My jet is in fact based in Westfield shopping centre. If you haven’t yet experienced Westfield, don’t. It’s like Oxford Street, but worse, as it’s undercover and circular which creates immediate disorientation, frustration and (maybe this is just me) molten fury. There are no helpful people or signs to help you find your way, doubtless in the hope that you will browse more shops as you try and fail to locate Jessops, where you were printing pics just two minutes ago. There’s nothing new or exciting, it’s the same stuff you’d find on any high street, except worse as the shops are generally small so only provide a taster of their range which is no good to anyone. Phew! Glad to get that out.
Anyway, I finally find the i-Pilot shop front. After providing my driving license (for ID, disappointingly, rather than proof that I am allowed to pilot a jet) I’m ushered briskly into the cockpit. Sitting on the left hand side, I chose my airport – JFK, New York – and my co-pilot explains some of the myriad dials to me. Such tiny flicks of switches for such an enormous plane!
And we’re off, for our fifteen minute flight simulation. There’s a lot to remember to keep everything ticking over and to keep us on the straight and narrow, and I forget everything, even whether to push or pull the steering kit to tilt the plane up or down. Of course, it’s not like driving, you can’t skid or swerve or surge, though you can line up straight for the landing strip. You can’t make any sudden moves, or sudden mistakes, which is a comfort.
We land, without incident. I have to say this was a disappointing task. If not the flight, I thought the skyline at least would be dramatic (landing in New York in reality is thrilling), but the backdrop is a few bland and generic buildings in the far distance. There was no noise either – as I discovered from wing-walking, noise is part of the excitement – and the loud thrum and thrust of the engines would have helped. The chairs and dials all seemed authentic, but it would have helped if the cockpit was closed off, and it would have helped if we heard communication from air traffic control.
My friend Ray in New York qualified to be a pilot, but realised that planes virtually fly themselves, so he became a helicopter pilot. Bluster of course, but he did once take me on a helicopter trip over Manhattan. We flew so low I could see a woman in her apartment reaching up to open her kitchen cupboards. No such luck this time.
Anyway, not to waste a task, if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to add ‘pilot’ to my c.v.