On a wing and a prayer
I’ll be the first to admit it. I’ve never seen Top Gun.
I know the quotes and the fact Goose dies, but that’s as far as it goes – the film and I have never crossed paths.
If ever the time came it should have been the night before my date with a flight simulator, this would be my motivation to spread those wings, grab the controls and prove myself to the sky.
As it turned out, Tom Cruise and those famous aviators were not needed.
Arriving at FlyaJet in the CBD, the moment had arrived to experience the closest thing to flying a commercial airliner.
I’m greeted by Captain Peter Cross, who is also the company director.
Cross is originally from Invercargill and fell in love with the skies at the age of 14.
‘‘My physics teacher took me on a glider flight. It felt natural and I was so relaxed.
‘‘I’ve always felt comfortable in the air and being interfaced with amazing machinery,’’ he says.
Cross tells me that once you’ve flown one type of plane, you can pretty much fly most of them.
The majority of clientele are men using gift vouchers, he says.
Flight simulators have only been readily available for the public to try out in the last decade.
‘‘The computer software wasn’t fast enough,’’ Cross says. ‘‘We’ve now moved away from the entertainment side to more professional software.
‘‘There’s so much information now on the picture. It’s remarkable.
‘‘We’ve got the whole world on stunning graphics.’’
You could come in, do 20 hours and know how to fly a real aircraft, he says. A piece of cake, I reckon.
On the day of my visit, we are flying a Boeing 737-800 around scenic Queenstown.
Cross starts with a quick briefing about the aircraft.
Before I knew it I’m sitting in the cockpit taking a course in simple aviation.
Cross is my co-pilot and I’m looking out the window at the terminal.
My mind wanders to how I wish I’d taken that Queenstown winter vacation . . . but there’s no time for that now.
The number of controls on the dashboard is a lot to take in, but Cross assures me that he’ll step in when needed.
The engines whirr and rumble as we start up and the sound is identical to the real thing.
We reverse out using the throttle and foot pedals and head around to the runway.
I cut the corner on to the grass, which I fear is not a good start.
We line her up and away we go, a fairly smooth take-off as I reach for the steering controls.
Staring out towards the mountains and Lake Wakatipu, it’s hard to fault the visuals. There’s even a touch of wispy cloud as we climb.
Cross tells me to veer left and nerves hit me as we almost kiss the mountainside. Alarms are going off but we get clear.
‘‘You’re going great,’’ Cross says.
‘‘But the passengers are probably out of their seats.’’
After a few more (dodgy) turns, it’s time to land.
Overcorrecting is my biggest problem and we’re going too fast.
We bounce off the runway and head up again to turn around for another shot at it.
It’s nerve-racking but I manage to land the beast second time around. So what if I cut up the field a bit? We made it didn’t we?
Go to centralleader.co.nz and click on Latest Edition to watch a video of the flight simulator experience.
The team: Clockwise, from front left: Pilots Aleks Mangovski, Peter Cross, Roy Netto and IT manager Roman Vaughn from FlyaJet.
Winging it: Reporter Julian Raethel, left, with Captain Peter Cross from FlyaJet.
Top Gun: Inspiration from Tom Cruise was a little far-fetched.