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Flying a 747 simulator (pictures)

Go inside the British Airways pilot training center and soar above London in a Boeing 747 simulator.

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Kent German
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1 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Located next to London's Heathrow Airport, the British Airways Global Learning Academy houses 15 simulators where the airliner's 3,800 pilots train regularly to refresh their skills.

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2 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The sims, each designed for one of the seven aircraft types BA flies, stretch the length of the immense and spotless room.

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3 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The round portion on the front of the sim can project a simulation for almost anywhere in the world.

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4 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Each sim is designed to exactly match the cockpit of a real airliner. In this 747 sim that I flew, you can see the same throttles, control columns and flight information displays that a BA pilot would use to fly paying passengers.

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5 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Above our heads was a mass of switches to control the 747's internal systems like hydraulics, electronics and passenger comfort systems. Fortunately, I didn't have to learn each one for my first flight.

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6 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My host, Mark Vanhoenacker, a senior first officer for British Airways, walks me through the major systems as we prepare for our flight.

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7 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Don't press this button unless you really, really need to.

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8 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As the session begins, we're lined up for takeoff on Heathrow's Runway 27L at dusk. The virtual display is incredibly realistic; you can even recognized the airlines parked at the terminals.

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9 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

After I release the brakes, Mark pulls back on the throttle levers.

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10 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

My job is to keep us on the centerline as we accelerate down the runway. As you use foot pedals to steer, that wasn't easy. But seconds later I pull back on the control column and we're off.

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11 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

After ascending to about 4,000 feet, I turn us around for a scenic flight over central London.

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12 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As I turn the plane with the control column and rudder pedals, the horizon dips and London is ahead.

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13 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Next it's time for a tour through the basic controls while we fly toward the lights of London.

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14 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Don't worry, we're on autopilot.

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15 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

When it's time to turn back to Heathrow I tell the automatic pilot what to do and let it do the work for me. All it takes is to turn the dial on the center console to the new heading.

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16 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As we line up for landing on the runway we left shortly before, Vanhoenacker handles the engines and flaps while I try (mostly successfuly) to keep us on course.

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17 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

You enter the simulators through thin bridges that run to a walkway that runs the length of the room. When a training session starts, the bridge raises like drawbridge so the sim can move in all directions. Here's a sim for an Airbus A380.

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18 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The sims are also impressive machines when viewed from below.

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19 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As the training sessions transpire, the sims tilt to mimic the movement of an aircraft and the feeling of acceleration. The bridge to the sim on the left is in the raised position.

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20 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

As a sim tilts back, it mimics not just the feeling of ascent, but also acceleration by pressing you back into your seat.

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21 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Of course, airplanes also descend.

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22 of 22 Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Vanhoenacker stands in front of one of the company's 747s parked on the edge of Heathrow at the airline's maintenance base.

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