Commandeering the captain’s seat
Most pilots speak about a love of soaring above the clouds when asked why they do what they do. I guess that’s why I’m a writer — because I never had a yearning to fly, unless, of course, I’m going on vacation and I’m relaxed in my seat while someone else is flying me to my destination. But when the opportunity presented itself for me to take the captain’s seat in the cockpit, and pilot a Boeing 737, I took it. Let’s just say I have a newfound respect for pilots and flying after getting a crash course at Jetline Simulation Bahamas, where former commercial airline pilot Ryan Moree is giving people the opportunity to experience what it’s like to fly an actual airplane without leaving the ground.
The flight simulator artificially recreates aircraft flight and the flying environment. My husband, who took to the friendly skies with me in the cockpit, is still complaining of a headache from my having banked too far to the left to avoid crashing into a mountain as I tried to land at the Innsbruck Airport in Austria. That airport descent is said to be one of the most dramatic of any airport in Europe, as the aircraft descends through a deep mountain valley. During my flight simulation, I also got the opportunity to land in Spain.
Did I crash and burn at any time? Yep, a couple of times, including when I skidded off the runway, taking out a few runway lights, as I panicked on my approach, let go of the yoke and covered my eyes. Flaming out had nothing to do with Moree’s instruction, but was centered on anxiousness in knowing that I had a machine weighing a couple hundred thousand pounds under my control. As I concentrated on following Moree’s instructions, I literally felt the weight of the airplane in my arms. I kind of forgot that it was only a simulated flight; it felt so real.
It was scary and thrilling at the same time — so much so that I breathed a sigh of relief when it was all over. But it was fascinating enough that I’m ready to do it all over again.
Moree officially opened the doors to Jetline Simulation Bahamas at The Pointe at the British Colonial Hilton Hotel on September 18 with an approximate $250,000 investment.
The flight simulation allows a person to fly to over 24,000 destinations worldwide. Moree is able to simulate flight in any type of weather and time of day. The simulation takes place in a replica cockpit of a Boeing 737 aircraft.
The former commercial airline pilot came up with the idea for the business after realizing he would fly at his job all day, which he loved, and then fly the simulator on his computer at home in the evenings, because it allowed him to experience flying in weather conditions and into countries he wouldn’t have been able to visit at his day-to-day job.
“I thought it would be cool to maybe open a flight simulator center. So off the top of my head, I was thinking maybe a few desktop computers with some cheap controls, let some children come by and let them fly with their friend, and then I met Alex Ferguson (another former commercial airline pilot) in Nassau who ran a company called FlightSim.
He had put a cockpit together, but he used TV screens to replicate the cockpit and cheap controls, and when I saw that I was blown away. I thought wow, someone actually did something like this — this was cool.”
Moree says he instantly clicked with Ferguson, and after a few months, he thought the idea needed to be expanded and pitched it to Ferguson to look into more realistic flight controls. Moree said Ferguson wasn’t ready for that type of commitment at the time.
The Jetline Simulation Bahamas proprietor then began researching places to get a more realistic experience and came across Flight Experience in Boston, Massachusetts. He traveled to Boston with his wife in April 2016 to experience pretty much what he has brought to New Providence.
“They (Flight Experience) offer a Boeing 737 and I said, ‘Let me see if this could really get me to say I really like it’. I paid $210 for the hour. That simulator started to move backwards. I asked the instructor if this thing was moving, and he was like, ‘No’. I’m like, ‘Man you sure? Because it really feels like we’re moving’. And he was like, ‘No, that’s just the way it feels because of the screen’. And I was like, this is so cool.
“After my hour, I was sold. I was like, if this could get me, and I’m a pilot, I said any normal person that comes in this place would really take to it.”
Moree returned home excited and certain he would have no problem in getting his idea off the ground, only to be met with the roadblock, known as the financial institution. He said everyone he approached turned him down for funding, or told him that he needed to put down a 20 percent deposit. He had already put down $25,000, which he had borrowed, on a simulator that cost $130,000 before he even had the full investment, which was risky. He was that excited about the business.
“I just really stepped out, made a leap of faith and went at it, because I just knew I could get this money. But it turned out to be way harder than I thought it would be.”
He eventually lost half off the deposit he placed in the process because it took him a long time to get the remainder of the money.
In a last ditch effort, he made a pitch to the Teachers & Salaried Workers Co-operative Credit Union Ltd.
“I had nothing to lose,” he recalled.
They liked the idea, its difference and uniqueness. Within a week, Moree learned they would fund his business idea.
He then had to come up with $100,000 on his side, which he again borrowed, including using money for a home down payment.
“I took that, because I was investing everything,” he said.
With another $50,000 from an investor and the money from the Teachers Credit Union, Moree realized that Jetline Simulation Bahamas was going from an actual dream to an entity. He got the money in March 2017. Six months later his doors were open to the public.
The simulator cost $130,000 and is built of real airplane parts. It was assembled in Canada. The simulator’s screen came from Australia. Moree was able to bring both items into the country duty free through the Bahamas Investment Authority. He says he could not imagine having to pay duty on the items because he could not have afforded it.
I literally held my breath when I first glimpsed the cockpit. It was real. I actually forgot that I wasn’t in a real aircraft. Moree said he gets that sentiment from everyone when they walk into the cockpit for the first time.
When you enter the doors to Jetline Simulation Bahamas, you are shown a world map to select where you want them to put the aircraft. They tell you what’s popular, and if you don’t have an idea of where you want to fly to, they make a recommendation.
Depending on whether you have flight experience, they know how to treat you.
According to Moree, one of the more exciting airports to fly into and out of is St. Maarten’s, because the beach is on one end, and the mountain is on the other end. Still, with the many airports from which people can choose around the world, he said many Bahamians opt to fly into Miami airport.
A tutorial video also gives a quick introduction to the experience as the pilot sets up the aircraft to the desired location.
Once you are in the simulator and have gotten over your shock, you take the captain’s chair, with Moree or one of the three other certified pilots in the co-captain’s chair; they take 10 minutes to speak about basic flight controls, allowing the customer to be totally hands on.
“It’s not a test. We’re not trying to overwhelm people with information,” said Moree.
Then it’s all clear for takeoff from the tower.
I nervously pushed back from the gate, moved the switches to get the airplane on, introduced the fuel and taxied to the runway for takeoff and landing. As I’ve already said, for me, it wasn’t totally smooth sailing. But I’m game for another go at it.
The simulator proved to be a live environment, so other aircraft were flying around, vehicles were on the road, people were walking up and down in the ramp. It was very realistic. With transducers under the seat, I felt the rumbling of the airplane, as if it was really moving.
Two observer seats at the back allow for family or friends to view the experience from the cockpit.
At Jetline Simulation Bahamas, Moree offers 30-minute (two destinations), 45-minute (three destinations), 60-minute (four destinations), 75-minute and 90-minute flight times at extremely affordable rates, significantly cheaper than the $210 he paid in Boston. He also offers school rates, local rates and tourist rates.
He also offers fear of flying courses, corporate events, airline interview prep, airline simulator evaluation, an enthusiast ultimate flying package and a five-hour discounted rate that is paid in full, which you can use as you like.
Their only request is that women wear pants for the experience, as the yoke, which the pilot uses to control the altitude of the plane is situated between the legs. And he says people should not show up intoxicated. Other than that, he says people should just enjoy the experience.
“Most pilots don’t go to Dubai, Russia, Austria, where you’re in the mountains and have to land on 5,000 feet of runway in the snow. This gives people an opportunity to experience things that we as pilots don’t. I have pilots coming through who want to do something different than what they do now — the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando. They want to do New York, Toronto, and we can do all of that,” said Moree.