A Chinese-UK couple, who met in university, have succeeded in their dream of building a Boeing 737 flight simulator here in Nanjing. Now they just have to sell it to the Chinese airlines. At least it’s cheap, sort of.
For half a lifetime, this correspondent, a massive aviation buff, has, he now realises, been labouring under the misapprehension that the bigger the plane, the easier it is to fly. The theory therefore goes, given its size, a Jumbo Jet should, with little interference from the pilot, just kind of sit its large posterior down on the end of the runway.
At least in the case of a Boeing 737, admittedly a whole lot smaller than a jumbo, as this correspondent found out when he was lucky enough to be offered the chance, thanks to Doctors Xu Shuqing and Robert Armstrong, founders of AXAviation. Say hello to Nanjing’s first flight simulator manufacturer.
This open-to-the-public and once-in-a-lifetime experience is made all the more special, nay China-style bizarre, for the simulator being located in a shopping mall, the fifth floor of Century 21 Sunny Plaza to be precise, near Jiangning’s Baijia Lake.
Many readers may at this point be shaking their heads and wondering at the origins of this decidedly odd situation. “My father and I had been making model planes all the time. I never wanted to be a pilot. I felt that was something unobtainable. So instead I went into aerospace engineering at university. And followed that with a PHD in simulation”, Armstrong told The Nanjinger.
Turns out he was in the right place at the right time; Liverpool University being blessed with its own six-axis simulator. It was also there that he met fellow student and future parter in crime and marriage.
So it was to come to be that he tagged along upon her return to China, and the two of them had the brainchild for the simulator startup. Their demonstration 737 has been 2 years in the making, with the thousands of parts coming from a wide variety of sources. It may be down to Armstrong’s modesty, but listening to him explain that some have come from actual 737s, others from industry suppliers, and others made to order by he himself, that which comes to mind is something more akin to a child’s go kart, or the model planes he built as a youngster.
Quite an achievement then, to look at the simulator and be hard pressed to tell the difference between it and the real thing; in fact, Armstrong figures as much as 80 percent of the real thing. While he has been busy looking after the software, Xu designs the hardware and handles the business side of things.
“Originally we thought the machine would sell itself, because the demand is for the training and in this field, everybody knows, we have a very big talent shortage… But it’s not that easy, as we found out. There is still some competition here and there”, she said.
To the best of their knowledge, Xu and Armstrong reckon there may be five or six flight simulator manufacturers in all of China, and all of them are “low level”, on account that the country simply does not have the experience in the field.
By way of a disclaimer, technically speaking, AXAviation’s 737 is a Flight Training Device, not a Full Flight Simulator (FFS), the latter being the spider-like ones that simulate the physical motion of the aircraft. On the other hand, the company also manufacturers FFSs of smaller aircraft, such as the Cessna 172.
The size of the light aircraft impersonator also makes it transportable. This month sees the biannual Zhuhai Air Show, and AXAviation will be taking their Cessna simulator along, to hopefully stir up more interest in what is a very niche market. Their competitive price tag should be a major incentive; pop down and order a 737 FTD today, for only ¥3 million.
Back in the beast itself, trained pilot Long Hao joined this correspondent in the right hand seat, to offer as much assistance as necessary, and to look after all those pesky never-ending check lists that must surely be the bane of every pilot’s existence.
For those interested in getting their hands on the controls of a 737, experience flights range in price from ¥1,200 to ¥3,000 and 30 to 90 minutes in duration. The two doctors have also been kind enough to offer readers of The Nanjinger a number of discount vouchers, available now, on a first-come, first-served basis (by email to [email protected]).
Such would make for an incredible birthday gift. After all, the little brochure for the simulator states, quite correctly, “It will change the way you fly as a passenger forever”. It also makes a huge difference to that weekend trip to the mall.