Best way to compare the B737 & A320 – Fly Them !

 
As my Singapore Trip was getting finalized, I started checking out what all new things are on offer in Singapore. This city state, which is a favorite amongst tourists from Asia, is known to update, upgrade and build new things at regular intervals to keep attracting tourists and also have repeat visitors.
 
Their very well designed and updated Singapore Tourism website – lists out things in different categories and along with this – TripAdvisor where I am an active user, were visited to do some research. The Marina Sands Bay, Botanical Garden, Singapore Flyer, Universal Studios were the additions which I knew had started post my last visit in 2007. However, I was pleasantly amazed to know that Singapore now has a simulator for Boeing 737 NG. I quickly went on to their website (http://flightexperience.com.sg/ ) to realize that it is the official Boeing Simulator. Almost all links on their website were clicked to understand what the experience would be like, the different packages available, and see some snaps of the place. The device they have is not mounted on hydraulic legs, as the actual ones in airline, but is next best to it. What more do you need when this is certified for limited instrument rating by 3 different agencies!
 
Before departing, I had emailed them asking about the booking procedure and their timings. I had received a prompt reply giving me all the details but since I wasn’t sure about my program in Singapore, I decided to skip the booking.
 
TripAdvisor gave out another gem, an Airbus A320 simulator, exactly on the lines of the B737 one, located on Orchard Road and much cheaper than the B737 NG Simulator. The Airbus simulator is operated by SG Flight Simulations (http://www.sgflightsimulations.com.sg/ )
 
If it’s not Boeing, I aint going
 
As I landed in Singapore on Sunday and had time to kill, I decided to call the Flight Experience around 1400hrs to check if I can come in and if I can book a slot on the call. The staff was very helpful in informing me about the only available slot for the day 1630-1700hrs and other related information.
 
I made my way to Raffles Avenue, where they are located under the Singapore Flyer, literally. The offers begin at 175 SGD for a 30 minute session and can go above 650 SGD for a professional training session. They have a set of pilots who take turns to accompany you and I was told that all of them are B737 pilots and have the simulator rating too. The website also mentions the same.


 

Entering the second floor shop of Flight Experience, is the beginning of a delightful and fun filled flying experience, for anybody who is remotely connected to aviation or simply loves the field. As you enter, on the right is the counter where one would have to pay up, and the left side is stocked with Boeing goodies – none of which are free, and some extremely expensive. I have always been an Airbus lover and I wouldn’t want to spend money on the Boeing stuff, which I know I would not sport on me.

Also around, a screen which shows a dummy flight number and Name of the pilot, and a small lounge area which has a screen showing the feed of the simulator. I waited for a while in the lounge and enjoyed the hospitality – having been served coffee while I watched somebody piloting the B737 through various airports.

 

My name appearing on the list of pilots flying today
I was number 2 in sequence for piloting the plane and enjoyed the weather outside and views of the Marina Bay Circuit and the Singapore Flyer. Soon the Flight Experience team set up the pre-flight briefing, which covered all the basic instruments inside the cockpit and this was followed by handing over a booklet which showed the routes one can select during the 30 minute session of flying. I was also informed that there is a delay of about 10-15 minutes per pilot today and that my session would get delayed a bit. I spent some more time, looking at the things on sale inside the shop and observing the flying of the pilot who went in before me.

Finally it was time for me to proceed to the cockpit and was welcomed into the B737 cockpit by the pilot, lets just call him P2 for today. Quickly I took my seat – P1 for the day as I would be PIC (Pilot in Command) for our 30 minutes flight. There was a quick briefing and an option to select the airport – I opted for Mumbai (BOM/VABB) and there we were on runway 09 in no time. We made a powerful take off, eastwards, throttling down the runway, with my P2 calling out V1 & Rotate, followed by pulling up the under carriage. The P2 asked me to level at 3000 FT which for me meant pulling up as we went down to 2600 Ft and pushing down when we crossed 3200 Ft.
Soon, I managed the maneuver the aircraft and have decent control over the Yolk, flying parallel to the runway we took off from and go over the Arabian sea, bank left again and try approach into Runway Zero Niner at Mumbai. The P2 made necessary adjustments to the instruments, heading changed, frequency set, ILS configured, we proceeded to align ourselves to Runway Zero Niner and start our descend.
In my days with airline companies, I have heard our operations team speak a lot of PAPI (Precision Approach Path Indicator) and this was the first time, I was to get a taste of it. P2 informed me how I need to maintain Two Green & Two Red lights – which means that my rate of descend is perfect! I never ever managed it; PAPI either was four Red or Four Green – meaning I was too low or too high!
 
None the less, the instructions were clear, Landing gear down at 2000 Feet, Pitch up slightly till 100 Feet, pull back the throttle at 50 Feet and Thrust Reversers till the middle of the runway, after which disengage the reversers, parking brakes on and we stop right on the runway.
 
100 Feet said the cockpit voice, 50 Feet and the throttle was pulled back, thrust reversers engaged and we veered all over the runway, what was till then move Yolk forward, move yolk backwards then became move pedal leftwards and move pedal rightwards to maintain the centerline.
 
Only proud moment was that I had not left the active runway and the flight ended successfully. The pilot then asked me if I would do something challenging, I immediately said yes, and asked if we could land in Paro or St.Marteen, both were shot down by him and we eventually decided to take off from Macau, do a touch and go at Hong Kong and then land at Kai Tak – certainly a challenging task.
 
There we set out again, calibrating the frequency for ILS, feeding the data and the controls were all mine this time. Aircraft aligned on the center line, right hand on throttle, left on the yolk and off we went – setting the engine power to 40%, and starting a short take off role with 100% power. V1 called out the P2, and rotate he said next, off we went in the air as I pulled the stick towards myself maintaining a pitch of 15 Degrees and decelerating a bit, navigating and seeing the scenery below only to climb up again and making our way to HKG – The Hong Kong Airport. We aligned, with a lot of banking towards both the sides. Every time I was told to bank left, it became a little too much, which needed a correction on the right, which again, became a little too much. None the less, we aligned on Runway Zero Seven L and came down for, what the P2 called a very smooth and perfect approach, and going through the same regime again, Landing Gear down, power to idle at 50 feet, but no thrust reversers this time, we would go full power for a take off again and off we went, One thousand feet, Five Hundred feet, One hundred feet, Fifty feet– the voice in the cockpit kept warning – until we again roared back into the skies, pulling up and stabilizing at three thousand feet with a pitch of 5 degrees – steady climb.
 
It indeed was an wonderful experience and what more is needed when an actual pilot is complimenting you by saying that you have natural flying abilities and skills and that the approach in winds was perfect !
I pulled up the bird, banked right and followed the path towards Kai Tak and upon getting instructions from the P2 for turning left following the flickering lights and managing a last minute approach and landing early, managed the get the aircraft back on ground – again veering all over the place as we came to a stop in the middle of the runway – which also marked the end of the 30 interesting minutes. Good Byes and Thank yous later, I was out of the simulator with a glee on my face and wished good luck to the next pilot as he waited at the door. 
The DVD recording of my flight was quickly handed over to me, and I happily went around spending the remainder of the day in thoughts of the flight and the B737.
 
If its Boeing, I aint going!
 
Over, the week, I headed to the A320 simulator located in Orchard Central on 4thfloor. It is a nice small place, with the aircraft seats laid out for the waiting pilots. A small counter for the payment and checking on the slots and then the simulator door itself. Payment done, slot finalized, I waited for the pilot to come in and off I go into the Airbus A320 Simulator.
I have always liked the A320 more than the B737, when flying and today I was to complete a comparison by piloting the both of them. The session started with brief introduction to each other followed by detailed overview of the cockpit and the instruments. A great briefing about the Fly by wire system and other interesting facts about the systems inside the aircraft. 
 
I again occupied P1, the left hand side seat and my co-pilot for the day occupied the right seat. I was asked if I have any specific path in mind, to which I replied in negative. The pilot then chose to make the task difficult for which I was OK, and we were to set off from Macau, do a touch and go at Hong Kong and land at Kai Tak. Well looks like this is the favorite route for pilots at both the simulators. Affirm I said, and the simulator was configured to have us on the runway at Macau.
 
Left hand on the joy stick and right firmly on the throttle, we set the power to 40%, removing the parking brakes, maintaining the center line as the throttle was pushed to 100% and we passed V1, which was followed by a loud Rotate from the co-pilot. Without much effort, I pulled the joystick downwards and we took off smoothly climbing at 10 degrees.
The power was soon reduced to 85% and we levelled off at 4000 feet. This sortie was just to understand the controls and see the smooth, effortless controls of the Airbus. The way the joystick controls this aircraft is mesmerizing. No power, no pressure – we were just gliding in the air. 
 
This done, the co-pilot quickly set the simulator to landing mode, and the aircraft was placed on the approach which I followed and continued to descend to land back at Macau. It indeed was a difficult task, controlling the plane – no matter how simple it looked. Unlike the boeing where I kept looking outside, here it was all inside – just one screen, to maintain a black dot at the intersection of two green lines. Simple, as it may seem, the dot and lines do not get along well with each other most of the times!
 


Having refused many a times to come together, I somehow managed to get them where they were expected and we did a fast descend into Macau, first reducing the thrust to 45%, adjusting flaps to 30 degrees and once aligned, increasing the thrust to 85% for a fast approach into Macau. The cockpit voice continued to let us know our altitude as we had aligned to the ILS and at touchdown, I pulled back the throttle to 0% power with thrust reversers and coming to a standstill just as we crossed half the runway.
The next take off, was effortless and so was the flight to Hong Kong and onwards to Kai Tak. Managing the landing at Kai Tak was easier this time, owing to the simpler controls of the A320 as compared to the Boeing 737 and also for the fact that I had already done one sortie to this airport. 
The session ended after I taxied in the aircraft at Kai Tak but left me wondering for one question. How does the Co-Pilot who has always flown the A320 by his right hand, manage to fly the aircraft when he graduates to be a pilot. The joy stick is then available to his left and not right. This is way unlike the B737, where the controls are same to both. I put this question to few of my pilot friends and got some hilarious answers. From saying that it does not really matter to hearing that it’s the price you pay for getting promoted, I heard them all!
 
Only flipside at this Simulator was the fact that to save time and give you 2 landings and take offs, they flip from scenario to scenario and do not let you complete a circuit to come back and land.
I walked away as an happy man, having piloted the B737 and the A320 in a matter of 3 days. . well, just the simulator!

Grabs from the DVD recording of my flying
Comparing the two planes
 
The A320 simulator was just like playing the video game, you give some small inputs to the plane and it is as steady as it can be, unlike the B737 where everything till the last input is controlled by the pilot.
 
The joy stick on the sides, makes navigating the A320 such a simple task as compared to the force required for the B737. All said and done, the B737 gave a real piloting experience since I had to do much more while piloting the B737.
 
The cockpit of A320 looked sleek and less cluttered as compared to the B737.
 
Comparing the two simulators
 
I would recommend that a newbie try out the A320 simulator – only because it is much cheaper and has special offers during the day times. However, they spend a lot of initial time in briefing you about the aircraft, eating into your valuable 30 minutes of flying, unlike the B737 SIM, where in the briefing was a 6 minutes film shown before we stepped into the simulator.
 
The pilots at both the places are friendly and so is the staff. There is additional hospitality in the form of tea & coffee at the Boeing SIM, and also they have the official Boeing store. You wouldn’t find official Airbus goodies at A320 SIM.
Details
 
Boeing B737 NG SIM
Flight Experience
Location – Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Ave #02-06 S/G
Website – http://flightexperience.com.sg/
Package starts SGD 175 for 30 minutes.
Airbus A320 SIM
SG Flight Simulators
Location – 181 Orchard Road, #04-31/32, Orchard Central
Website – http://www.sgflightsimulations.com.sg/
Package Starts SGD 69.5 for 30 minutes. Look out for special week day off peak packages
Well, there is only one way to end this report – by saying that I did a great job at flying because as the famous saying goes . . .
 
A “good”landing is one which you can walk away from. A “great” landing is one which lets you use the airplane another time.
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