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Devon’s amazing Virtual Jet Centre is taking off

PUBLISHED: 11:03 01 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:03 01 May 2015

Captain Andy Wilkins of the Virtual Jet Centre

Captain Andy Wilkins of the Virtual Jet Centre

Archant

There’s a rather amazing business which is rapidly turning into a tourist attraction in its own right tucked away on an industrial estate in Devon, as ANDY COOPER discovers

Photography by Steven Haywood

The aircraft cabin simulator at the Virtual Jet CentreThe aircraft cabin simulator at the Virtual Jet Centre

I flew in and out of Munich International Airport the other morning and was back behind my desk in Exeter by 11.30am. And when I say flew, I mean ME, hands on the controls, shepherding a 747 onto the runway with barely a murmur.

I didn’t of course, but it felt like I did sat alongside Captain Andy Wilkins at the controls of the state-of-art flying simulator he has installed at the Virtual Jet Centre. Sound affects, motion, airport layout all around you before your eyes – this experience of taking the helm of a passenger jet must be as close as it gets to the real thing.

And all this behind the door of an end unit on a Devon industrial estate. You’d have to travel many a mile to find something similar open to the public. Heck, you’d probably need to fly there!

The brainchild of Andy, who flew for Thomson Airways for nearly 20 years, on both Airbus and Boeing Aircraft, the Virtual Jet Centre is one of those special places which can be both fun or serious – or both – according to your reason for visiting.

And that’s why something which started off more from a training environment is coming up fast on the rails as a ‘must do’ tourist attraction for those visiting this part of the world on holiday. And with the way Andy and team treat the Virtual Jet Centre as an ‘airport experience’ on arrival it means the whole package screams fun and education in equal measure.

It’s the flying simulator which takes all the plaudits, naturally, but in my opinion upstairs on the premises Andy has something equally impressive in the form of a mock-up aircraft cabin. It’s here that some of the more specialist work offered by the Virtual Jet Centre goes on, namely the Fear of Flying courses, often conducted on a one-to-one basis.

“I find it works better that way,” says Andy, a no-nonsense but passionate believer in the work he is achieving to put his business on the map. “Being able to spend time with someone and talk through their fear of flying and overcome it is a very personal thing and it works really well if we can do it one-to-one.

“We get some real success stories here and then some lovely feedback about how people have gone on to fly having conquered their fears. It’s lovely to see it all working in this way.”

The look and feel of the cabin simulator is so realistic the Virtual Jet Centre also offers training for those wanting to pursue a career as cabin stewards, with dedicated trainers just for this.

There’s a commercial aspect to the flying simulator too, offering as it does, training to those hoping to qualify as pilots or just hone their skills. A classroom setting also means groups can be catered for easily and it’s the customer-focused nature of what Andy and team do which sets them apart.

There’s a friendliness about the place, reflected in the fact that junior groups and clubs are more than welcome to visit to try the simulator and Andy is more than willing to offer bespoke packages around birthdays, stag or hen dos.

“We really do have something unique here, not just for Devon but the whole of the South West,” opines Andy. “I’m passionate about making sure everyone knows about it and makes the most of the facilities we offer.”

Roger Wilco to that. Over and out. You see, I’m even getting the lingo too…

For more details, visit virtualjetcentre.co.uk or telephone 01626 852119.

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