Backyard cockpit simulator takes grounded Camrose, Alta., pilot around the world

A former pilot has found a way to travel the world without leaving his backyard. 

Bob Roberts built a Boeing 737 MAX simulator on his property in Camrose, Alta., and spends close to three hours a day flying. 

“I call [the Boeing 737 MAX] the sports car of the airline industry,” Roberts told CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active

“It’s very nimble, very fast now with the new Max,” he said. “They’re extremely efficient. They’re very powerful. It’s just a nice airplane to fly. And all the components are very modern.”

The simulator replicates the nose of the plane as seen from the cockpit, complete with windows and a screen projecting an outside view.

The immersive experience is complete with workable switches and buttons, Bose speakers, and motion. (Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films)

When the doors are closed, you can’t tell if you’re not flying, Roberts said. The pilot can fly in clear skies or in active weather. 

Once an avid recreational flyer, Roberts made the switch to the flight simulator about 10 years ago.

Flying any distance is expensive and he grew weary of making short flights. 

“I got tired of doing that, so I decided I would stop,” he said. 

Now, he said, he can fly to wherever he wants, when he wants. 

Roberts connects with other simulator enthusiasts around the world through groups like Virtual Air Traffic Simulator Network and PilotEdge which act as virtual air traffic controllers. 

An outside view of the cockpit. (Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films)

Listen here | 

8:58Flying across the country from a shed in his backyard.

We will speak to a retired pilot who has built a Boeing 737 Max stimulator on his property in Camrose, Alberta. 8:58

“We talk on the radio and we get clearance,” he said. “They have vectors in different airports and stuff like that. 

“There’s thousands of courses across the world that are doing some desktop simulators and some cool sims like I have. It’s very, very immersive.” 

But with motion sensors, Bose speakers, screens that wrap around the entire cockpit to look like windows, and real people acting as air traffic controllers, it’s hard to tell what the difference is between the real airplanes and the flight simulator. 

“You can feel everything. Every single switch, every button works the same as a real jet,” he said. 

“There is no faking anything on the plane other than you’re on the ground, and it’s the only fake thing about the whole experience.”

Roberts, a retired engineering manager for Syncrude Canada, has been flying since he got his licence at the age of 18. 

The screens wrap around the nose of the cockpit and project an outside view (Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films)

“I used to go to the local airport and watch guys fly, and I was just fascinated at the age of five years old,” Roberts said. 

For many years, he flew a Zenair Zodiac plane that he built himself.

Now the simulator makes it easier for him to fly to places he’s always wanted to. 

“I’ve flown to Alaska, I’ve flown to Churchill, Man.,” he said.

His next stop…Hawaii. 

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