World's only public Concorde flight simulator at Brooklands, Weybridge
Already famous for its vast collection of motoring and aviation history, Brooklands Museum in Weybridge is now the proud owner of the world’s only Concorde flight simulator open to the public. We sent Surrey Life journalist Pete Gardner along to give it a try
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine November 2009
When it comes to big boys’ toys, I’m afraid I am one of the biggest addicts… remote control cars… helicopters… gadgets of all kinds, I love them. But top of my list has always been a longing to ‘have a go’ on a flight simulator. I’d exhausted my sons’ computer sims long ago, so when offered the chance to take to the skies in a genuine flight training simulator, I was almost airsick with excitement before the event. Not just any old simulator, either… this was a flight in the captain’s seat of probably the most famous aircraft ever built – Concorde itself.
In what is a world first, Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, already host to an astonishingly vast collection of motoring and aircraft memorabilia, has now crowned itself with the ultimate flight experience on offer to the public – a unique opportunity to fly a Concorde simulator.
One of a kind One of only two genuine Concorde flight simulators in the world (the other one is in France but there are no plans to bring it out of retirement), this one was based in Filton, Bristol, and was used to train the original test pilots and, subsequently, all British Airways’ Concorde pilots and flight engineers.
When Concorde retired in 2003, the simulator was dismantled and rebuilt at Brooklands – all rather fitting as this was the original home of Concorde with over 30 per cent of every one of the supersonic airliners being built there.
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Anyway, back to the present and today I’ve joined a small group of journalists for a trip in the sim and the chance to find out more about the museum’s Concorde experience days. Of course, as any self-respecting Concorde fan will know, Brooklands is not only home to a flight simulator but also the genuine article itself – one of the original aircraft – so we begin the day by paying a visit to the plane.
To add to the realism, you start by ‘checking in’ and are even given a boarding pass. On board the transit bus, there is an informative introduction from one of the many volunteers who work at Brooklands, then a 15-minute ‘flight’ on board G-BBDG – affectionately known as Delta Golf – followed by a visit to the flight deck. Then comes the icing on the cake…
As good as the real thing Thinking that actually ‘flying’ the plane was going to be a bit like a larger version of a computer flight game, I do my best to appear cool, calm and collected as we head to the sim; but I’m in for a bit of a shock.
Squeezing into the tiny seat next to my co-pilot (in my case Captain Mike Bannister, one of several genuine ex-Concorde pilots who have volunteered to man the sim), the realism mounts as we go through the entire take-off drill while gazing through the cockpit window on to the tarmac at Heathrow. I must admit, it’s at this stage that it all becomes slightly alarming, as I begin to feel rather responsible for my imaginary passengers behind me. After some guidance, though, Mike casually sits back and tells me to throttle up and lift off…
Before we go on, let me quickly explain something about the simulator. The original was fitted with hydraulic rams so that not only did you have the visual input on a huge wrap-around screen but the whole sim moved and rolled as you flew, giving a real experience of the actual aircraft.
When the sim was rebuilt at Brooklands, the hydraulics were no longer available so the sim remains stationary as you fly. Take it from me, though, and several ‘real’ Concorde pilots apparently, this makes no difference to the unbelievable feeling of actually being there. To call it a simulator is almost a misnomer. You really do feel like you are flying.
Soaring over the sights As London Heathrow disappears beneath us, Mike asks me to turn gently to the right for a look over the capital. The sensation is extraordinary. My eyes are convincing me we are banking steeply as the horizon tilts over and the River Thames comes into view, while at the same time my stomach is somewhere else entirely. As Tower Bridge, Canary Wharf and even Battersea Power Station all gently sweep past the window, I glance at Mike and realise how much he, too, is enjoying what must be a very nostalgic trip in this famous aircraft (he was the captain at the controls of Concorde for the Jubilee fly-past along The Mall in London when he flew in formation with the Red Arrows).
For what seems like a lot longer than 15 minutes, we soar over London’s famous landmarks before Mike calmly takes the controls and points the aircraft in the right direction for home and then sits back to watch me land at Heathrow. I just about manage it, but I feel like turning round to apologise to my fellow travellers for a rather bumpy descent.
Nowadays, there seem to be countless ‘special’ gift ideas available – a quick search on Google throws up anything from land yachting to a chocolate workshop (oh, yes..!), but in my opinion, flying Concorde beats them all hands down.
However, if you really want to give the simulator a miss, you can still take just the flight with a look at the sim, or add champagne and a lunch or dinner with a talk by Captain Bannister.
In fact, Brooklands offers a whole variety of Concorde packages – including a chance for you to say ‘I do’ at Mach 2, as the aircraft has just been granted a licence for weddings.
So, what does this big boy want next now that he has flown Concorde… a track day? Parachute jump? No thanks… I’ll have another go in the supersonic simulator!
*** The simple facts The Concorde simulator now at Brooklands first entered service in 1975 as one of just two in the world. Incredibly, it cost about �20 million at today’s prices. It was used to train the original test pilots and, subsequently, all British Airways’ Concorde pilots and flight engineers until Concorde was withdrawn from service in 2003. In 2004, it was dismantled and transported to Brooklands. The five-year project to restore it was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and led by a team from the University of Surrey and experts at XPI Simulation. Many hours of dedicated work by museum volunteers now see the simulator open to visitors to view and for the ‘At the Controls’ experiences. The Concorde simulator at Brooklands is the only one anywhere open to the public and, along with Brooklands’ Concorde G-BBDG, gives the museum a unique-in-the-world aviation attraction.
Concorde comes home Over 30 per cent of every Concorde, British and French, was manufactured at Brooklands in Weybridge, more than at any other location – making it the home of Concorde. The Concorde now at Brooklands, G-BBDG, was the third Concorde built in Britain and this country’s first production Concorde. She first flew in February 1974. Delta Golf, as she is known, carried out a large part of the certification work that saw Concorde flying in commercial service between 1976 and 2003. She was the fastest production Concorde and in 1974 became the first aircraft ever to carry 100 people at twice the speed of sound – 1,350 mph. Her final flight was on Christmas Eve 1981. British Airways acquired the aircraft in 1984 and constructed a special hangar for her at Filton in 1988. When Concorde ceased flying in 2003, British Airways Concordes were sent to aviation museums around the world and Brooklands Museum was allocated G-BBDG, thus perpetuating Brooklands’ proud links with the supersonic aircraft.
Brooklands Museum, Brooklands Road, Weybridge KT13 0QN. For more information, call 01932 857381