My full motion flight simulator experience – or why I’m convinced that I CAN now land a plane!

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Regular readers might recall my article last year about Flight Experience.  This is an Australian-based flight simulator company with a new branch in Putney.

In Putney I got to try their Boeing 737 flight simulator, landing the plane in Hamburg and Hong Kong.  This was a great experience and a lot of fun.  As a low(er) cost fixed simulator, however, it doesn’t move whilst you are flying.

So when we got an email from Virtual Aerospace asking if I would like to try their full motion Boeing 737 flight simulator, I was pretty excited.

Getting there

Virtual Aerospace has locations with fixed simulators all over the UK.  The full motion simulators are only in Burgess Hill, Sussex and Cardiff. (Fun fact: The two full motion simulators in Cardiff are owned by Bruce Dickinson!).

Cardiff was a bit far away so I had my full motion flight in Burgess Hill.  This is about 11 miles north of Brighton and 20 miles south of Gatwick Airport.

The trip down was a bit of a mess, but I will mention it to save anyone else from making the same mistake.  There are trains from London Victoria as well as London Bridge and I made the mistake of choosing a Thameslink train from London Bridge which got cancelled at the last minute.

My train ticket was only valid on Thameslink services and as I was under time pressure I decided to use my contactless credit card to get to Gatwick Airport on the next Southern train and then get an Uber from the airport.  However, the first two Uber drivers to accept my ride changed their mind when they realised it was ‘only’ going to be a 20 minute ride.  I eventually got to Burgess Hill 10 minutes late which cut my introductory session short.

I advise you to get a train from Victoria to Burgess Hill and forget about London Bridge where there is only one train per hour. From Burgess Hill station it’s a 15 minute walk or a four minute ride by taxi.

Introductory session

This part should have been 30 minutes long, but I only got 15 minutes due to my late arrival which meant my instructor was going to explain in the simulator everything as we went along.  Due to my earlier session in Putney this was not a problem.

The way it normally works is that the instructor explains all the switches on this basic cabin mock-up.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

The simulators

There are two full motion simulators at Burgess Hill which can be booked by the public, a Boeing 737-800 and an Airbus A320.

They are about 50 feet high and mounted on hydraulic jacks to replicate the movement of a real plane including severe turbulence.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

My flight was booked on the Boeing 737.  I did, however, get to also have a peak in the A320 (pictures further below).

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

Boeing 737

Apart from having to climb up a flight of stairs and enter a cubicle 50 feet up in the air, my first impression of the simulator interior was similar to the one at Flight Experience in Putney. The cockpit was a full replicate of a Boeing 737 cockpit with all the switches, levers and pedals.

The graphics, however, once turned on seemed more advanced than in Putney.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

I sat down on the captain’s seat and fastened my seat belt.

As we were close to Gatwick, we chose this as our departure airport.

We took off, circled over Gatwick and did the first landing together. The last bit involved many small movements to keep the plane where it was supposed to be.  I had a helpful purple cross on my screen which showed me whether I was too high, too low, too far left or too far right.

After landing we immediately took off again and the second landing I had to do almost by myself.

We had time for a third take off and my instructor showed me one thing that’s possible with a simulator but not in real life: a 45 degrees dip to one side. It felt very real and I would not want to experience this on a real plane.

After the session we looked at a separate screen which showed us our route.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

Airbus A320

We were lucky that no one was using the A320 after my Boeing flight and I got to take a seat in this cockpit as well – although without flying.

Compared to the Boeing 737 the Airbus looked quite different.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

First of all there was no steering wheel (EDIT: apparently it’s called a ‘yoke’ according to the comments below!)  Instead there was a tray table which could be pulled out for the pilot to have a meal.  There were fewer switches and foot rests instead of steering pedals.

Virtual Aerospace Flight Simulator

Instead of a steering wheel there was a joystick at the side next to an iPad holder.

Airbus table


I had such a great time flying and landing the plane. The movements of the simulator were so real that I’m convinced that if worst comes to worst I can put my hand up if cabin crew ever asks ‘can anyone fly the plane?’ (You can book exactly that scenario in a fixed simulator here).

The Virtual Aerospace website offers a vast selection of simulator sessions. Full motion sessions start at £499.  This is obviously quite a lot of money but you need to bear in mind that the simulators cost between £5 million and £15 million each.

Virtual Aerospace also offers instructor training with the option of becoming a part time instructor after finishing the training. The course, which requires no previous experience, costs £3,350 and includes 30 hours of flying.

If you are an aeroplane junkie who has always secretly wanted to fly a plane, these full motion simulators are an amazing treat.

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  1. Be sure to report the Uber drivers who cancelled your bookings. Refusing a trip based on destination/distance is against their T&C as a driver, and indeed asking a customer for their destination before picking up is also in direct violation of their T&C.

    • Yes they do it a lot at the airports and will accept it and then not move waiting for you to cancel.

      • Lady London says:

        If black cabs (London official taxis) do this it’s even worse for them. They rely on tourists not knowing part of their t’c and c’s is they have to take the ride if it’s within a defined distance of the airport.

        After I had a flight cancelled at one terminal and needed to get to another terminal quickly a while back at Heathrow, the driver just sat there and made it extremely difficult for me to believe he would start and get me there as quickly as I needed. Suddenly a guy who had been hanging around the taxi queue who was dressed as a tramp leaped out of the shadows, flashed a police warrant card and said “is this driver refusing to take you where you want to go, miss?”. Bliss. But I wasn;t going to ruin the driver’s day so I said ” er… not exactly, it wouldn;t stand up as a refusal but he is making it very difficult.”

        So the policeman’s cover was blown for nothing. Needless to say the driver was very happy to accept cash in foreign currency which I found was all I had on me, when we reached the other terminal 🙂

  2. PS: The “steering wheel” bit made me laugh. It’s called a yoke 🙂

    • I chuckled at the bit about a tray table instead of a steering wheel. I’ve never tried flying the plane with my tray table in cattle class 😉

      Sounds like a fun experience. I might have to try it.

    • Eggsactly.

      • Knowledge of aircraft is not a prerequisite to work here, and I freely admit that I cannot tell the difference between an A320 and a B737, yet alone a A319 to an A320. I might even struggle between an A330 and a 787 ….

        • What about the difference between an A320 and an A321? ????

        • You know you’re a real plane geek when you can tell the make of aircraft from the strobe sequence. One strobe flash for Boeing, double flash strobe for Airbus

  3. Simon Wood says:

    I had an hour in a flight simulator with the aforementioned Bruce Dickinson a few years at the BA training school before he started Cardiff aviation.

    Sounds like your landings were better than mine. I got the plan down but it wasn’t really in the middle of the runway.

  4. The BA flight simulators at their Global Learning Academy at Heathrow are a little bit cheaper at £449 for a one hour session (have seen discount codes turn up from time to time). I tried out the 747 last year, great experience taking off and landing at Las Vegas and Heathrow. A 777 simulator is also there. Recommended for anyone who’s fascinated in flying but has never taking a flying lesson. Sounds pricey but compare it to a couple of CE returns, no tier points earned though 🙂

    • Did this last year on the 747 as well. Fantastic experience. El Al crew were using the same sim before my slot came up then had the hour which went really well and really quickly doing LHR circuits, weather and collision avoidance as well as SFO landings, stalls, engine failures etc… The guy instructing me was keen to point out the accuracy of the sim to the finest detail, even pointing out such things as the vehicles driving on the correct side of the M25. He noted the sim wasn’t booked out again after my session and we stayed on for a further hour gratis…. Great day 🙂

  5. Rob, you needed to buy an “any operator” ticket for the train from London Bridge to Burgess Hill which would have been a couple of quid more but allowed you to use the Southern trains from London Bridge to East Croydon and Gatwick and change there to get to Burgess Hill. Taking a taxi from Gatwick to Burgess Hill will have cost you rather more than another ticket from London Bridge to Burgess Hill. And as Thameslink cancelled on you, I can’t imagine a Southern conductor would have stopped you using a Southern train with your ticket. But I can imagine you were annoyed and uncertain about the best move.

    • Anika didn’t care. She was on expenses. Given the all J HfP travel policy, do those trains have a first class?

      • Southern Class 377s have a 1st class, which is exactly the same as standard class but just with labelled antimacassars. The main purpose is to give season ticket holders who choose to pay extra a higher chance of a seat, as they travel when the train would normally be standing room only.

        Thameslink Class 700s have a 1st class at the front and back of the train, but the rear 1st class is always declassified until further notice on Brighton services. Both 1st class sections are declassified on Luton/St Albans/Kentish Town-Sutton/Kent services.

        • The only time I booked 1st on Southern, I had trouble finding it due to the lack of signage on the carriages. I asked the employee on the station who just told me to get on the train. The entire train, including first, was rammed in the middle of the afternoon, so the extra for a seat was a total waste of money.

  6. Memesweeper says:

    I’ve done a full-motion sim with BA — it’s great if expensive! Lucky for me a birthday present.

    Uber have messed me around so much with refusals I no longer use them at all. Worst offender refused to pick me up, then turned on his ‘meter’, pretended to collect me and set off on a dummy ride and then ‘dropped me off’. I was of course billed for this. Reported to Uber and the police, and heard nothing back naturally… so I’ve vowed never again.

  7. Interesting post, thanks.
    There was an article about Bruce D’s aviation ventures in the last Fortune magazine if anyone’s interested:

  8. I was thinking of doing this until I saw the price tag. Shame because I bet its so much fun, But I can get in a real plane and go to the other side of the planet for the same money!

  9. RussellH says:

    Is the simulator capabale of replicating the landing shown on ITN last Friday at DUS (or perhaps Dortmund) in the violent gale. A twin turboprop plane that was almost blown square on to the runway just a few metres above it? Or even the next one which did touch down reasonably normally, but then got blown back up into the air?

    • Craig Strickland says:

      To a certain extent yes, what it can never really replicate is the dynamic way the wind varies. You can practice the techniques in the sim but it’s always more ‘interesting’ in the aircraft.

    • I don’t see why not. I fly up north a lot – Stornoway, Sumburgh etc and this is run of the mill.
      He’s just keeping his nose into the wind until the last minute.
      Sure it takes skill, but that’s what the training is for.

    • AndyGWP says:

      I think it was Amsterdam 🙂

  10. Nick Burch says:

    If your train is cancelled, and you can find someone willing (a surprising number of railway staff seem to refuse / tell you to ask someone else), you can get ticket restrictions waived. Ticket office staff can always do this, as generally can those on the information desk. They’ll scribble on the back, possibly stamp it, and away you go!

    Otherwise, for services with a guard, you can ask them if they’ll take you due to cancellation.

  11. Craig Strickland says:

    You should try it into Leeds when it’s blowing a gale, sufficed to say my heart rate is somewhat elevated after landing.

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