“I tried out the new flight simulator at Luton airport, and here’s how it went”

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It’s not everyday you get to do a barrel roll in a commercial jet over Lake Geneva

While flying a plane might feature on quite a few bucket lists, the dangers and cost involved mean it’s out of reach for many. The next best thing is having a go at using all the real equipment, just in a risk-free environment.

Our reporter was invited to try out Luton airport’s newest attraction, the Voyager Flight Simulation.

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Last weekend, My friend, Jonny, and I met with Howard Atkins, one of the founders, at the Luton Airport DART station, before taking a 15-minute walk to Voyager House. It was hard to miss Howard, who looked very professional with his epaulettes.

Jonny and I during our flight simulation. Picture: Olivia PrestonJonny and I during our flight simulation. Picture: Olivia Preston
Jonny and I during our flight simulation. Picture: Olivia Preston

Howard and his business partner and co-founder, Paul Lang, have spent the past two years meticulously designing and refining the flight simulator experience, spending £200,000 on the technology, equipment and real plane part to kit out the former office space.

When you first walk in, you’re greeted by comfy seats, chocolates, soft drinks and aircraft memorabilia. I noticed Judge Rob Rinder’s picture on the wall after he had a similar experience earlier this year, after its soft launch.

You can choose to fly a helicopter, which I sat in and couldn’t believe how tiny it was, or a commercial jet. I wanted to pretend I was a real pilot, so jumped at the opportunity to fly a plane.

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Howard told us about the different places we could go and routes we could take. It took some thinking to narrow down our options, as whittling down a few destinations from 24,000 possible airports proved tough.

Initially, we had thought about New Zealand, but since you have to fly in real-time, we decided a nice leisurely trip around Geneva would be a good start. The simulator can speed up flights by four times, but you still have to pick somewhere you can fly around within your time slot.

Pulling back the curtain, you walk through three rows of real Qatar Airways seats, and overhead lockers from Air Portugal, and are transported into the cockpit of what feels like a real plane. There was a great deal of attention to detail, from the flight information cards to the exit signs, and lap trays.

There was plenty of space for family and friends to enjoy the experience, with the simulation allowing guests for parties and corporate events.

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Howard said for those people who have a fear of planes, just walking into this section can be daunting. But he hopes that the experience will help to demystify flying for those fearful of being in the skies. I am not a particularly worried flyer, but now I feel more confident about being in the skies.

With a few clicks on the computer system, Howard got me ready to take a trip around the Swiss city. All of the many, many buttons and controls around me were exactly as they would be in a British Airways or RyanAir plane.

I had felt slightly apprehensive about remembering what they meant, but Howard assured me that I wouldn’t need most of them. For now, all I needed to do was listen to my instructor, while I, Captain Olivia, got ready for my first flight.

Howard talked me through the controls and guided me through each step of take-off. Despite the simulator being stationary, the rumble and the sound of the engine, paired with the seamless 220-degree 4K screens displaying views of the runway and mountains in the distance, it was easy to forget that this wasn’t real.

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To say it was immersive is an understatement, at one point I felt a little queasy as I took a right turn, thousands of feet in the (virtual) sky. My head couldn’t quite get that the simulator wasn’t moving, because the screens and controls were so seamless.

The beeps and whirs and buzzing made me feel like I was in control of the plane. Beforehand, I was worried I would get panicked by the robotic voice telling me I’d flown too high, but I found myself feeling rather calm, similar to when I first started to drive: focusing on my instructor's voice.

It’s not every day you do a barrel roll in a jet over Lake Geneva at dawn. I couldn’t do that if I had passengers onboard. Their drinks would have been all over the place if I had. I pulled the plane to the right and kept on going around.

Expectedly, I did fly too high and had to push down on the controls to get the plane to a better height. I was surprised to learn that so little of a flight is actually manually flown by the pilot, by switching on the auto-pilot and typing in the coordinates, the plane just flew itself.

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This made me feel more at ease for the next time I am in the air, knowing that the computer is taking care of the flight, and the crew are there to oversee it all.

All I had to do was turn a few dials, under Howard’s instruction, and aim the box (the plane) to the centre of a cross, on a screen. Here I was moving the plane to the right course to fly back around and land in Geneva Airport again.

It was surprisingly difficult to crash. That was one of my first questions to Howard, who politely requested that I didn’t try to or he would have to reset the ProSim programme.

I landed the plane, and got out of the sheepskin-covered seat, with hands all sweaty from focusing on the descent. Again, I don’t think my body realised that it wasn’t real.

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The experience was fully customisable - making it as easy or hard as you’d prefer. The professional pilots who come for a jolly can try out some difficult crosswinds or stormy weather. Being the lovely friend I am, I decided Jonny should try out the rainy conditions to see how he fared.

He said: “I was surprised by how realistic the experience felt, I found myself gripping onto the steering controls as if we were in the air!”

Apparently, gamers do very well, and Jonny did well to fly out of Luton airport, go around London and back to the terminal despite the strong winds. It was quite relaxing watching us travel over the capital, taking in the iconic landmarks on the way.

When we arrived back in the town, I noticed that the airport simulation even had a crane lifting debris from the burnt car park. It was entertaining watching the little shuttle buses, planes taxiing and lights as he approached the runway.

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Testing him even more, I got Jonny to land at the notorious Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong, which had been dubbed 'world's trickiest landing’. He had a little wobble but got there in the end.

Jonny explained: “Howard made me feel relaxed and comfortable, even when the cockpit warning sounds rang while I tackled that tricky landing in Hong Kong.”

Howard said we could have had a go at the ‘Sully’ landing, when US Airways flight 1549 emergency landed in the Hudson River in 2009. I decided against this as we had both done well not to crash.

The experience was unforgettable, and many people on my social media thought I had flown a real Boeing after I shared some videos. Jonny added: “It was great to ‘peak behind the curtain’ of the cockpit and learn what the many buttons, knobs and levers are used for.”

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The simulator is open to children aged 12 and above, due to height requirements, and can be booked for corporate days out, birthdays, anniversaries and ‘once in a lifetime’ gifts. Howard said: “It’s an experience rather than a thing, you’ll never forget coming here.”

Now, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I could land a plane, but if there was nobody on my flight with flying experience, I might have a go. Taking no responsibility for those onboard, I should add.

You can book your own experience through their website or call Howard and Paul directly on 01582 858737.

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