Yes, you read that correctly. I flew a flight simulator in a convenience store. If that sounds strange, it is. Here’s how it came about.
During Sydney’s long second lockdown, Egyptian migrant Ahmed Abdelwahad Nasreldin pieced together an A320 flight simulator in his Sydney convenience store. When I read the story in the newspapers, I made it my mission to experience the flight simulator for myself.
Finding the Flight Simulator in a Convenience Store
It took a few attempts. At first, I couldn’t find the address and was sent on a wild goose chase to Elizabeth Street in Redfern. I went home disappointed. Having found the address, I went soon after lockdown only to find the store closed. On my third attempt, the store was open, but as I hadn’t booked there was no one available to supervise a flight session.
Finally, with a secure booking I entered the store a little anxious and not quite sure of what I had let myself in for.
Where is it?
The store is located in Elizabeth Street, more or less opposite what I call the “Bullet Sculpture” in Hyde Park. The sculpture, correctly named “Yininmadyemi – Thou didst let fall” is a tribute to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women in the Australian Defence Force.
A Different Convenience Store
An EzyMart Sign hangs over the footpath. Another sign above the door identifies the store as an “Airport Convenience Centre” offering “Luggage Storage, Currency Exchange, Flight Ticketing and Souvenirs”.
Soft koala toys, key rings and coasters decorated with Australian themes fill the shelves on my left. Next to the boomerangs, hang two pilot blazers, pilot hats and model airplanes. At the shop counter opposite, I find the usual snacks and chocolate bars typical of a convenience store.
Black curtains block the entrance to the simulator. An engine noise comes reaches me from behind the curtains. I hear a woman chuckle and then a beeping sound. A deep recorded male voice warns “Too low, terrain. Too low, terrain”. It all sounds very real.
The Man Behind It All
Ahmed steps towards me through a gap in the curtains, leaving the customer to land the plane himself as “he’s done it before”.
Four gold stripes adorn the navy epaulettes of Ahmed’s crisp white shirt. He smiles broadly, and we chat while the current ‘pilot’ finishes his session.
A qualified Aviation Electronics Engineer, Ahmed spent ten years flying in the cockpit with Egypt Air as the Flight Engineer. With difficulties getting his qualifications recognized in Australia and unable to take up work in his field until he is an Australian Citizen, Ahmed is training to be an electrician in the meantime. He submitted his application for Permanent Residency earlier this year, started on the long road to citizenship.
Ahmed first built the 2000-piece A320 Flight Simulator in his garage at home. It was a challenging process, one he repeated when he disassembled and then rebuilt it over four months in his shop. He admits there are still a few problems to iron out.
A Fun Experience for Kids of all Ages
The ‘pilot’ before me is a young boy whose aunt has given him a “holiday treat”. He comes out beaming. At 12 years old this is his second time flying the simulator. This time he landed by himself. I can see he’s hooked and will be back.
I enter the cockpit and sit down. A bank of electronic instruments faces me. Rows of buttons and small black dials face me. There’s a lever thing on my left and an airport tarmac scene through the windows.
My First Mistake
Ahmed points to the seat on my left indicating that I should move. “You will be in the captain’s seat”, he says.
Our plane is parked on the apron at Sydney Airport. The cockpit is warm, but any discomfort soon vanishes as Ahmed explains what he’s doing as he pushes buttons and switches.
A low blue ‘push back car’ pushes us out and Ahmed thanks the driver. As we reverse past a luggage cart loaded with suitcases, Ahmed jokes “We forgot to load the luggage. We will have very angry customers”.
He pushes more buttons and we wait for the power supply to kick in. It’s surprisingly quiet as the screens come alive. There’s a beep or two and then what Ahmed describes as a “barking dog sound” as the hydraulics kick in.
I Take Control
Then it’s up to me to taxi to the runway.
The ‘steering wheel’ is more of a lever with a semicircular handhold. As instructed, I pull it round fully to the right. We’re moving. I feel a rush of excitement and exclaim “This is great!” as I guide (or at least attempt to guide) the plane towards the string of lights demarcating Runway 07. It’s not easy, and the plane lurches from left to right. Lucky there aren’t any passengers on board.
Pushing the levers on my right forward, I watch a small screen as the revs increase to the required level. The familiar sound of the engines revving up comforts me. Not having been on a plane for so long I begin to feel somewhat nostalgic.
Pushing the ‘steering wheel’ forward now, we take off. Ahmed takes over the controls and guides the plane over the city. He intentionally dives down low towards the Opera House and Harbour Bridge. The deep male recorded voice warns “Too low, terrain”.
I joke that we “don’t want to hit the Opera House” as we fly over the Sydney icon.
That’s Where I Live
Soon we’re flying over Narrabeen Lake. Approaching Palm Beach, I turn the plane inland. I hope to fly over my home on Dangar Island. The internet is slow, messing with the scenery which stretches and distorts. I persist and do fly over my home.
A Not so Perfect Landing
All too soon, it’s time to land. I must ensure that a vertical green line and a horizontal green line intersect over a small yellow spot on a little screen in front of me. It’s impossible. As the plane descends it becomes clear that I’m going to overrun the runway completely.
We land in the sea.
Kindly, Ahmed shows me how it’s supposed to be done. As the plane descends, a voice announces 1000 feet, and soon afterwards, 40…30…20. We land again, this time on autopilot. It’s a perfect landing, the only surprise is that there’s no bump as the wheels hit the ground. This simulator doesn’t actually move.
Flying a Flight Simulator was the Best Fun
I’m buzzing. That was such fun. I could easily do it again – perhaps at a different airport.
- The Flight Simulator is in a Convenience Store at 251 Elizabeth St, Sydney
- Here is a link to their website. You can book your flight here.
- It’s best to pre-book to avoid disappointment
- Suitable for kids from around 10 years old – with adult supervision
- There are different price points depending on how long your session is. I had a 30min session which included takeoff and landing. I went at my own expense.