Markus Lang is a relationship manager with Julius Baer Zurich and a flight instructor in his spare time. Together with his friends, Markus succeeded in transforming a real Boeing 747 cockpit into a flight simulator. We took off with him to understand the motivation behind this project and to experience the simulator.
First, you hear the aircraft noise. Then you see hundreds of bright buttons. Then you bang your head because you forgot to adapt yourself to the narrow cockpit space. Congratulations – you have made it into the pilot seat of a real Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet cockpit which is a flight simulator now.
Your fingers clasp around the steering wheel; the runway lies in front of you, and you begin to realise that you do not know how to get this machine up into the air. In the end, you are glad that an experienced former Boeing 747 pilot is at your side to guide you through the major systems. You would not have been able to take off otherwise.
“I have been trained by 747 pilots but prefer to be a private banker,” explains Markus Lang, who works as a relationship manager with Julius Baer. While the departure airport Zurich Duebendorf can be spotted 10,000 feet below and the cockpit disappears into a cloud with 600 kilometres per hour, it is the right time to ask a few questions:
You built one of the most advanced flight simulators in Europe – what made you take this decision?
It all started when I was still at school. Since then I have been fascinated with jets, the technology and the feeling you get when entering a cockpit. A bit later down the road, around twenty years ago, I also regularly met a group of friends who were as fascinated by aviation as I was. One of their parents owned a restaurant at which guests could access a small military aircraft with a homemade flight simulator. This is how we got the idea to convert a real Vampire Jet into a similar simulator. My friends are software specialists and looked forward to the challenge of enhancing an existing Flight Simulator program for this purpose.
Those days are long gone and today we are fortunate to run our flight simulator we developed ourselves in the Airforce Center Zurich Duebendorf. It has 100 years of aviation history and is open to everybody who is as passionate about the topic as we are or wants to buy a ticket to try one of our simulators.
We started off with a Boeing 737-222 (ex. United Airline aircraft), continued with ex Swiss Airforce Mirage III DS, a Mirage III S, Pilatus P-3 and an authentic FA-18-Mock-Up. If we wanted to offer our guests a special experience, however, we knew that we would have to purchase a Boeing 747 cockpit, which is where we are sitting right now. The centre offers these six flying experiences and we are proud to be the only ones who have managed to build a flight simulator from a real ex Qantas 747 Jumbo Jet. By the way, it’s the same model as the famous Airforce One presidential aircraft and the former Swissair Boeing 747.
What does it feel like to fly a session in the simulator?
Our guests are surprised that the cockpit is not lifted up. Most of them expect it to shake but that’s not the case. An experienced instructor, mostly a former 747 pilot, will guide you through the major systems. Then you start to roll onto the taxiway. Especially when you lift off you think you are moving but this is an illusion. When you stand in the middle of the cockpit and the pilot takes a turn to the left, you will hold on to something as the visual effect is so strong.
When you are up in the air, you relax and focus on the moment. I have been a flight instructor for simulators for nine years. On the one hand one would be surprised how easy it is to fly when all lights are on green. On the other hand, it is very complex because of the systems and procedures to follow. There are many rules and manuals to obey. Flying is the easier part of the whole equation in the cockpit.
From my experience with clients, colleagues, and friends, they feel very excited after this experience because they know how the plane behaves. They are free to choose the destination. I usually recommend flying from Geneva or Basel to Zurich. That’s a short flight and gives you the excitement of taking off and landing. What we can also do for a bit of fun is to give full blast when landing in order to take off again and circle around the airport. For those who like to experiment we choose ‘Kai Tak’, the former Hong Kong airport, and take a 47 degrees angle approach over the city skyline before we land the plane. Doing this at sunset, sunrise, in a thunderstorm – everything is possible. We guarantee that you will land safely. Everybody can do it.
How do your clients react to your passion?
Most clients know that I have a bit of kerosene in my blood and I have already invited a few of them into the simulator. All of them still talk about this experience every time I see them. After flying together, you have established a common ground and a shared passion.
Are there other aviation enthusiasts at Julius Baer?
Aviation is a very emotional topic which most colleagues respond to in a very positive and interested way. A few colleagues have joined our 747 Group, are trained by 747 instructors and occasionally meet to improve their flying skills and have some fun together.