Friday, July 09, 2010

A320 simulator ride

Firstly let me apologise for the lack of posts in recent months. I had a lot of other stuff going on and felt a bit burnt out on the blogging front. Any other bloggers out there can surely sympathise.

Secondly let me thank David Gilmour from and Ansett Aviation Training for making this post possible. I can't say enough good things about either.

When I got the email from I jumped at the chance to fly a full motion simulator. The last time I flew a full motion simulator was many years ago with the Royal Australian Navy in a Sea King simulator. It was a night only simulator and although the cockpit was an exact replica of a real Sea King and the motion was very realistic, the graphics left a little to be desired. Plus I was sixteen at the time and couldn't fully appreciate the sophistication of the device. Now I'm a licenced pilot and have been studying jet transport aircraft for my ATPL exams, so I held a bit of theoretical knowledge but no practical experience pushing buttons and pulling levers in a real jet. Wild horses could not have prevented me from leaping at the chance to sit in this thing.


I checked my roster and found I wasn't working, which was a good start. The only problem was the simulator centre is in Melbourne and I live in Sydney. Problem quickly overcome by booking a flight down there and the last flight back. Timing it would be tight, but still doable.

I woke up early that day, unable to sleep like some big kid before Christmas, eager with anticipation. My lovely wife Kirrily gave me a lift to the airport and I boarded the VB 737 to Tullamarine. Grabbed a quick bite to eat and grabbed a taxi, the driver laughing when I told him I wanted to go to ... Tullamarine. It was only a short trip, but I gave him a decent tip.

We were greeted at the centre and given a short tour and a quick history. Ansett, of course, was a long lived and well remembered Australian airline before going bankrupt in September 2001. The receivers, rather than selling the simulators at a loss, decided to retain the centre as a unit. It was good that they did this, and eventually a buyer was found and Ansett continues to provide first class training to this day.

By virtue of my needing to make a hasty exit I was given first crack at the A320 along with Jennifer who revealed she had flown the A320 simulator before. She graciously offered the Captains seat.


It has already been pointed out how smug I look, so please don't bother.


But don't I look comfortable there? We started with a takeoff from Tullamarine with Jennifer at the controls and me sitting wide eyed in amazing at all the cool lights and dials. We flew out over the water, tried a stall which the flight computers refuse to allow and had a look at a large storm, gawking at the radar displays before our instructor, Captain Fuller, set up some opposing traffic. A 747, in our 12 o'clock at our level and a reciprocal heading. Even though I knew I was in a simulator I felt uneasy. Soon the TCAS warned us of "TRAFFIC! TRAFFIC!" and uneasy became uneasier. "DESCEND! DESCEND!" it nagged. We climbed. It passed below us by only a couple of hundred feet and I immediately felt more relaxed.


Jennifer took us back for a respectable landing at Tullamarine and passed the controls over to me to takeoff. Power up, stabilise, then all the way to takeoff setting as the noise increased and the box shuddered and shook and tilted back to fool my inner ear into thinking we were accelerated, and very convincing the combination was, too. I found myself way behind the aeroplane, hanging on to keep up, rotated and climbed out of Melbourne. The A320 is a dream to fly, the automation keeps everything trimmed nicely and reduces the workload substantially. My reservations about using the side stick rather than yokes were unfounded, the side stick feels completely natural almost immediately, is very sensitive and rewards the lightest of touches. You quickly stop thinking about how to move the stick and start thinking of what you want the aeroplane to do, and it happens. We made some steep turns, trying to turn the jet upside down and just like the stall protection the flight computers refuse to allow the pilot to push the jet beyond certain parameters. No barrel rolls for us. Next time I might ask for the protection to be switched off. Back into Tullamarine for a touchdown which I was actually rather pleased with before going to Queenstown for a circuit in a howling snowstorm. That was our hour up and it felt like five minutes.

The fidelity is simply amazing and while the graphics still aren't much better than Microsoft Flight Sim X, and in many ways not quite as good, what really makes a difference graphically are the tricky displays which are used. You never get the impression that you are looking at a screen a few feet away. Wide angle collimator displays are used which fool the eye into focusing on infinity and thus objects appear much further away, as they do in reality. Coupled with the realistic cockpit noises, in an actual airliner cockpit, which moves in special ways to fool your inner ear, it is as realistic an experience as I have ever had outside of an actual aeroplane.


I said my goodbyes and rolled out of there as quickly as I could, arriving at the airport in time to see my flight pushing back without me on it. Looks like an overnight stay in Melbourne, at an airport hotel which was a dreadful as it sounds. Nothing could dampen my spirits though, I felt like I was a real sky god, for 30 minutes.

Two days later I sat my final ATPL exam and passed, with an average of 82.5%. I'm told that's a respectable average but I was mostly pleased enough to get them all out of the way.


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