Having flown more than 800 times, I have only had the pleasure of sitting in the cockpit of a jetliner, a few times. In these cases, it was pre 9-11, and as you can appreciate, security has dictated no more visits with the pilot.
You can imagine how thrilled I was last weekend, when an opportunity to spend time in an Air Canada simulator arose. At last, not only do I get to peek into the cockpit, but also I was also able to sit in the Captain’s chair and fly an airbus A220.
Air Canada has 33 of these jets, each with a range of about 6000 km. They are used to fly up to 137 passengers, to the Caribbean and throughout North America. Sitting behind the joystick (they no longer have steering wheels), was quite a treat.
I arrived, and Captain Scott gave a short briefing before I took my seat. I was amazed at the reality of the graphics. The runway, the airport and even the marshalling, or ground-handling people, were very lifelike.
Scott pushed, flipped and toggled a number of controls, and we were ready to take off. I taxied to the runway, gave it some gas and the 39m (127 ft.) machine began to move. The feeling was extremely lifelike. In fact, it was so real, I felt as if I was being pushed back in my seat, as I pulled on the joystick. We had lift off.
Scott directed me when to retract the flaps and the wheels, and the sound and vibration was just as it was in a real plane. I was in the air and everywhere I looked, I could see familiar features: the CN Tower, the Don Valley Parkway and even Lake Scugog and Port Perry. I slowly banked the plane back toward the airport, and let the autopilot do its thing.
The aircraft is totally automatic and is capable of landing on its own. I saw the runway at Pearson in the distance. We tweaked a few buttons and were on track for a smooth landing. Scott flipped a few switches and suddenly we were flying at night. The city of Toronto was lit up, just as I have seen it many times from the air.
We began our approach and disengaged the automatic pilot. This would give me an opportunity to land the plane myself. A screeching sound acknowledged the autopilot was off, and I firmly gripped the joystick. As we descended and hovered above the runway, I gently pulled back and felt the aircraft’s wheels touch the tarmac. There are two foot pedals, which act as steering and brake controls, when on the ground. It was not the straightest landing, but I managed to stop before we hit the grass, and there were no complaints from any of the passengers (even if they were fictitious).
Thankfully, we did not get into any engine failures, tailspins or stunt flying, as the reality of the flight would not have sat well with my stomach. The experience was simply amazing and a big thanks to Captain Scott McLean, and Air Canada for the opportunity.
Jonathan van Bilsen is a television host, award winning photographer, published author, columnist and keynote speaker. Watch his show, ‘Jonathan van Bilsen’s photosNtravel’, on RogersTV, the Standard Website or YouTube.