On a wing and a prayer

Central Leader - - NEWS - By JU­LIAN RAETHEL

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.

Pho­tos: OLIVER LI

Winging it: Re­porter Ju­lian Raethel, left, with Cap­tain Peter Cross from FlyaJet.

Top Gun: In­spi­ra­tion from Tom Cruise was a lit­tle far-fetched.

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