How to fly a 737

Well… almost.

Among the perks of frequent flying, an unfortunate last position can be easily claimed by the “missing the connecting flight” events. Especially with short connections and late departures for the first flight of the journey. Then you get to talk to the [most of the time] nice and professional people from the Service Desks (I’ve seen some not so nice, luckily I did not have to deal with them) where you can even get a laugh, since they are just the ones trying to help you, without being in control of what’s happening elsewhere. Which is what happened to me today.

As if the day was not fun enough in the beginning (I got an SMS that my flight has been canceled, to find out later – upon calling the Customer Service hotline of Austrian Airlines – that there’s no crew for that flight… For crying out loud, people, I can fly your planes, just let me try! :D) I got the unwanted bonus of a delayed departure of my re-routed journey. Of course, if everything went smooth I could have caught the connection… but then you wouldn’t be reading this post.

So, what could someone do for almost FIVE hours in an airport? Airports are known to be far and out of the cities, so by the time you get to the ciry you should be back at the airport. No lounge access either, for various reasons (like flying Economy + no frequent flyer benefits for that airline). Munich is a decent airport, but not necessarily spectacular… Wait a minute, a while ago I heard about iPILOT and that they do have a 737 sim in Munich… HOLY F**K!

B737 Cockpit
B737 Cockpit

 

B737 Cockpit, photo by Firas Nashed / Shutterstock

The only downside is that the sim is located in the Arrivals area, so you have to go through the passport control (and then again when you get to the Departures area, plus one more Security check). To hell with it, we’re talking about a FLIGHT SIM where you’re accompanied by a REAL PILOT. Ok, not the uber professional sims used to train and test the pilots (one such sim is a few million bucks/EURs) but the flight deck is fully operational and the controls are… complete. Mkay, features – checked, muniez – hmmm, not much, but checked too. Aaaand aside from what you can find on the site, there’s an “on the spot” 10 minutes fly for 25 €. Not cheap, mind you – you can get 15 minutes of real flying in an ultra light plane in Romania, only you do NOT fly it – but the combination of 737 fully functional flight deck + fully realistic flying experience together with an airline licensed (or soon to be licensed) pilot is worth it.

Obviously they did not put me in the seat without a short debrief from my side about my piloting skills. I can’t brag a lot about it, but I have logged about 50-60 hours (overall) on Microsoft’s late Flight Simulator 2002 (rest in piece, it was an AWESOME sim!) and I’ve also done my share of self study about commercial aviation – procedures, maps, navigation, airport markings and so on. Flying model aircraft also helps a great deal since you MUST learn a lot about aircraft: aerodynamics, balance (center of mass / center of pressure), mechanics, geometry and so on. So, deciding that I’m not a total n00b, the ‘captain’ decides to seat me on board and explain that we’ll do two procedures: a departure and a landing. Please keep in mind that none of these is trivial, even if from the passenger’s seat it’s just taxiing to the runway, aligning on its center axis then throttle up and GO. The same goes for the landing, even if – for the less crowded airports where you do not wait for 20-30 min in the hold pattern – you descend smoothly and, maybe after a few turns, you feel the wheels touch the tarmac. Or slam into it, as some pilot on KLM did a while ago… (That was a bit scary even for me!)

So, departure. Got a very nice explanation about the VORs and DMEs used for the departing route (each airport has a DEPARTURE map and an APPROACH map, with the paths clearly marked and described; maps are commercially available from various vendors), then, after a brief checklist was completed I proceeded from the apex of the departing runway all the way to the long ascending path towards the main direction. I managed to keep the plane on the runway and even to keep it reasonably within the required parameters (speed / altitude / bank – all of them are mandatory during the departure and approach phases). All on manual, they did NOT let me use the autopilot (“I want to see how YOU do it, not how the computer does it because THAT I know!” :D).

Apparently happy with my performance, he then set me 15 nm from the runway, with a bit of crosswind (a few knots, but enough to feel it and to require a bit of rudder…) and, after all pre-landing checks performed, to the runway we go. This time not from the ground but from the air. Few people have an idea about how SMALL that runway is, even at a close range of 15 nm (1 nm = 1 nautical mile = 1 meridian minute of arc = 1852 meters for those unfamiliar with planes or ships) and how difficult it is to find and keep the glideslope. The glideslope is an electronic signal transmitted by the associated ILS which the plane has to follow in order to ensure that the runway is reached at optimum parameters (angle of descent, distance from the apex and so on). To my credit, even if a bit rusty – it’s more than 8 years since I flew a realistic flight sim – I managed to intercept the glideslope by the book (from below 😉 ) and to keep it quite well despite the crosswind. Even if I did flare a bit too much, being unused to the perspective, I put the plane down safely and managed to pull to a complete stop also by the book. This attracted the commendation of the observer (not sure whether he was the supervising pilot or not).

All in all, I strongly recommend the experience if you have the chance to pass through one of the airports where flyipilot has a sim. Too bad, unfortunately, that their German website is only in German – but you can check their UK site too or, if you trave through Prague, the Czech site.

Now I will have to wait until the next chance to pay them a visit… which chance must include a longer stop at one of the airports where you can find them. Until then, Danke schoen iPilot! And in the mean time, for those who would like to spare the wait, you can also purchase a sim from them. (Not sure how long this offer will last, mind you…)

UPDATE (30 Nov. 2015): it is with great sadness that I must inform my readers that the sim is no longer in the Munich airport, Terminal 2. It has been moved somewhere in the city center. I do not know the exact address at this time but I will try to get it.

Ave

When he's not flying his RC air models, he's more likely next to a computer - but you can sometimes find him at an airsoft game, as much as weather allows. For both outdoor activities...

44 thoughts on “How to fly a 737

    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:29
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      Experience it is, even more so after you used just a computer with a single display (starting about 20 years ago). 🙂

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:30
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      To be absolutely hones, flying is kind of boring; the only interesting part of a plane in flight is that small space in the front… with doors nowadays instead of curtains thanks to a certain character in the not-so-far-in-the-past history… 🙂

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:33
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      After a while you get used to it. Not sure whether I should be proud of that or not, but yes, if you get to one of the major German airports or Dubai or Heathrow you could give it a try. Anyway, I strongly recommend that you do a bit [more] of studying beforehand, so you don’t go there like “ok, this is the brake, this is the gas, this is the steering, it’s ok, let’s fly”. ‘Cause it definitely ain’t so! 😀

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:35
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      Maybe flying some plane sim beforehand could alleviate the fear a bit? Ah BTW, they also have a “produc” to work on passenger’s ‘fear of flight’. Anyway, flying is not a natural state for us humans, so I can fully understand those afraid to do it. (Heck, I have a colleague in Germany who will NOT fly under any circumstances…)

      Reply
  • 20 September, 2015 at 03:12
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    Always wanted to get the chance to fly a plane. I think its great that you managed to cross that off your bucket list. SO COOL!

    Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:35
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      Almost. I only flew a simulator. There’s still room for the real one… 😉

      Reply
  • 20 September, 2015 at 07:49
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    It’s awesome that you had a hand at “flying” a 737… a good way to experience what it feels like to be behind the wheel without any dire consequences.
    Danessa Foo´s last blog post ..bSoul Bath Set

    Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:37
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      Indeed so. Too bad they don’t have one of the BIG, professional machines… but I guess that would have been some 10x more expensive.

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    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:56
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      Worth trying, if you’re a flying afficionado.

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:39
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      So I was flying an almost realistic simulator (no movement, however) of a 737. But the physics and the reaction of the “environment” are quite accurate…

      Reply
  • 20 September, 2015 at 19:46
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    this is so interesting! ive haven’t seen what a cockpit looked like before

    Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:40
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      Pictures are cool, but the real thing is waaaaaay cooler… 🙂

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:40
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      I’m sure they are not the only ones throughout the world to have such features. But if you come to one of the airports where they have such sims, you could give it a try.

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:55
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      From a certain standpoint, flying is boring. But it can be challenging at times as well.
      I’m not sure how much the entire setup costs, though; on their UK website they are selling a heli build for 49 thousand pounds. Next time I’ll ask the guys!

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:43
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      Panicking? No, not really. But there’s a lot to do in there during a flight, and even keeping track of all communication to the ground can be exhausting. This is quite easy for short- and medium-courier flights, but the long ones – especially over ground or crowded airspaces – can be challenging.

      Reply
  • 21 September, 2015 at 06:53
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    Wow ! My goodness for me this will be like one in a lifetime if i could get to experience it. YOu must have had a brilliant time.

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    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:43
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      Brilliant yes. Unfortunately not ling enough, I have to repeat it as soon as possible…

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:45
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      Make sure you get to Terminal 2 – ARRIVALS in Munich. If you plan to stop there on departure, be careful because the security check queues take a bit of time (10-20 min depending on the daytime).

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:46
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      Bribe a pilot – wait, there’s two of them. I think the sim is much cheaper… 😀

      Reply
  • 21 September, 2015 at 15:20
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    I have a pilot friend who happens to be flying a Phil. LA route . He once told me if I do like to try to be his co-pilot. I told him, Why not?

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    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:47
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      If you can handle the stuff, I don’t see why not either. Just be aware that you’ll be in charge of the lives of all people on board that machine.

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:47
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      For me it was 99,9% fun, the education took place before this.

      Reply
  • 21 September, 2015 at 18:17
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    This is a bit technical for me but i enjoyed reading it too. Being a pilot is not an easy job. It comes with huge responsibility to ensure the passangers reached their destination safely. I like to travel but don’t like to be on flight for long hours.
    Sunshine Kelly´s last blog post ..Free Thomas Sabo Karma Beads Bracelet

    Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:54
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      Luckily for me flying around Europe is no longer than 4 hours, which is bearable. Farther destinations (southern Africa, Americas, Asia) are significantly more demanding, it’s true.

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    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:52
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      Don’t delay. Go for your wishes and goals, or you may find out that it’s too late… 🙁 I wish I found this a few years ago… but even now it’s ok, I’ll still have many chances to stop by in the future.

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:51
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      It is assumed that you know what the controls are doing, and if you don’t know you can always read the label. And the most important one, if you don’t know then you don’t touch! (Of course, nobody will let you anywhere near a real one if you don’t know or understand ALL the controls… :D)

      Reply
    • 22 September, 2015 at 17:49
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      Yes, I think you can. However, a minimal knowledge about flight physics is a recommended prerequisite, in my opinion, so you don’t go there like a monkey and start working the buttons, switches and dials. 🙂

      Reply
  • 23 September, 2015 at 16:41
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    Wow. I might put this on my bucket list. I’m sure it takes a lot of training and experience to know this.

    Reply

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