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In the pre-dawn darkness on Monday, 13th August, Captain John Pauwels picked up Wen Seng Chen and drove to Christchurch Airport.
Air New Zealand had extended an invitation for Wen Seng to attend a training session in the B777 Flight simulator in Auckland.
After breakfast in the Koru Club and a full flight to Auckland, the walk to the engineering base was a breath of fresh air before disappearing behind the high security doors of the Air New Zealand Flight Training Centre.
Wen Seng and John were met by Paul Barclay, Flight Instructor, and taken to a pre simulator briefing room. Here, Wen Seng was given a brief lesson on the important flight screens he would need to be studying whilst flying the aircraft simulator.
The simulator is called a ‘Zero Flight Time’ simulator, meaning that pilots training to fly the B777 complete all their training on this machinery and their first flight in a real B777 has paying passengers on board!
Once Paul was satisfied that Wen Seng had understood the technology, the trio moved through more security doors to the $27 million dollar flight simulator.
The machine sits upon several hydraulically controlled legs which move the capsule in response to flight control use within the simulator, giving a sensation of motion through all dimensions and angles of flight. The sensation of lift off, speed and landing are pronounced and are accompanied by realistic engine noises. Consideration is even given to replicating the sensation of bumping over the runway centre line cats eyes. The graphics through all windows are realistic and even show vehicles moving around the airport and on highways throughout the cities flown over.
John and Paul quickly got Wen Seng seated in the First Officer’s right hand seat. There is a lot to make sure is right, such as distance to the foot pedals, elbows resting on the armrests for precise control column movements and making sure Wen Seng could see all he needed to see both inside and outside the aircraft.
All flight movements were on and around Los Angeles International Airport. After a final reminder by the Flight Instructor, Wen Seng found himself in control of a B777, accelerating down the runway, taking off and turning out to cruise at about 6000 ft above Los Angeles. As in any normal flight, he was ably assisted by the Captain, John Pauwels, who had control of the engine thrust levers and landing gear.
After some brief inflight lessons on how to land the enormous aircraft, Wen Seng had control as the aircraft descended back towards the airfield and with verbal support from the Flight Instructor, Wen Seng was able to land the behemoth with the finesses of a pilot who has thousands of hours of flight experience. He repeated this feat a further 3 times, with each landing better than the previous.
Two hours had passed by rapidly and the simulator session drew to an end. In the post briefing room, the Instructor remarked than Wen Seng had remarkable control of the aircraft, considering he hadn’t flown previously. He added, as a pilot recruiter, had Wen Seng already held the necessary qualifications, he would have offered him a job.
Asked afterwards, what he thought of the experience, Wen Seng replied “Learning basic instructions within the simulation like landing the B777 and learning about the connections that pilots have between each other made my excitement for the future go higher than it was before. This left me wanting to learn more to improve so that one day I could fly as a commercial pilot and live that experience that not many people could experience first hand.” Additionally, he thanked John, Paul and Air New Zealand for facilitating his unique experience.
By Jo Fitzgerald