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Monday, July 25, 2016

Flight4Fantasy Boeing 737 Flight Simulator Experience at Mumbai Airport T2!

I have flown microlight aircrafts a few times (Read: ZenAir Experience, XAir Experience, ZenAir vs X Air Comparison, Microlight flying FAQs) and have played few simulator games long long ago but had never tried being inside a real flight simulator. Last week while in transit through Mumbai airport, I came across this Flight 4 Fantasy counter inside the departure hall. Out of curiosity, I asked for pricing and details and ended up spending 30 minutes on the flight simulator.

Flight 4 Fantasy claims to be India’s first flight simulation company. They have operations in Bengaluru and Mumbai cities (Forum Mall, Koramangala, Bengaluru, Pheonix Market City, Kurla West, Mumbai and inside T2 departure hall, Mumbai airport)

Flight 4 Fantasy flight simulation experience costs Rs 1250 for 15 mins, Rs 1950 for 30 mins. 1 hour and other packages are available at proportionate pricing. They also have a video game on offer and few aviation related merchandise for sale at their counter.

What Flight4Fantasy had in Mumbai airport T2 was a simulator of Boeing 737 NG commercial passenger plane. 737 is a narrow body, single aisle short to medium range commercial aircraft which will usually seat about 200 people. Flight4Fantasy brochure says they also have (simulators of) fighter planes, Cessna etc – may be in other centres.

I opted for a 30 minute session. I was made to sit through an introduction video, in which I was told that 15 and 30 min sessions will not include using overhead panel, this training will not enable one to fly a real plane and we might be kicked out if we don’t comply with instructions given by their staff. Basic intro to various instrument panels was also given during this intro video.

Above: Left side instrument indicates airspeed, altitude, if the plane is level or not etc and the right side screen is for navigation.
Below: Overhead panel with instruments usually used before and after take off

After completing video briefing, I was allowed to enter the simulator. I sat in left side seat while a staff from Flight4Fantasy took the right seat. During next 30 minutes, we took off from virtual Dubai airport, flew next to Burj Khalifa, flew over the Palm Atlantis, Palm Jumeirah and other Dubai landmarks, flew at a low altitude of about 3000 ft and eventually landed back in Dubai. No passport, no Visa! I was shown how to the throttle control works, how to set flap, how to engage reverse thrust, how to set heading, speed, how to turn left, right, move up or down using control column and so on. All these instruments were real and physical-got realistic handling experience. I was told V1 (take off speed or point of no return) is about 180 knots (it is also a function of weight and other factors)- as we reached this speed, I pulled the control column towards me to lift the nose and we were in the air. I pulled up the landing hear, retracted flaps, turned off brakes and did few other settings change as advised. Followed a Dubai highway, worked on the auto pilot console to change heading, altitude, speed etc. I was also told a bit about intercepting certain way points on the landing approach, so that ILS can take over. Upon approaching the runway, reduced speed, lowered landing gear, set brakes, set flaps to certain number, ensured that nose is lifted and touched down. I asked a question “How will I know that remaining runway is not enough to stop the plane and I should take off and try a go around”-  to this the instructor said “Runway length will be known in advance, but deciding to abort landing is done purely based on experience and instinct, there is no system warning/advise to that effect”. Reverse thrust was engaged so that engine power adds to braking effect. Brakes had 3 different levels. We used 2. Depending on runway conditions, load etc the count should be set. If set to a stronger setting (like 3), there will be higher risk of tyre burst, so one should use this with caution.

I wanted to check what happens if I retract landing gear while aircraft is on the ground- will it fall on ground with a big thud on its belly or is there a system to prevent this accidental change… Resisted my temptation.

I asked about TCAS, the staff quoted DHL cargo plane (611) incident in which pilot did opposite of what TCAS was suggesting and both planes ended up colliding mid air. (TCAS is Tactical Collision Aversion System that detects if two planes are on a collision course and recommends corrective action)

I made a GoPro video of the 30 min flying using head mount- but since it was a dark room, quality is not that good. Will try to edit out some interesting bits and publish a video on my youtube channel soon.

Some points to be noted from Flight4Fantasy flight simulator experience:
  1. Our seats were stationary. Only the screen in-front of us was tilting and rotating to give us a flying experience. In real simulators, people site inside a cabin mounted on a set of hydraulic actuators, which tilt, shake and rotate the entire simulator to create real effect of flying. With only screen in-front of you moving, that fun was missing.
  2. I was told one can chose from a list of world airports, but there are no option to simulate any particular problem scenarios. You will only experience a standard take off, short flight and landing.
  3. If one can book for 4 hours or more (that will be about 10k) and inform them in advance, Flight4Fantasy team will be able to configure customized scenarios as per your choice and let you experience it.
Flight simulators are the closest one ordinary people can get to flying an actual plane, at reasonable cost. They give you basic idea of various controls in the flight deck and a decent experience of how things work in the cockpit. Experience this and watch few National Geographic Air Crash investigation videos and you will be able to appreciate the effort pilots put in to take you safely to your destination. Despite occasional accidents, air travel is still one of the safest modes of transport, thanks to deployment of best of technologies, stringent process and regulatory guidelines and efforts of well-trained flight crew.

While the flight simulator gave me a good idea of how to take off, navigate and land, It didn’t cover the following
  • How to program the computer about your destination and flight plan
  • How to identify and select a particular runway in an airport (or divert to an alternate airport)
  • How to communicate with ATC/other airplanes or ground crew (most important- how to make May Day call!)
  • How to start and shut down the engines
  • How to use foot pedals (rudder controls)
  • How to apply corrections for tricky situations- wet runway, strong winds, damaged/no- functioning equipment etc
  • How to handle emergency situations
  • How to use ailerons
  • How to taxi on runway (how to read runway markings, make turns, Dos and Don’ts in an airport (Like how to avoid SQ6 incident)
  • How exactly is the emergency checklist booklet is organized? (how to quickly identify checklist for any scenario)
  • What are the pre-flight checks to be done (fuel, controls, other systems etc)
A longer, 1 hour session will cover overhead panel controls (engine start, shut down etc) and communication equipment usage.

I would have loved it if I had free hand at the simulator- like how I can rent a car on self-drive and go wherever I want, I should be allowed to choose any scenario and simulate it- like
  1. Reach 40000 ft and shut off both engines, see how long aircraft can float before crashing (Check youtube air crash videos-flying on empty)
  2. If there is cabin depressurization at 36000 ft, how fast I can descend to 10000 ft? (how many seconds it will take?)
  3. How to land manually if ILS has failed?
  4. Bird Hit scenario (and crash land on river?)
  5. What extra complications arise when only one engine is operational?
  6. How does it feel to get a stick shake alert? (Ultimate warning that aircraft is about to stall)
  7. How to dump fuel if I had to make an emergency landing soon after take off?
Decades ago, there were no cameras or rear view mirror and pilots cannot see details of physical damage if any-particularly if the area is not visible from window- such as rudders, cargo doors etc. Today passengers can see live view of an aircraft from several angles- I am guessing pilots also will have a few camera feeds inside the cockpit so that they can see how are things around the aircraft. If true, not sure if simulator had those.

Above: Note that all controls come in dual sets, so that either the pilot or co-pilot can operate them.
Below: The full view of flight simulator, with virtual runway shown on screen.

After the session on the simulator, I got a certificate for my flight. They did allow me to make videos during the flight (GoPro) or take photos after the session. Many adventure agencies charge extra for photos/videos supplied by themselves and discourage customers taking their own videos/photos. That way, Flight4Fantasy staff have been very flexible and cooperative. In fact the first photo you see above- was clicked 4 days later, during my return journey to Chennai, as I forgot to get clicked after the actual session.

A bit expensive to try but was worth it. Crew were able to answer my questions satisfactorily. Will probably try the Flight4Fantasy counter again next time when I visit Bengaluru.

2 comments :

Nisha said...

That must have been a wonderful experience! Next time I'll also try.

It's pity that in spite of living in Mumbai, I had no idea of it being at the airport.

I must keep my eyes open. :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

@Nisha- Do try.

It is in city also, not just airport...