PILOT FOR A DAY
THE EXPERIENCE OF A LIFETIME
What does a wife of twenty years give her husband, whose online shopping always seems to result in another few megabytes of something mysterious appearing in the Microsoft Flight Simulator folder? A plain envelope, of course, containing a gift certificate faxed from the United Airlines Flight Center in Denver, redeemable for a half-day training session, including two hours in the 747-400 full-motion simulator. I recall that we had a fine anniversary dinner, but naturally the conversation was dominated by speculation on what I might ask to see in the sim- clear skies and calm winds,or fog, rain and gusty crosswinds? Toss in an engine failure to add a challenge to the exercise, but with three more good engines, why bother with such a minor nuisance?
DISCLAIMER & UPDATE
The experience that I had in the Pilot for a Day program reflects my own interests and abilities and not the formal training that UAL provides to its own pilots and those of other carriers who train at the Denver Flight Center.
After 9/11, Pilot for a Day was discontinued. Read on if you’d like to know what it was like when you could, for a price, play with the big boys’ toys.
Our visit to the UAL Flight Center began with a decision: should we drive for a few seconds to the visitor's parking area that we'd reconnoitered the day before, or should we follow the well-trodden paths across the grass and through Martin Luther King Boulevard traffic, as thousands before us had done? We chose to walk. Wearrived about five minutes early, and our instructor arrived three minutes later,just as you’d expect from an ex-military pilot and now civilian simulator instructor.
For PC aviators, the one hour pre-flight walkaround among the sims was like strolling through a garage full of Porsches, Ferraris and Jaguars, some state of the art, others favorite classics.The 777, 747-400 and A-320 sims are the shiny new hardware in the new wing of the flight center. The737-200, 727, DC-10, and most venerable of all, the DC-8, are in the old building.
As we passed the main reception area on our way back to the briefing room, I noticed the largest fleet of flight bags that I have ever seen assembled at one time. It occurred to me much later that all of these bags were clearly not with their owners, who presumably were busy elsewhere doing something that didn't require them to consult the contents of their brain bags.
The pilot flying (me), the pilot not flying (my wife), and our instructor sat for half an hour in a small room containing just the three of us and a set of smaller than life size color cardboard panel mockups. Here was the first of a number of moments when all of those hours with FS seemed to be paying off. There were no surprises on the primary flight display or navigation display, apart from minor differences in data placement. The sim itself would offer a wealth of detail not captured on cardboard nor in FS, but the view from the captain's seat was not intimidating. Suffice it to say that I was well rewarded for doing my homework during thousands of hours at the PC.