Published on April 3rd, 2022 | by Mark Dwyer0
New Spitfire Simulator in Wexford
I was recently contacted by Roel Stausebach, owner of the new TheHangar.ie, an augmented reality simulator experience centre based in Blackwater, Co. Wexford. Augmented reality is the integration of a real world cockpit with Virtual Reality flight simulation. I got the chance to visit The Hangar just before it officially opened this week and I was blown away by the experience.
Roel started Heritage Flight Simulation in 2017 in South Africa in order to bring a very real flight experience in the Spitfire to a broader audience. The prototype cockpit was completed in 2019, incorporating all 78 controls of the Spitfire Mk.IX into an exact scale cockpit designed from over 3500 original drawings and further measurements taken from actual Spitfire components where detail was lacking. The resulting plans for self-build were then created together with a 528 page Builders Guide which explains the construction step by step.
He moved to Ireland in mid 2020 and happened upon the old Glider Arcade in Blackwater as a new base for HFS. Looking like a historical hangar, it lent itself to becoming a VR flight experience centre with the Spitfire cockpit as its centrepiece. After over a year’s renovations and preparation The Hangar Flight Experience opened in Blackwater, Co. Wexford this week.
The Hangar has been themed with historical Irish aviation. Panels depicting photographs and the history of early aviation in Wexford adorn the main display wall. There are three simulators available, the Spitfire as the centrepiece, a Robinson R22/R44 and a general aviation simulator that can be configured for various types.
As a GA and Commercial pilot, I have used over 50 different simulators in my career from basic training devices to full flight Level D simulators. I can honestly say this is the most realistic and immersive flight simulator I have ever flown. Initially I climbed up to the platform beside the cockpit and Roel handed me the Virtual Reality headset. Once on, I was instantly transported back in time and I was now standing on the wing of Irish Air Corps Spitfire (Seafire) 150. As I looked around in every direction, the accuracy of the simulation was breath taking. The detail of the rivets on the wing and fuselage, the long grass swaying in the wind and the detail of the cockpit when I looked in.
Being 100% accurate, there’s lot of actions to start the Spitfire so to speed things up, Roel jumped in and got it started. Once in position I climbed in and looked around. With the headset on, two speakers either side provide realistic stereo sound. A fan, outside the cockpit provides airflow over the canopy to simulate propwash! Inside the real cockpit, all of the controls work, in the virtual reality simulation all of the instruments work. As you move the throttle, prop, mixture lever etc. in the real cockpit, the move in the simulation too.
As I advance the throttle for takeoff, the airflow increases through the cockpit, I keep it straight with rudder and the tail slowly comes up. As the speed increases, the controls stiffen up as they would in any aircraft (I never flown a real Spitfire – yet!), with the gear up, throttle and prop set for climb I close the real canopy and of course this is fully simulated too. The breeze in the cockpit stops. The realism is remarkable.
We departed Biggin Hill, a 1940’s model, so I decide to fly low level down the Thames. I can look around in all directions. As I look up, I can see my tail in the mirror just above my head. After some barrel rolls and loops I make my way back to Biggin Hill for a landing. Slowing down, I select flap and gear and open the canopy, I can feel the wind in my hair again. I pull off a reasonable landing and bring it to a stop in one piece. What an experience.
When I take off the VR headset, I’m back in the old Glider Arcade in Wexford.
The next sim to try was the Robinson R22. This one does not have the same surround cockpit as the Spitfire but does have collective, cyclic and the anti-torque pedals. As soon as the headset goes on, I’m now in modern day Biggin Hill on the main runway with the engine running. I’m not a helicopter pilot but with the some excellent instruction from Roel I managed to get it into a low hover and then transition into climb along the main runway. Again, looking around I get the same 360 degree view. As I move the cyclic it moves in the simulation giving it a very realistic feel. After a short circuit I manage to get it on the ground in one piece.
The final sim was the General Aviation sim. This is simple with just a seat, throttle to the left and joystick to the right. Still, with the VR headset on the realism is incredible. We were on the threshold of a runway 21 in Waterford in the cockpit of a Legend Cub, although various aircraft types are available. The stick was to one side instead of between my legs, but you quickly forget this when you’re immersed in the simulation.
TheHangar.ie is open to the general public but pilots of all levels and aviation enthusiasts will find this particularly enjoyable. It’s highly recommended and I’ll certainly be going back for another visit!
See the list below for the various offerings and if you need any more details, contact Roel directly – details at TheHangar.ie
General Aviation VR Simulator
General Aviation VR experience flying anywhere in the world (choose whether you would like to fly a microlight, single engine trainer, light twin or airliner). Suitable for beginners through to experienced pilots it provides a stunning aviation experience. Bookings are for 20 minutes but run over 30 minutes allowing time for getting settled and briefed and debriefed after. If you book two continuous sessions this should provide around 50 minutes flight time.
Robinson R44/R22 Helicopter VR Simulator
Helicopter VR experience in a Robinson R44/R22 type. Flying a helicopter is complex and this provides a safe environment in which to build up your understanding and skills. Perfect for hover training, aspiring helicopter pilots or those just curious to find out more about them. Duration 20 minutes, ages 14 and up.
Spitfire Mk.IX Flight Simulator
The core of “The Hangar” offering is the full size Spitfire Mk.IX cockpit. The cockpit has been painstakingly recreated from original drawings, incorporating all 78 controls, switches and levers found on the original. All of them work and have a function in the simulated world. This is your opportunity to get into the cockpit of a Spitfire and feel what it is like to fly it. Note that due to the nature of the experience certain admittance restrictions apply. Ages 14 and up, below 105kg and 6’2” (185cm) in height and fit enough lower yourself in and heave yourself out of the confined cockpit with no assistance.
Spitfire Mk.IX Simulator Ab-Initio
Ideal for those just wanting a taste of it, we offer this 20 minute session. You will start in the air and be given 5 minutes to get used to the handling and can then sightsee or move on to dogfighting. For beginner pilots, a session in the GA simulator using a suitable single engine trainer is highly recommended before tackling the Spitfire.
Spitfire Mk.IX Simulator Pilot
This is our intermediate offering where you will receive basic instruction on the essential controls first. You will then start in the air and be given 5 minutes to get used to the handling and can then sightsee or move on to dogfighting. After 20 minutes or when you are ready for it, progress to take-off and landing the Spitfire. Here some previous simulator or real flight experience is recommended to truly enjoy the experience. At a minimum training for take-off and landing in our GA simulator single engine trainer is strongly recommended for those unfamiliar with basic flight operations. Total flying time 40 minutes but overall allow an hour to get settled in, briefed and debriefed.
Spitfire Mk.IX Simulator Ace
This is our advanced offering where you will receive a full briefing on all the controls and systems and start-up, take-off, flight, dogfighting, landing and shutdown of the Spitfire. Here previous simulator or real flight experience is recommended to truly enjoy the experience. Training for take-off and landing in our GA simulator single engine trainer will put you on the right track. Total flying time around an hour but overall allow just under an hour and a half to get settled in, briefed and debriefed.
For the most satisfying experience booking should be 2 weeks in advance to allow us to send you the official Pilot Operating Handbook for self-study prior to the in-cockpit briefing.