Bob built a cockpit simulator in his Alberta backyard. Next stop … Hawaii

·3 min read
Former recreational pilot Bob Roberts set up a flight simulator of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in his backyard in Camrose, Alta.  (Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films - image credit)
Former recreational pilot Bob Roberts set up a flight simulator of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in his backyard in Camrose, Alta. (Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films - image credit)

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

Bob Roberts spends close to three hours a day flying in a simulator he finished setting up last month on his property in Camrose, Alta.

The simulator, which he named CamAir, is a full-scale representation of the cockpit of a Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, complete with windows and an exterior screen projecting an outside view.

"I call it 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."

Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films
Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films

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

The cockpit is true to scale and fits inside a building that Roberts designed to look and feel like a departure lounge. The entire project took 18 months to build.

"I built an actual shop in the backyard. So it has clocks on the wall and a coffee table with rivets in it."

LISTEN | Bob Roberts is flying high with his flight simulator:

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, so he decided he'd stop.

Now with the simulator, he says he can fly to wherever he wants, whenever he wants.

Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films
Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films

Virtual pilots, virtual air traffic controllers

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.

"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."

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

With motion sensors, nine Bose speakers that emulate jet engine sounds, a 270-degree wrap-around screen, a joystick, and real people acting as air traffic controllers, it's hard to tell the difference between the flight simulator and a real airplane, he said.

"You can feel everything. Every single switch, every button works the same as a real jet," said Roberts.

"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."

Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films
Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films

Roberts bought the simulator from Flight Deck Solutions, a company favoured by many airlines and flight schools for training services.

Only a handful of private citizens have their own flight simulators, and Roberts' is even more unique.

"The cockpit actually comes black normally, but I had mine wrapped in vinyl," he said. "It's quite an undertaking and it's expensive."

Childhood fascination

Roberts, a retired engineering manager for Syncrude Canada, used his skills as an engineer technician to put the simulator together.

He's been flying since he got his pilot's licence at the age of 18, but has loved flying for a lot longer than that.

"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 go.

"I've flown to Alaska, I've flown to Churchill, Man.," he said.

His next stop? Hawaii.

Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films
Bob Roberts/Meghan and Nicole Films
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