Resembling the Apollo moon landing craft, the 'flight cabin' of the new pounds 10 million British Airways 747 400 flight simulator is supported on a series of hydraulic rams to recreate movement. Inside, images projected on to 145-degree curved mirror windscreens turn the 'virtual' into total reality.
'All our pilots are trained on these. The experience is so real, they can walk straight out and fly a jumbo. When they're not in operation, we let the public have a go,' said manager, Murph Morrison.
The moment you enter the cabin, you're transported into fantasy. Dials, computers and switches bewilder the eye. 'Sit next to me and fasten your seatbelt,' insisted Captain Hasfield as the windscreens lit up. The effect was breathtaking. Hong Kong at night, accurate in every detail. 'Even down to the speed of car traffic flow and lights in the windows of the skyscrapers,' said simulator operator, John Cowell.
As Hasfield pushed the throttle, the cabin shunted forward and you could feel the load of a full plane dragging behind you.
We pulled out of the hangar and trundled down towards the runway. 'Twist the knob to your right, it's all you need to steer on the runway.' It was like trying to pilot a boat. Veer too much to the left, overcorrect to the right . . . a drunken Boeing weaved its way towards take-off point. 'What happens if I hit the grass verge?' I did. The machine bumped dramatically, simulating the sensation exactly. With the engines thrown into full power, we raced along the ground, then lifted up into the skies.
As we emerged high above the clouds, Hasfield banked the plane steeply to the right. 'That's Kowloon island down there,' he pointed out matter- of-factly.
'Get ready for turbulence,' announced the simulator control. Thunder clapped, the sound of rain beat the windscreen and the cabin bounced all over the place.
'We had one member of the public pay pounds 65,000 for lessons - he left with a full commercial licence to fly Jumbos,' said Hasfield. Then there was the solicitor who came in for his first flight ever. 'I told him to fly 180 knots at a 1000 ft rate of climb, and he did it in 30 seconds,' remembered Cowell. 'Phenomenal. I've only ever seen three professional pilots do it that quickly.'
Now it was my turn. Maintaining the correct altitude meant fixing one eye on a moving cross over a stable square, controlled by a throttle stick. We had circled, and were coming in to land. An electronic voice warned we had 100 ft to go. The cabin shook as the undercarriage lowered. The ground lights loomed ahead. Fifty feet. I panicked, and the plane veered off-course.
Thirty feet - time to put the nose down. We landed, bounced three times, skidded . . . then came to a slow halt. I asked for a sick-bag. The simulator was accurate, down to every detail.
Maximum 4 people per session. Simulators: pounds 180 hr on Tristar (night flying only); pounds 300 on new 747 400 (day and night flying). Telephone 081-562 5248
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