Flight simulator saves the day

The Spitfire simulator at Boultbee Flight Academy is constructed with a real Spitfire MKIX fuselage.
The Spitfire simulator at Boultbee Flight Academy is constructed with a real Spitfire MKIX fuselage.

Predictably, the unpredictable English weather ruined what was to have been a highlight of my trip to Boultbee Flight Academy in Goodwood, West Sussex, last week: a joyride in a Spitfire, the most iconic of British warplanes.

What should have been a sunny day turned out soggy instead, with strong winds, grey skies and bouts of rain. Plans for scores of journalists to experience what it is like to fly in a Spitfire - which the founders of Boultbee will use to boldly circumnavigate the globe next year - were nixed.

Fortunately, all was not lost. The flight academy - the only one in the world to provide Spitfire lessons for pilots and flight experiences for enthusiasts - also has the world's only Spitfire simulator that can be used for training Spitfire pilots.

It is constructed with a real Spitfire MKIX fuselage, with original gauges, switches and other aviation control instruments, albeit fitted with modern electronics.

Mounted with a fibreglass dome with a 15m radius and a horizontal field view of 225 degrees, you look out to a photo-realistic world made possible by seven projectors and hear the Rolls Royce Merlin through the headset you wear in the cockpit.

What makes the experience even more realistic are the motion and force feedback systems which make you feel vibrations, turbulence and bumps through the airframe. And as you accelerate, the controls get stiffer.

Although it is only a simulator, I actually felt trepidation when I stood on the seat to ease myself into the cockpit.

Fortunately, a reassuring simulator instructor was on hand to guide me through the process, through the headset, like an air traffic controller.

Wong Kim Hoh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'Flight simulator saves the day'. Print Edition | Subscribe