In which I fly an Airbus A320 (well, sort of).
Today I flew an Airbus A320. That’s right, not ‘flew in’ but ‘FLEW’.
I was lucky enough to get the chance to fly in the simulators at Ansett Aviation Training where the commercial airlines train their pilots. I am now $470 poorer but wow was it worth it!
This event was organised by DownWind and gave 12 people the chance to fly in these commercial simulators.
When we arrived we were first given a short tour of the training complex. They have a number of different simulators, all on hydraulic lifts which enable them to give a realistic feeling of flight.
All of the simulators are connected to the walkway around the building by ‘gangways’ which lift up when the simulator is in use. Then the simulator has a near full range of movement.
These simulators are built to be EXACT replicas of the commercial aircraft. Everything, every switch etc, is absolutely identical to the aircraft.
This is inside one of the smaller simulators, a Fokker 100. Fokker was a Dutch aircraft company which, to be honest, really should have thought its name out further. I think everyone snickers slightly when they hear Fokker, not just me!
We then had a safety briefing about what to do if there was a fire in our simulator. One example of how realistic these simulators are – they had to tell us that in the event of a fire, we had to use the RED fire extinguishers, the YELLOW ones were just replicas of those in the aircraft!
We were also told how realistic the simulators feel. They told us a story of two pilots who were training. Their instructor gave them an engine failure and when running through the engine failure checklists they accidentally turned off the functioning engine! Panic ensued and they crashed. Apparantly they were so scared that they were physically shaking. It shows how realistic these simulators are really.
When you crash a simulator, the screen turns red. I suppose the blood colour is to remind you how dangerous it is!
They also asked us about our flying experience. Out of 12 people, 3 had no previous flight experience. Out of the rest of us who fly, everybody else except me flew out of Moorabbin! They asked me where I fly from and I was like “uh, Lilydale”. I’m not complaining though, flying out of Moorabbin would drive me crazy, even just getting there would be a total pain.
Then it was out to the simulators! I was flying with my friend Joseph (The Flying Geek) and we were flying in an Airbus A320. I was happy about this because Airbuses use a stick, so I wouldn’t have to deal with getting used to a yoke as well! I claimed the right hand seat so then the stick was in my right hand, the throttle in my left and it was nice and similar to the Jab.
Before we went into the simulator itself, we had another safety briefing (this is aviation for you) about how to get out in case of fire. If the gangway was blocked, we had to throw a ladder (a rope ladder essentially) over the side and climb down – I was desperately hoping that wouldn’t happen, I didn’t like the look of it at all! There was also a thin panel in the door which could be kicked out if we were unable to open the door. Inside, there was a pull tab on the side of the control panel which would stop the motion if our instructor happened to die (he said he wasn’t planning on it, but in the event it happened, we were to pull that tab).
Then we climbed into the control seats of an Airbus A320!
It was just amazing to sit there and think that this is what commercial pilots see. It was an EXACT replica and it was just fantastic.
I got to fly first, with Joseph pushing various buttons and changing various settings as instructed. I have now done my first take off ever, and it was in an A320! I wonder if it will help when I come to start doing them in the Jab….
I did a take off and we flew over Melbourne. Interestingly, the scenery for these simulators actually comes from Google Earth.
To be honest, the A320 doesn’t seem so hard to fly when you know how to use it. The entire system is computerised and the pilot basically just has to keep the dot on the screen with the lines on the screen. These lines show which heading and attitude the plane should be following, which is set by inputting numbers into various instruments on the control panel. Once the number (heading or speed etc) is set, then the button is pushed which hands over control of this setting to the plane which adjusts it’s instruments and indicators accordingly.
To turn an A320, the non-flying pilot first inserts a new heading by turning a certain knob on the instrument panel. The plane then adjusts the indicator on the instruments and the pilot follows that indication. You basically just have to bank until the dot on the screen matches the line on the screen.
The instructor then demonstrated one of the protections that are built into the A320. The plane has a number of ‘protections’ built in which prevent the pilots from doing certain things. One of the protections is that it will not bank beyond a 65 degree angle of bank, it just won’t. I banked the plane to the left and once we got to 65 degrees it would not bank any further, even though I was holding the stick fully to the left.
The A320 also has ‘auto thrust’ which controls the speed for the pilot. Even when landing, the speed is controlled, the pilot doesn’t need to move the throttle at all!
The plane even has Auto-Land (seriously!) although no runways in Australia are certified for auto-landing.
I then did my first ever landing. When on approach, there are markers next to the runway which indicate to the pilot whether he is at the correct altitude or coming in too high or too low. If correct, the markers should be two red and two white on each side. 3 or more red means that the plane is coming in too low, 3 or more white means too high. The plane also controls its speed on landing, meaning the pilot on has to concentrate on their height and keeping to the centreline of the runway, not the throttle as well. When on approach, the plane reads back a series of numbers to the pilot which is their height above the ground – it calculates this by sending a radar ‘ping’ towards the ground and counting how long it takes for that ‘ping’ to bounce off the ground and come back to the aircraft. When this countdown reaches 30 (30 feet above the ground), the pilot has to retard the throttle back to idle and flare. The stick is so sensitive that you barely have to *think* about flaring and that’s sufficient. When it’s time to flare, the plane says ‘Retard’ which amused us rather a lot – the plane telling the pilot they’re retards! I thought there was quite a thump on tounchdown but apparantly my landing was good, so maybe that’s also partly just the sheer weight of the plane. I didn’t go off the runway and I didn’t bounce (or not badly at least) so for my first landing I was pretty happy!
I then did another few landings (which was what I wanted to do most) then my 30 mins was over and it went by so fast!
Joseph then took over and I became the non-flying pilot, in charge of pushing all the various buttons.
During Joseph’s flight we were shown another of the protections built into the aircraft. Airbuses won’t stall. The instructor asked us what we thought a Boeing would do when stalled and we, figuring Boeing would be as smart as Airbus, said ‘it won’t?’. Apparantly Boeing aren’t as smart as Airbus in this case, when a Boeing stalls it falls out of the sky just like any other plane. A320s, on the other hand, just won’t stall. Joseph tried to stall it and even with full backpressure on the stick, the plane just forced its nose down and refused to stall.
Joseph also did a few landings and, in one, nearly went off the edge of the runway. I was sitting there like ‘your passengers are screaming right now!’
Then I got to do a couple more landings. One of them I totally messed up and we aborted that approach before we crashed (so no red screen of death unfortunately). However, I did get the plane to say ‘PULL UP, PULL UP’ like in the movies which was pretty awesome! The second attempt went rather well I think.
Unfortunately our hour was over by that point. It really felt more like 20 minutes or so. We did have time for photos however…
After that we stood around and chatted to the other pilots there (there was free food which was rather nice). There was a few others around my age and a few older guys.
One of the other student pilots asked us if our instructors were aiming for the airlines. Joseph said his was. I said ‘I don’t know, I haven’t asked and I don’t want to know’. Which is true. Whilst I know that J is most likely aiming for the airlines (which is fair enough, he’s only 27) I don’t want to know for sure. I don’t want to fly with him always knowing in the back of my mind that sooner or later he’s going to leave. I like flying with him pretending he’s always going to be there even though I know logically he’s not! So I still have no intention of asking if he’s aiming for the airlines…
We also picked up our freebies at this point (yay, advertising!).
I now know which hat I’m going to wear if I ever need a hat when flying!
We also got to enter this experience in our logbook, although it can’t be counted towards our hours because it isn’t part of a recognised training program. Still, I reckon there aren’t that many student pilots (or other pilots) whose logbook includes an A320!
Overall, this was an amazing experience and $470 well spent. If they ever hold another one, I will definitely sign up for it. We were asked to fill in a survey about the night and my only comment was ‘MAKE IT LONGER!’, I could definitely have spent another hour or so in that simulator.
Now, when I fly commercially in an Airbus, I know that I have a chance of getting it down safely if something happens to the pilots. I feel bad for slightly hoping that will happen one day though…