Sydneysider Matthew Sheil has built what could easily be one of the most elaborate big boy’s toys in the world, and his efforts have earned him a Guinness world record.
Sheil is the top gun in the surreal world of flight simulator enthusiasts, where virtual pilots join virtual airlines, fly virtual routes and are assisted by virtual air traffic controllers.
For most, a joystick and Microsoft’s Flight Simulator PC software is sufficient, but, over the past 10 years, Sheil has built what Guinness describes as the “world’s most expensive home flight simulator”.
A homebrew version of the $60 million simulators used to train pilots, Sheil’s contraption is almost identical to the cockpit of a 747-400.
Thanks to 45 different software programs running on 14 different computers, the simulator allows Sheil to fly to and from 27,000 different airports around the world with breathtaking realism.
By day, Sheil runs a trucking parts company but at night he takes to the skies with other enthusiasts from around the globe. The simulator is stored at his warehouse in Chipping Norton.
It is able to mimic real-world weather conditions in any country with startling accuracy, and the hydraulics system means Sheil can feel every bump.
“When you taxi out on the runway you feel it bumping on the cracks in the pavement, you feel it when the wheels touch down,” he said.
While only a handful of people in the world have a simulator that’s anywhere near as good as Sheil’s, thanks to Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, anyone with a PC, joystick and an internet connection can fly with him from the comfort of their bedrooms.
Terry Scanlan, founder of the virtual flying association VATPAC, says there are 5000 members in Australia.
“We’ve got real pilots that fly for Qantas that are on our network and we’ve also got air traffic controllers that do this as a hobby as well – one of the air traffic controllers that works in Melbourne is in charge of our training,” he said.