• Dream Aero USA

    Dream Aero USA

    Dream Aero USA

    By Tony Vallillo

    It was the relatively obscure (aren't they all?) Vice President Thomas R. Marshall who famously quipped "What this country needs is a really good five-cent cigar". As far as I know (having never smoked a cigar) the smokers of America are still waiting for that need to be filled. Now a country as large and dynamic as the USA has many needs, quite a few of which have been going unfilled, and judging from the current governmental stasis may stay that way indefinitely. But at least one of those needs, one mainly applicable to those of us in the flight sim community, has now been met. We finally have the metaphoric five-cent cigar!

    Of course I am not talking about tobacco. What this country has needed for some time has been a really good storefront flight simulation offering, the likes of which has been popular in Europe and Asia for some time now. Someplace where anyone can climb into a reasonable facsimile of an airliner cockpit and play Captain for an hour or two -- and preferably at a reasonable price, a price not as lofty as the simulated altitude of the "flight" in question. Until now, you would have to take a transoceanic trip to strap into something like that. But be frustrated no more, for relief is at hand - some very fine relief indeed. I refer to a new operation called Dream Aero USA, which recently opened near Washington DC.

    Project 727 External
    Project 727 in its early days, an airliner nose section with a home made visual screen.

    Project 727 Internalb
    The cockpit of Project 727 - a real Boeing 727 cockpit hooked up to FSX.

    Years ago our hobby spawned the desire, in a few talented minds at least, to operate our PC based flight simulators from a realistic cockpit complete with controls that looked and worked like those in a real airplane. Thus the hobby-within-a-hobby of cockpit building was born, and came to fruition in such efforts as those of Dr. Joe Maldonado of Puerto Rico in his Project 727. If we all had the myriad skills, and, let's not kid ourselves, the money to carry off a project of this sort, the world would be littered with mock airliner cockpits and also probably enough fighter cockpits to equip a small nation's air force. But most of us lack both the money and the skills, and thus have to look elsewhere to scratch that particular itch.

    Elsewhere, in the past, usually meant real airline simulators at real airline training centers. In the 1990's some airlines, led initially by United, began to offer time in their Level D simulators to the more well heeled practitioners of our hobby. This time was usually in the wee hours, when their own pilots were reluctant (or precluded by the union contract) to be flailing around simulated skies with an engine out. Hobby pilots, on the other hand, didn't care what time of day it was - they were just happy to be playing the ultimate Walter Mitty fantasy game! Prior to 9-11 many airlines dined out on this new revenue source, and quite a source it was; the hourly rates were said to be many thousands of dollars, yet the lines were around the block.

    The events of 9-11, of course, put at least a temporary halt to this opportunity, but things got a bit looser a few years after, and today it is again possible to get some time in a real FAA Level D flight simulator; albeit usually through the good offices of a third party such as Rod McClennon at Airline Captain for a Day in Las Vegas, which uses the simulators at the Pan Am International Flight Academy. I also know a few folks who have bought some sim time at the American Airlines Flight Academy in Texas, also courtesy of a third party operator. Nowadays it is likely that anyone buying such real simulator time may have to undergo some sort of vetting prior to being allowed access. I have no idea how that works, but it would likely be arranged through the organization, such as ACAD in Vegas, which accesses the time.

    One of the many simulator bays at the American Airlines Flight Academy in Texas. One of the model boards for the original visual system lies at the foot of the Fokker 100 simulator.

    The Delta Airlines Museum at KATL. The Boeing 737-200 simulator is seen beside the Boeing 767 airplane Spirit of Delta, which was originally purchased with money donated by the employees.

    There is one air museum in this country that features a fully operational Level D simulator, and that is the Delta Airlines Museum in Atlanta. They have a 737-200 simulator that is available to anyone with a certain amount of bucks. It, like the simulators in the active flight academies, is full motion and full visual and all of it is working. I would imagine they keep it humming, since all it takes (besides money) to create the time to sit in it is to schedule yourself a six or so hour connection between flights at KATL! (It is a good distance from the terminals, however, and you probably have to Uber it over).

    Another air museum, this one in Elmira NY, has an ex-American Airlines Boeing 727-200 flight simulator on display, but it is not fully operational and only "flies" using Microsoft Flight Simulator on the visual display. An interesting piece of history, but not flyable in the sense that we want to experience.

    Aside from building your own, or availing yourself of a real FAA certified sim, nothing had been available to us here in the USA, at least nothing that I knew of. Elsewhere in the world, however, the situation was a bit different. A number of what could be called "storefront" simulator operations had sprung up in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. These were typically not certified flight simulators but rather something more akin to a fixed base trainer. Hardware of this sort was and is manufactured by several companies worldwide, one of which is Flight Deck Solutions, whose products range from partial cockpits for the hobbyist to full-up setups for airlines and, on occasion, Hollywood productions (Flight 93 was filmed in a Flight Deck Solutions 757 cockpit).

    Setups like this differ from real flight simulators in several ways. For one thing, little of the re-created cockpit is actual airplane hardware. In a certified sim just about everything is flight hardware, and could be taken out of the sim and put in a real airplane. In a Flight Deck Solutions cockpit (or any of several other makers) the yokes, throttles, instruments and the like are identical in size, shape and usually function, but are replicas and not the real thing out of an airplane (they are often more delicate as well, for obvious reasons). The look is similar, most if not all functionality is the same, but the tactile feel is often different, to say nothing of the "feel" of the simulation itself.

    1. gt401964's Avatar
      gt401964 -
      Thank you. That was a great story. Only if we were all rich to buy one.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      They told me it would cost around a million dollars to own one. Of course you can build one yourself, without some of the bells and whistles, for considerably less! But the great thing about Dream Aero is that you can, in essence, own a tiny piece of it (30 minutes worth) for a very reasonable amount. Think of it as fractional ownership!
    1. JHaley's Avatar
      JHaley -
      Great story, thanks for sharing!
    1. grau's Avatar
      grau -
      Great story Nels.

      But there are other builders like myself, that have been around since the 90's, who also do not use Flight Deck Simulations stuff and have achieved motion using other methods such as pneumatics.
    1. grau's Avatar
      grau -
      Great article and thank you for sharing!!!
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      Indeed there are many more home projects than just Project 727. That happens to be the only one I have had the opportunity to visit so far. I would be delighted to visit any airliner cockpit project that happens to fall within the purview of my travels, and write about it too! The operative constraint is "within the purview of my travels"; which while still not inconsiderable, are nothing at all like they were when I was an active airline employee.

      That said, however, why not take the plunge and write about it yourself, and tell us all about the processes of building and flying it! All it takes is a certain facility with the written word. Albeit that may come more naturally to one of Italian descent (although not if my hands are tied!) but considering modern spell and grammar checkers you really can't go wrong!

      See you on the byline!
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