
I’m in the area to enjoy a weekend in Devon which I know will consist primarily of eating and drinking, but I want to try some activities while I’m here and for a massive travel fan like me, this is as exciting as it gets.
I visit in the run up to Christmas, meaning I’m lucky they can fit me in; I get the impression that after Christmas a rush of dads and grandads, who are of course notoriously hard to buy for, will be booking their own flight experiences and signing up to fly a 737 after being asked to by Santa.
But as well as the steady stream of professional pilots, aviation enthusiasts and corporate clients who come here, there are plenty of visitors such as myself who just love flying and travel, and want to see what it is like to get ‘behind the wheel’ (the actual technical term: I was taking notes).
The Virtual Jet Centre has a lot of very impressive sounding numbers and science behind it, like a 220 degree wrap around screen to give you the impression of a real landscape, and a bio-robotic motion texture platform meaning the movement of a real plane can be mimicked.
Despite all that it is a pretty friendly, welcoming and laid back place, and I’m given a ‘briefing’ (sounds scary but it is actually quite interesting and informal) over a cup of tea before being taken through to the simulator area.
I’m told that I can choose any route in the world to fly – the powerful computer simulator contains every single option. I start mentally listing all the cool airport approaches I’ve been on – ones where golf courses run alongside the tarmac (Bangkok) or where your entire descent is over water and you can’t believe you’ll see a runway (San Francisco)…in fact I could have been there all day but luckily I’m not given too long to deliberate as the local Exeter to Bristol route is suggested as a great option for a short flight.
Fly a 737 – To Bristol?
It may sound a little bit, well, boring to choose Bristol over Bangkok but founder of the Virtual Flight Centre Captain Andy Wilkins explains to me that this is an excellent flight for beginners because a) you won’t just spend time just in the air on auto pilot, b) you can fly under the Bristol suspension bridge c) you can fly past the place where Concorde is parked and d) they’ll let you fly upside down and have some fun with a cheeky barrel roll. I’m in!
Cure your Fear Of Flying – by flying a 737?
The idea of a loop the loop or a crazy stunt in a plane gets me excited because as an obsessive traveller I’m lucky enough to have never experienced fear of flying, but I’m interested to hear about the extensive work they do here at Virtual Jet Centre with people for whom jumping on a plane and jetting off somewhere isn’t as easy as it sounds.
Andy explains that the fear of flying course he runs has an exceptionally high success rate – so much so that he offers a money back guarantee, but has never had to honour it.
The key, he tells me, is in giving those who have trouble with flights one on one attention, confronting all of their worries in a sensible and sensitive manner by working with them in the simulator, culminating in giving them control.
The final step in this transformative process is to actually board a plane with the client, helped by airline partner Flybe who book the participant on their Exeter to London City route, enabling them to pre-board before all other passengers taking the flight.
The sense of achievement and success Andy has seeing someone tackle a plane ride they would never have thought possible before the course obviously makes him proud – and he must have had plenty of proud moments as he’s been training flying phobics for 39 years – so I can only imagine how the person who has overcome their own phobia must feel.
Landing Gear or Laughing Gear?
Back in my own Boeing 737-800 simulation experience and no such feeling of pride is in evidence in Andy today.
I’ve pressed a few buttons, taken in as much info as I can with my limited flying knowledge and basic numeric dyslexia and now it is time for landing.
Unlike the take off which I’m basically talked through while I have a go at pulling and pushing on things, I’m told it will be me who has control for the entire touch down. I am being given the reins (another technical term for you there).
I don’t do too badly and begin to get the hang of the tiny motions and minuscule adjustments it requires to keep the plane coming in at the right altitude on descent, but I muck up the approach and skid onto the runway sideways at a weird angle in a fashion I can only describe as very reminiscent of the way I tend to enter a parking space at Sainsbury’s; wheels akimbo and with my arse sticking out.
The only difference here is that I can’t get out of the cockpit and check to see if I’m within the white lines, reversing would be a real faux pas, and my usual hope that nobody is watching and laughing is far less likely on a major airport runway.
But I had fun, the experience of learning to fly a 737 was memorable, and it stopped me eating for a good 2 hours.
And here’s a time lapse if my entire flight in under 20 seconds – I seem to take my hands off the wheel a lot to take photos, oops.
More Info About Flying a Boeing 737 At Virtual Jet Centre
The Virtual Jet Centre is located near Chudleigh, Newton Abbot, Devon, England.
The centre is open every day except Christmas Day and has a team of highly experienced pilots on staff who’ll give you instruction on how to pilot the state of the art Boeing 737-800 flight simulator they have here.
You can buy gift vouchers online too for your dad or grandad.
Savoirthere was a guest of Virtual Jet Centre but her cynicism at her own lack of driving skills are totally genuine.
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