We’ve all experienced takeoffs and landings from your (ever-shrinking) seat, gazing out the side window, but what does it look like to see out the front windscreen? The people who know have either three or four stripes on their uniform and years of intense pilot training and licenses to allow them to sit in the only two seats that can experience this.
I was invited to visit Delta’s corporate campus to tour their operations and customer center and to fly a $320M Boeing 777-200LR around for a bit. Last I checked, I didn’t have my pilots license, and I’m pretty sure some rules forbid unlicensed people from taking a commercial jetliner for a ride, so Delta gave me the next best thing; the left seat in their full-size, multi-axis, super-duper, mega-cool Boeing 777-200LR simulator – the same one that pilots train on.
Is this your captain speaking?
Entering the simulator feels just like a real aircraft; there’s no freaking room, buttons everywhere, and tall guys barely fit (sigh, the struggle is real). Once you strap in and get your obligatory (5 minute) flight training, it’s off to the races!
I released the parking brakes, taxied to the runway, and pushed the throttles forward. The massive engines began to spool up; the entire simulator shook, building speed as my plane started down the runway. A little rudder to the left, a little to the right and before you know it, the FMS is calling for V1; Both hands on the yolk, I gently pulled it back and felt the giant metal bird take to the sky.
We aimlessly flew around Atlanta at 10,000′ gazing out the windscreen at the exceptionally detailed, high-definition terrain trying to keep everything level so the imaginary flight crew could serve drinks and lunch in the back of the non-existent plane.
Prepare for ‘landing’
My first landing was… Well… Let’s not talk about the first landing anymore. On my second attempt, I made the turn and lined up for landing on 26R on a ridiculously long 30-mile final with sunny weather, calm winds and no traffic (yeah, like that would ever happen in ATL). Flaps, landing gear, and (just a wee-bit) more flaps to keep the visual approach 50% red, 50% white.
We crossed the runway’s threshold, and the massive wheels gently kissed the tarmac; I felt accomplished.
The experience was one-of-a-kind
Delta’s doesn’t generally make their multi-million dollar flight simulators available to those who don’t have word “Pilot” somewhere in their title. The Boeing 777 has always been a plane I’ve wanted to fly, but changing careers isn’t in the cards, and at last check, my bank account didn’t entirely support a $320M aircraft purchase, so this solved both.
If you want to experience something similar to this, Delta does have a full-size, multi-axis, super-duper, mega-cool Boeing 737-200 simulator available in the Delta Flight Museum for $425/hr. I’ve flown it a few times, and it is very similar to the 777 – just smaller and more nimble than the 777.