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!
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.