Virgin America Flight Simulator

Startup airline Virgin America is celebrating five years of business this month. I had a chance to visit the company’s brand new high tech training facility.

Before this story, I had never stepped foot on a Virgin America plane. By the end, I’d be flying one.

I started my day in Los Angeles sampling the in-flight tech on a quick flight up to San Francisco.

Virgin America recently opened a state of the art flight simulator. Step inside, and you wouldn’t know you’re not in the real thing. Controls are identical to the airbus and it feels like flying.

“Pilots come and rotate through every six months and they’re trained in abnormal procedures, normal procedures and emergency procedures,” explains Flight Training Manager Christopher Owens.

After explaining some basics, we were off.

Owens first had to give the plane certain instructions.

“I’m telling the airplane how fast to go, which heading to fly and which altitude to maintain,” said Owens.

It’s kind of like a very basic cruise control. You tell it the speed you want to get, and your car will get there.

Pilots practice flying in all conditions.

Owen says, “We can add rain, hail, turbulence. You name it.”

A little red button disconnects the autopilot, and it’s my turn to control the plane. My job? To keep an eye on the runway and slowly descend. Green cross bars are my guide.

I’ve officially landed an A320. Personal dream achieved, even if it was just virtual. Another 8,000 hours and I’d be ready to fly a real plane.

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