pilot training

Best Flight Simulators In The UK (2024)

What is a Flight Simulator?

Flight simulators are exactly what they say they are. Simulation of flight. Simulators start as basic as phone apps, going all the way to full-motion flight simulators. Simulators that move and are used for commercial airline pilot training (also known as Level D simulators). This article will talk about two types of flight simulators:

  1. Fixed-based flight simulator
  2. Full motion flight simulator (Level D simulator)

We’ll look at the differences, and more importantly where you can try them out in the UK! After all, that’s why you’re reading this article.

Fixed Base vs Full Motion Simulator

There are some significant differences between the two types of simulators. Mainly cost!

Fixed Base Simulator

A fixed base simulator is a 1:1 mockup of a real airliner cockpit. They contain all of the buttons, dials, and rotary switches you would expect and also have high fidelity visuals to make the experience feel even more real.

The key disadvantage is that a fixed base simulator, as the name suggests, has a fixed base and doesn’t move. The unit will stay in the same place, so you will feel no accelerations when pulling up or pushing down. This can make some feel a little queasy when taxiing as what you’re seeing and what your body is expecting is not the same. The per-hour cost of a fixed base simulator is significantly cheaper than a full motion simulator. Around 75% cheaper.

If you are a qualified pilot, you can hire these simulators without an instructor and don’t need to be supervised. If you are looking for a flight experience or are not yet a qualified pilot, expect to pay a little extra as you will need someone to operate the simulator and manage the event.

Full Motion Simulator

Much the same as a fixed base simulator but as the name suggests, the unit moves. A full motion simulator is mounted on stilts that are either hydraulically or electrically powered. When you turn left or right, you will feel it as the simulator moves around, quite an impressive thing to watch. These simulators are used during commercial airline pilot training, especially for pilots 6 monthly simulator checks. They are known as Level D simulators and the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) requires that checks are carried out in a Level D full motion simulator.

The per-hour cost of a full motion simulator is significantly more expensive than a fixed base simulator. You are not only paying for the costs of the simulator itself but also you must be monitored. Therefore someone qualified to operate the simulator will be with you, which adds cost.

Why go to a fixed-based or a full-motion simulator?

Pilot Training

Full and fixed-based flight simulators play a crucial role in pilot training programs. Towards the end of commercial training and before flying a jet airliners for real, a pilot will spend between 48-120 hours in a flight simulator practicing various emergency scenarios to prepare them for real line flying. Airlines, flight schools, and aircraft manufacturers utilize these simulators to train and assess pilots in various scenarios, from routine flights to emergencies. The ability to replicate real-world conditions ensures that pilots are well-prepared for any challenges they face during their day-to-day jobs.

I visit the simulator roughly every 6 months for 2 days at a time, as a legal requirement to maintain my license. During these sessions (4 each year) we practice emergency scenarios, operating procedures, and unique situations that we may not come across in our day-to-day lives. Think de-icing, strong winds, unique airports, challenging scenarios like an engine failure during a go-around at an airfield with high terrain, etc.

Aircraft Development:

Beyond training, full-flight simulators are integral to the development of new aircraft. Engineers and designers use simulators to test and refine the performance of aircraft in a variety of conditions. This iterative process contributes to the creation of safer and more efficient aircraft.

Recreational Use:

For aviation enthusiasts and individuals curious about flying, many flight simulation centers in the UK offer recreational experiences. These facilities provide a taste of what it’s like to be at the controls of a commercial airliner or a fighter jet, making aviation accessible to a broader audience. If you don’t have a large amount of spare cash, a fixed base simulator is fantastic value and offers a real insight into the world of airline flying.

Assessment Preparation

When you move airlines, or sometimes even for your first airline job, you will be required to attend a simulator session. These are usually in full motion simulators and you will be partnered with someone you’ve never met. Your goal is to fly the aircraft safely, and equally importantly, demonstrate your CRM (crew resource management) skills. Most pilots pay to practice in a fixed-based simulator before attending the real assessment. I certainly did! I paid for 4 hours with a friend of mine to prepare for my airline assessments. Expensive? Yes. But I saw it as an investment in my future career and therefore a drop in the ocean.

How much does a fixed-based simulator cost vs a full motion simulator?

Companies differ in their costs and prices and how experienced an instructor you have with you. That said, you can expect to pay around £100-£150 per hour for a fixed-based simulator. You can expect between £400-£600 per hour for a full motion simulator per hour. Now you can see why I suggest fixed-based simulators!

Should I hire a fixed-based or a full-motion simulator?

Unless you are a pilot paying for your own LPC check (license proficiency check), then in almost all cases, a fixed-based simulator is enough. Even if you are preparing for an airline assessment, a fixed base is enough. Unless you specifically want to practice engine failures after take-off (EFATOs) or emergency scenarios that require extensive use of trim, then the visuals and setup are so immersing that you will not notice the lack of motion.

The cost saving is so significant that I truly do not think a full motion simulator is worth it. If you have the funds, then by all means go for full motion but for every 1 hour you get in a full motion simulator, you could have 4 in a fixed-based simulator.

Fixed-based simulators in London and the UK

Below is a list of fixed-based simulators in the UK. I have personally used three of them and recommend them wholeheartedly. As a disclaimer, the two I recommend do have affiliate links, the very small amount I receive helps pay for this website’s costs and keep the content free so I don’t have to lock it behind a paywall. If I haven’t used a simulator, the links are not affiliate. I appreciate it if you choose to attend the simulators I recommend, please could you use the affiliate links.

There are lots of fixed and full-motion simulators in the UK. All simulators listed below have been used by friends and colleagues of mine and are therefore recommended. If a simulator isn’t on this list, it’s because either myself or my friends and colleagues have never been and therefore cannot recommend them without experience.

Simulators I’ve used and recommend

Flightpad (Boeing) – Ealing, London

Flight Simulator Midlands (Boeing and Airbus) – Coventry

VA Airline Training (Boeing and Airbus) – Cambridge

Simulators my friends and colleagues have used and recommend

Motion Flight Training (Boeing and Airbus) – Gatwick

Simulator Adventures (Airbus) – Manchester

pmFlight (Boeing and Airbus) – Redhill, South England

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British Airways Speedbird Pilot Academy

British Airways needs pilots. So much so, that they have decided to finally invest in a cadet pilot programme akin to the Prestwick and Hamble days. This time, it’s called The Speedbird Pilot Academy. British Airways will sponsor up to 100 cadets, and fully fund their training right the way through to joining the airline. This includes living expenses! In this post, we’ll take a look at what the Speedbird Pilot Academy has to offer. This includes the opening date, application requirements, and some valuable tips to help you prepare for this exciting step in your career.

British Airways Speedbird Pilot Academy: Application Details

The much-anticipated Speedbird Pilot Academy is set to open its doors to aspiring pilots on September 19th, 2023. The application will be open for only one week and could close earlier or open longer depending on how many applications British Airways receives. The programme is expected to reopen on an annual basis as British Airways anticipates needing a constant flow of cadets.

You can expect to hand in a copy of your CV, motivational questions, an online interview, a capacity test, a group assessment and a two-on-one interview down at headquarters is the usual recruitment process for British Airways. As part of the cadet scheme, you can also expect a checking and maths style online test, testing your ability to be accurate and fast! You can expect to earn c.£34,000 during your first year after you qualify. Whilst it doesn’t sound like much, you can expect another £10,000 per year in allowances (time away from base etc.) and your salary to rise exponentially reaching over £100,000 within your first 10 years. Considering I paid over £120,000 for my licenses, I’d say it is a good deal! Thus, British Airways, rightly so, are extremely selective over who gets in.

BA has selected two flight schools to train their cadets, FTE Jerez and Skyborne. If successful in getting on the programme, you will attend one of these two flight schools that will train you from zero to hero. They will take you all the way up to and including type rating. After which point you will join British Airways to continue your training on the short-haul fleet. Once joining British Airways, you can expect to complete around 40 – 50 sectors with a training Captain before you are “released to fly the line”.

Application Requirements

Before you embark on this incredible journey, there are some important criteria you must meet to be eligible for the program:

Age: Applicants must be between 17 and 55 years old to apply and must be at least 18 years old to commence training.

Educational Qualifications: You should possess a minimum of 6 GCSEs graded A to C or 5 to 9, including subjects such as Maths, English, and a Science. Equivalent qualifications will also be considered and assessed by ECCTIS.

Language Skills: Proficiency in English is essential. For non-native English speakers, you will need to provide a certificate proving that you have achieved an International English Language Testing System (IELTS) score of at least 5.5 overall, with no individual score falling below 5.5. Ensure that you take the Academic test, not General Training.

Passport and Residency: A valid passport that permits unrestricted worldwide travel is required. You must also have the right to live and study in the UK without the need for sponsorship.

Height Requirements: Your height must fall within the range of 1.57m (5’2″) to 1.90m (6’3″). Height will be accurately determined during the assessment process. If you exceed the upper limit, you may still send in an application but may be required to undergo a functionality check, essentially sitting in a cockpit to check you can fit.

Medical Certification: Applicants must be able to obtain and maintain a UK CAA Class 1 medical certification with no restrictions, meeting British Airways’ medical criteria. Details can be found on the CAA’s official website.

Background Checks: Before training commences, you must successfully complete referencing and pre-employment checks, providing satisfactory UK and international Criminal Record Checks. Also be prepared to submit criminal record background checks for any country you have lived in over the past 5 years.

Beyond Technical Skills

While technical skills are undoubtedly necessary for a pilot, their behaviors and attitudes truly set a British Airways pilot apart. British Airways prides itself on its unique culture, and its pilots are known for their passion and enthusiasm in pushing the operation forward and acting as ambassadors for the company. Below are some qualities that will make you a standout candidate:

Passion and Motivation: You should demonstrate an unwavering passion for aviation and the motivation to excel during the training program.

Calm Under Pressure: The ability to remain composed and make sound decisions under pressure is a crucial attribute for a pilot.

Problem-Solving Skills: Pilots must possess a strong problem-solving ability, as quick thinking can be critical in challenging situations.

Team Player: Collaboration and teamwork are essential in creating exceptional experiences for passengers and colleagues onboard.

Top Tips to Prepare for the Speedbird Pilot Academy

Preparing for the British Airways Speedbird Pilot Academy is a significant undertaking and there will be A LOT of competition But with determination and the right mindset, you can do it. Here are some top tips to help you prepare:

Brush Up on Numerical Skills: Mathematics is a fundamental part of aviation. Take the time to review your mathematical skills to ensure you’re comfortable with the calculations required in flight. There is no indication of a mental maths test, but being comfortable with mental maths will make your job as an airline pilot easier, especially the 3x table!

Prepare for Interviews: Expect rigorous interviews during the selection process, both online and in person. Be ready to discuss your passion for aviation, your problem-solving abilities, and your ability to work in a team. I suggest using the STAR format and having a few stories you can tell. Here is a list of interview questions that have been asked in recent British Airways pilot interviews.

Physical Fitness: Maintaining good physical health is crucial for pilots. Consider incorporating regular exercise into your routine to stay in top shape. This will help your mental capacity, and also prolong your Class 1 medical. 

Stay Informed: Keep yourself updated on the latest developments in the aviation industry. Follow the British Airways corporate site, know what they are investing in, know roughly how much profit they’ve made this year, know who the senior leadership is.

Simulator Experience: If possible, seek out opportunities to gain experience in flight simulators. This can help you become more comfortable with the cockpit environment. Though not necessary as a cadet, it can help demonstrate your passion. Please email me at paul@pilotprep.co.uk if you would like a recommendation. I do not get kickbacks or commission so any recommendations are genuine. 

Practice English: If English is not your native language, practice it regularly to improve your proficiency, especially in speaking, listening, and aviation-specific vocabulary. British Airways is a British Airline operating in the U.K and worldwide. It’s imperative your English is impeccable, for both your colleagues and passengers.

Prepare thoroughly!

The British Airways Speedbird Pilot Academy is a remarkable opportunity for aspiring pilots to launch their careers with one of the world’s most prestigious airlines. With an exciting future ahead and a commitment to diversity and excellence, British Airways is finally ready to welcome a new generation of pilots into its ranks. If you meet the criteria and possess the right attitude, this could be your chance to soar to new heights in the world of aviation. Mark your calendar for September 19th, and prepare to make your aviation dreams take flight with British Airways. Best of luck to all future Speedbird pilots!

Feel free to email me at paul@pilotprep.co.uk should you have any questions. 

Good luck!

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