Piloting a $500 million Airbus A380 is a task normally reserved for a select and highly-trained few – but at the Dubai Mall, everyday people can try their hand at flying the world’s largest passenger aircraft in the Emirates A380 flight simulator.
If you’ve never flown an aircraft before, fear not: the entire experience is seemingly designed around keeping things simple for beginners.
For example, many of the more advanced controls such as cabin pressure, fuel cross-feed, engine fire extinguishing and even the altitude dial are merely ‘painted on’, leaving only the basics like thrust levers, foot pedals/breaks and the landing gear selector for newcomers to play with.
While it’s a setback for more experienced aviators, it means there are fewer switches and settings for your Average Joe to worry about or to accidentally bump, leaving more time to have fun and actually fly the plane – which we imagine is what most people are there to do.
Skipping the usual computer-like A380 keyboard, your journey actually begins by tapping a city on a nearby tablet, with the most popular destinations kept at the ready:
That’s the airport you’ll be departing from: again to keep things simple, London defaults to Heathrow and New York to JFK – although you can ask your instructor to depart from any major airport in the world, including London Gatwick and even the old Kai Tak Airport in Hong Kong.
We chose runway 34L in Sydney, and after a smooth take-off, brought the aircraft back around to land in calm weather.
The view you get from the simulator cockpit is as close to reality as a computer can generate on the fly, and while that’s not an exact match, it’s the next-best thing.
The Emirates A380 simulator: more advanced flying
Having previously taken the Qantas Boeing 747 simulator for a spin and now with a feel for the A380, I decided to see how the ‘simplified’ simulator could cater for more advanced requests.
I asked to land at London Heathrow amidst a thunderstorm and heavy rain, and to rehearse a ‘stall warning recovery’ along the way – that’s the alert you hear when the aircraft is flying at an unsafe angle and speed.
Sure enough, the instructor could configure everything to the last detail via the iPad, including which runway to use and where to exit…
… through to the weather and visibility we’d experience along the way:
After putting the aircraft into a near-stall by dialling back the engines and pitching the nose upwards, the aircraft’s computers clued-in to what was happening and produced both an audio and visual warning over foggy London town...
… which we overcame by pushing the engines to max thrust and pitching the nose down slightly to generate ‘lift’, which is what keeps the plane in the sky.
Continuing onwards to Heathrow, we experienced some last-minute winds that made the aircraft difficult to land, although we were able to get all of the wheels on the ground before winding up in the grass – but at least everybody aboard our virtual flight still lived to tell the tale!
Absent from the experience is that true ‘full-motion’ feel – where the simulator uses hydraulics to physically tilt forwards, backwards and from side to side to mimic what you’d get on a real aircraft – instead remaining in a stationary position throughout the flight.
Aviation enthusiasts can book their own 30-minute sessions on the A380 for 450AED (A$161) via the Emirates website, but if you’re willing to go early in the morning or after 10:45pm, the same costs just 250AED (A$89) on weekdays.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Dubai as a guest of Emirates.
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