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iPilot Dubai


iPilot Dubai

By Rohan Nair



Most of modern day flight simulation revolves around desktop simulation platforms. An operating environment that is always three dimensional in reality is represented in a two dimensional perspective in the world of flight simulation. With the evolution of hardware and software, virtual reality has stepped closer to reality in terms of eye candy. Hundreds of third party products, high definition textures and top notch hardware designed to recreate what may be found in a real cockpit is what constitutes a modern flight simulation setup. No matter as to how realistic the gear employed may be, the feel of sitting in a real cockpit, the feel of holding the yoke, is something that not even the best hardware and software companies can recreate for flight simulation. Enthusiasts with a strong desire for eye candy will wholeheartedly invest in flight simulation hardware such as yokes, mode control panels, radio stacks and the like. Yet what's lacking is the closed shell like environment of the cockpit. Those earning in six figures might very well take the bold step to construct a home cockpit. The full size home cockpit is the closest that home flight simulation can get to reality. Yet not everyone has the time and resources to stand up for the daunting task of constructing a home cockpit.






Thankfully, there are a few companies who know that not all flight simulation enthusiasts have full size home cockpits or at least, friends who have such home cockpits. These companies have created entertainment of a different kind. A full size flight simulator, open to the public, is what these companies have set up for us. For a monetary fee that is nowhere near the cost of building a simulator of your own, even a layman in the realm of aviation can get a feel of what it is like to fly a passenger airliner. The opportunity to get access to such a niche, a heavenly niche, is not easy. These companies are, as expected, few in number and found only in selected parts of the globe. You'll need more luck than research in order to stumble upon one of these opportunities. Luck did shine upon my visit to Singapore three years back during which I scored 30 minutes of time on a full size 737-800 simulator at Flight Experience. I thought that it would be the first and the last time I would have such an experience. I'm glad that I was wrong. When I learned of the existence of iPilot Dubai, an outfit offering a similar service, my desire to visit Dubai was only strengthened. And as for the realization of this opportunity, I owe a hearty thanks to my parents who were the first to inform me about iPilot.


And then, from that great day of discovery, began the endless wait. Although I was sure that I'd land in Dubai, there was no assurance that I would be able to visit iPilot Dubai. Official matters dominated the schedule. The schedule was going to be tight and as the task-list was to unfold then and there, there was no way to make a sure booking with iPilot. This meant that I would have to get the deal sorted out on the spot subject to the availability of a slot within whatever time frame I had. Taking commuting time into account, the schedule was going to be even tighter. My sixth grade English teacher had once said, "Do your best and leave the rest to God!", when we were concerned about the lack of time to complete our portions before the final exams. That little saying has been immortalized in my mind for the meaning it has held in so many daunting moments of this dynamic life. Practically speaking, it would be best for me to take the shot on a weekday. Other priorities and commitments kept my mind from succumbing to the whims of anxiety until I boarded the Boeing 777-300 that took me across the Arabian Sea to the Sandpit, the slang term loosely used by pilots to refer to The United Arab Emirates. Generally speaking, it refers to the Arabian peninsula. The ideal day to test my luck, taking into consideration all relevant factors, would be Monday. Upon touchdown, I glanced at my wristwatch and acknowledged the fact I would or would not in another 259,200 seconds.


Monday finally arrived. After I quickly gobbled down a scrumptious buffet breakfast, I quickly make a telephone call to iPilot Dubai to find out how busy they were going to be on that day. They were booked until the afternoon. And as of that time, they weren't any bookings for any time later than 2 PM. But there was no guarantee that it was going to be that way. "Do your best and leave the rest!", I said to myself as I headed out for official business. Late afternoon, I found much needed precious time and I seized the opportunity to take a ride on the metro which guaranteed the avoidance of any delays due to road traffic. The origin station was just a stone's throw away. Within the famous Dubai Mall was my destination. Luck was in my favor because there exists a station which is itself called Dubai Mall. Apart from its proximity to the mall itself, it is connected to it by the means of an air conditioned bridge. On the way, I had a good view of the Burj Khalifa. Being the tallest tower in the world, the tip of the tower stands at an incredible 2,722 feet off the ground! At about five o' clock, the train pulls into the Dubai Mall station. With little regard for the fantastic view of the Burj Khalifa, I briskly walked down the bridge towards the mall. I overheard a tourist in front of me say, "Ah, no worries, we have all the time in the world!" I wanted to grab him and send him for a flight off the bridge. His luck was good that day since I had other priorities. After consulting the information kiosk, I ended up at the doorstep of iPilot Dubai. I sent up a silent prayer and walked in. The receptionist greeted me and explains that if I want to fly, I will have to purchase a voucher.


She had barely completed the sentence when I frantically interrupted her by saying, "When can I redeem the voucher!?"


"Right now, sir. We are free now so you can fly immediately.", she replied.


Success! The receptionist handed me an iPad into which I had to fill a few details about myself. I opted for the half an hour package and handed her my credit card. While she worked out the transaction, I smiled to myself as I reveled in the delight of a fulfilled wish.


"Sir, this is a Visa Gold credit card. As part of our special offer, you are entitled to an extra 15 minutes of flying time. So you will have a total of 45 minutes with the simulator", said the receptionist. In addition to this, I opted to pay a nominal fee for a photograph and a DVD of my flight.










Double success! In the midst of all this excitement, I seemed to have forgotten the world around me. My eyes were fixed on the left seat of the simulator. I then introduced myself to my instructor for the evening who was very much a gem of a person. He held a PPL(A) and had been an avid flight simulation enthusiast for years. We explained ourselves to each other and discussed how our 45 minutes was going to be spent. The plan was to start from a cold and dark cockpit state, takeoff, go for a tour of the city and head back to Dubai for base training. Base training comprises of flying the pattern and doing touch-and-goes at the airfield. Within a few minutes, I found myself climbing into the left hand seat of the simulator. Setting myself in, I get a panoramic view of the latest scenery for Dubai provided by FlyTampa on three large wide screen LCD displays providing a 160 degree field of view. Sitting on runway 30L, the great adventure began.


The first task was to perform the electrical power up. I flicked the guard over the battery switch and the cockpit came to life with amber annunciations as expected. Setting the guard over the standby power switch, I checked that the alternate flaps master switch was guarded, the windshield wiper switches were in the PARK position, the electric hydraulic pumps were off, the landing gear lever was down and hey!


"No three green lights?", I queried.


"We are working on that problem. Interesting to see that you are aware of such procedures", replied the instructor. There was an unmistakeable tone of surprise in his voice.


Since we were starting on the runway to save time, there was no ground power unit available making the APU our source of full AC power. We proceeded to perform the overheat tests, fire tests and extinguisher tests before starting the APU. After connecting the APU generators to the electrical buses, a few more systems sprung to life and some annunciations disappeared. The displays had also come to life after their 90 second start cycle. As expected, there was little useful information on the displays as the IRS was yet to aligned. The fire test would not have to be performed again because of a software issue which caused the wheel well light to illuminate during the first test itself. We also decided to switch on galley power, the emergency exit lights and the air conditioning systems with the help of APU bleed air to allow the virtual flight attendants to safely prepare the cabin for boarding in a comfortable environment. The window heating systems were also switched on.


"Okay, let's align the IRS.", says the instructor.


"IRS switches to NAV, ON DC lights illuminated...extinguished and we have white ALIGN lights", I replied while performing the necessary actions.


With the help of the instructor, I performed a thorough pre-flight cockpit preparation. The instructor gives me the green light to proceed with the FMC. Being well versed with the PMDG 737, I programmed the FMC with ease. There wasn't much to do since there wasn't going to be any route entry. The instructor and I discussed our takeoff performance data and once we were satisfied with the V-speeds the FMC suggested, we do a quick briefing once again. He was intrigued by the fact that I was able to program the FMC with such ease. For the record, the FMC was using the U10.8 software as opposed to the latest U10.8A software. We set up the radios for instrumental reference in case the weather started acting up. I proceeded to set up the MCP and EFIS after selecting a squawk code of 7600. A squawk code of 7600 indicates loss of communication in real life. Since we would be flying without making contact with ATC, I figured this would be the best option.


Now it was time for the pre-flight checklist. Much like real flight crew, we went through each item in the checklist. The instructor, as the Pilot-Not-Flying (PNF), read out the checklist aloud and I gave the appropriate response as the Pilot-Flying (PF). It was time to go through the before start procedures. I switched on the fuel pumps, the electrical hyrdaulic pumps (assuming that the nose gear steering lockout pin is installed), and the anti-collision lights. The stabilizer trim was set Finally, I set the PACK switches to off and called for the before start checklist. The checklist was completed and then the instructor guided me through the engine start procedure in detail. Within minutes, both engines were up and running stable. I connected the engine generators to the electrical buses, switched on the probe heaters, set the air conditioning PACKS to AUTO, the isolation valve to AUTO, switched off the APU bleed, set the engine start switches to CONT and finally switched off the APU.


Sitting on the runway, there was no need to taxi. After testing the flight controls for complete freedom of movement, we switched on the landing lights, the runway turnoff lights, and the strobe lights. This was going to be a flaps 5 takeoff so I set the flaps lever to the '5' position. I gazed at the flap position indicator and wonder why there is no needle moving. The instructor is quick to notice and brings light onto the fact that this is the new LED flaps indicator where LED back-lighting over the readings has replaced the conventional needle. So by now transponder and TCAS were selected on and it was time for the before takeoff checklist. The checklist was completed and breath in...breath out. This is undoubtedly the most exciting part of flying in a real simulator. It's best to calm your nerves now because you won't have time later on. Feeling confident enough, I grasped the yoke with my left hand with the thumb remaining over the trim controls. I placed my right hand over the throttle levers. A quick glance down the tarmac, and I advanced the throttles to the 40% N1 setting.


"Forty percent...stabilized.", I said.


"Let's go", replied the instructor.


The most awesome part of flying began. I pushed the throttle levers forward. The grip over the levers and yoke creates a unique feeling in the mind. A feeling of power and authority that would be so familiar to real PICs. I advanced the throttle levers till the trend indicators on the upper EICAS suggest that the engines would spool up to the calculated takeoff power setting. Approximately 91% for today's rotation. We were lightly loaded and were using a fixed d-rate. Within seconds, the engine power settled into the required N1%. Lightly loaded, we charged down the runway with fantastic acceleration. The 80 knots call comes rather quickly. "Power set", I replied. The pedals had not been configured properly and hence they were quite sensitive. My intent to make a minor adjustment had us careening over to one side of the runway. Corrective action was immediately implemented. There was not enough time to line up with the center-line but we were pointed in the direction of the runway heading and were at least on the runway! It was happening fast, as expected.










"V1!", called out the automatic electronic voice. Instinctively, my right hand moved from over the throttle levers to the yoke.


"Rotate!", called out the instructor. My right hand barely had caught to grips with the yoke but I carry out the rotation anyways. A gentle but firm pull and the nose pointed up skywards. A tad fast but not enough for a tail strike. Getting airborne quickly, I continued the rotation through 10 degrees nose up. Here I observed a bit of realism. As the tail dips on takeoff, rotation will slow down at 10 degrees and further pressure must be applied to continue at normal rotation rate. I confirmed this with real 737NG pilots who experienced the same effect every working day of their lives. In most cases, this reduced rotation rate is welcome as it promises passenger comfort but on that day, there were no virtual passengers. I must admit that I have a tendency to play it rough with the controls. I tugged the yoke back a little more because we were rapidly accelerating.


"Positive climb", I heard over the headset.


"Gear up", I replied in acknowledgment after confirming we were climbing at well over 500 FPM.


The instructor raised the gear. I settled the nose at around 17 degrees, as directed by the FD bars. At 1,000 feet, I called for flaps 1 and let the nose gently drop to 12.5 degrees. The instructor suggests a turn to heading 230. The auto-throttle system automatically had climb thrust set. And so at 1,500 feet I gently turned the yoke left to put the airplane into a thirty degree bank angle. Flaps were left at 1 and we accelerated to 230 knots. Passing through 2,000 feet, I let the nose drop and let our vertical speed drop to 1,500 FPM. The speed hold button is pushed to hold our speed at 230 knots. Coming up to 3,000 feet MSL, we leveled off and I started to trim out. The engine start switches were set to OFF but the retracts were left on. The after takeoff checklist was called for and accomplished. Out the window, we had a birds eye view of downtown Dubai, the Burj Khalifa, the Burj Al Arab, and The Sheraton. I was fighting with the airplane to maintain altitude and heading. The instructor told me to smooth out my movements and use the trim a little more. I listened to these instructions and they yielded fruitful results. Flying close to the Burj Khalifa, you get to really appreciate the engineering behind the construction of the tower. We then decided that it was time to head back to the airfield for base training. Now it was time to go professional. We had our flight directors switched off and auto-throttle disengaged. The instructor dialed in a heading into the MCP window asking for a 130 degree left turn to heading 100. In the course of making the turn, a surprise came my way. I had noticed the instructor tinkering with something near his right arm. All of a sudden, broken clouds popped up all around us, the visibility dropped, and turbulence rocked the airplane!


"The weather is becoming worse", said the instructor.


"That's a surprise", I replied.


Battling the turbulence, I started to fight with the yoke again. I rolled out a little too early but settled into a heading of 100.


"Okay, let's descend now to 2,000 feet.", said the instructor as he made the entry into the MCP ALT window.


I brought the thrust levers back to idle and pushed the yoke forward to maintain airspeed. During the course of the descent, it was decided that the approach would be entirely visual. Later on, leveled out at 2,000 feet, a left turn was made to heading 030. This would put us on a nice and wide base leg. We also start to decelerate to the flaps 1 maneuvering speed. The speed brake was armed (I don't know why the instructor asked for it) and flaps 5 was selected. The deceleration to flaps 5 speed was allowed. At this point, flaps 15 was selected, the gear was lowered and I began the turn onto final. A gentle descent is started. By now, he has our VREF figured out as well. With the wind component included, our flaps 15 landing speed would be 145 knots. Go around altitude is set in the MCP window and runway heading is also dialed in. We choose runway 30R for the touch and go. At 1,000 feet, we were full visual. The engine start switches were set to CONT and the landing checklist was then completed. Minor adjustments followed the descent towards the runway. At the 30 feet altitude call out, I brought the throttles all the way back and pitched up a little bit. A smooth landing spot on the center line followed. The instructor quickly retracted the speed brakes I advanced the throttles to takeoff power and once again we rotate skywards.


The gear was retracted and at 1,000 feet I lowered the nose to accelerate. Flaps 5 was selected as we began the turn onto downwind and accelerated to 210 knots. The auto-throttle was switched on to hold our speed as I leveled out at 3,000 feet. The instructor then suggested that we do a proper traffic pattern the way it is done in the real world. While discussing this this, we failed to notice that the auto-throttle system had automatically disengaged and I had overshot the target heading. I quickly implemented corrective action to get on downwind heading and the instructor selected speed hold mode after re-engaging the auto-throttle. Speed for flaps 5 was set and the auto-throttle system worked the thrust levers accordingly. A descent to 1,600 feet was started. And another surprise, the visibility was further dropped. It now rested on the dividing line between VMC and IMC. Sometime later, the turn onto the base leg was initiated. The runway was not visible. The turn was conducted using the trend indicator on the ND. Gear was brought down and flaps 15 was selected as we rolled out on final approach heading. The runway was still not visible. All of a sudden, it popped into sight.










"Okay, nose down a little!", said the instructor.


"Whoa, we're very high!", I replied.


Just 2 miles left for the runway! The speed brake was armed. The descent was fast and there was no landing checklist this time. A hard landing was avoided but the avoidance carried a repercussion of a bounce! Thankfully, it was short one. The speed brake was immediately retracted and takeoff power was selected. Soon, we were climbing away and the gear was raised. At 500 feet, a turn onto downwind was initiated. We leveled out at 1,600 feet and flaps 5 speed was maintained. Abeam the threshold, the timer was started. Thirty seconds passed and we selected flaps 15 and lowered the gear. After another 15 seconds, the turn onto the base leg was initiated and the descent to 1,000 feet was started. This was going to be a full stop landing. Our flaps 30 landing speed was going to be 135 knots. With the runway in sight, flaps 30 was selected and I allowed the airplane to decelerate to VREF+5. The speed brake was armed and the auto-brakes were set to 2. The landing checklist was accomplished. A perfect line up and perfect descent down the glide path followed. The final moments of the adventure passed by.


"500...400...300...200...100...50..40..30", called out the electronic voice as we descended towards the runway. At 30 feet, I brought the throttles back to idle and gently flared.


"20...10", called out the electronic voice. The final airborne seconds of this adventure passed by. I smiled in all glory as I make a smooth and perfect touchdown on the center line.


I hear the wheels make contact with the tarmac and then the speed brake lever deploy. I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that the lever actually hadn't moved.


"It's not moving!", I said as I instinctively reached out for the lever. The instructor quickly brings my attention to the amber light that indicated the speed brakes were definitely deployed. It seems that the lever wasn't motorized. Full reverse thrust is applied and we slowed down on the runway.


"Sixty knots", called out the instructor. I brought down the reverser levers to disengage reverse thrust. At 30 knots, I gently tapped the pedals to start manual braking. As I turned off the runway onto the taxiway, the instructor cleans up the airplane. Once we were on the taxiway, I stopped the airplane to perform the after landing flows. The APU was started and we began the taxi to the gate. While taxiing through the gate area, a red Ferrari suddenly zipped across the service lane. Neither of us in the cockpit had an explanation for that sight.


We pulled into the gate and once we were stopped, I set the parking brake and connected the APU generators. I placed two fingers over the fuel cutoff switches, pulled them and brought them to the CUTOFF position. The engines spooled down and well words can't describe the sweet sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that enveloped me! The great adventure was over. I don't even remember exactly what I was thinking at that time. Regardless, I switched off the beacon light and the fasten seat-belt sign. All fuel pumps were switched off except the left forward pump. The window heaters were turned off, the electrical hydraulic pumps were turned off, the isolation valve was opened, the flight directors were switched off and I slouched in my seat reveling in the glory of my achievement.


I gave my thanks to my instructor and then we sat there for a few minutes chatting about the flight and he gives me some helpful tips to improve the realism aspect of my virtual flying. We then spoke about the difficulties of getting a flying job now-a-days and about getting into real world flying. He goes onto say that he too had a good time because it's rare that he gets to fly with people who have good knowledge of the aircraft's systems and have decent handling skills. We then had our photograph clicked and I learn that my DVD would take an hour to be prepared. In this free time I went and had a French Vanilla, strolled around the mall and went to watch the Dubai Mall fountain show. I headed back to the center and collected my DVD. Once again, I gave my thanks to my instructor once again and bid adieu after taking a long gaze into the cockpit where I had spent over 45 minutes.


And so, my friends, that's it. If you ever get the chance to get time on a real 737 simulator, don't ever miss it! It's an experience of a lifetime and I thoroughly enjoyed both my chances. This was undoubtedly one of my life's best achievements because, although it was not entirely perfect, I did way better than what I did in Singapore. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel free to contact me.


Rohan Nair

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