An Accrington man spent two years building the UK’s first mobile flight simulator, in a van.
Steven Fletcher, 55, has been a fan of diets and a passion since a young age. While stuck in Spain due to Covid, he came across a decommissioned Piper PA24 plane on eBay. And the former removals company boss was stunned to learn his late-night £1,000 bid had been successful after indulging in ‘a few sangrias’ and waking up the next day morning.
Steven then came up with the idea of turning an Iveco fan into a ‘mobile flight simulator’, spending £17,000 to install the single propeller aircraft cockpit in the vehicle with all modern avionics systems. People can now use the craft to “fly” to destinations across Europe and even visit sites such as Big Ben, Stonehenge and Blackpool Tower.
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And the bachelor businessman now thinks his ‘Van Simulator’ could be the first of its kind in Britain. Steven said: “There are many static flight simulators out there, but I thought a ‘mobile flight simulator’ would be a unique idea and one of a kind in the UK.
“I think I’ve created something extremely special.”
It was in June 2020 that Steven first bought the plane after he was unable to leave his apartment in the town of Torrevieja, near Alicante, for ten months due to confinement. He said: ‘Flights back to the UK were £2-3,000 and I was thinking of staying here.
“I was lucky because I have my own apartment and I wasn’t stuck in a hotel, which would have been horrible.
“Bored one evening I came across a real plane, a decommissioned Piper PA24 Aircraft on eBay and to be honest, a few Sangrias had passed my lips. In a hurry, I pressed “bid” and thought nothing of it. In the morning, to my surprise, I woke up to find that I was the proud owner of said aircraft.
“After a week of deliberation and buyer’s remorse, I figured I had to do something with the plane.”
He then had the idea of turning the plane into a mobile flight simulator, adding that he shared a passion for video games since its release 40 years ago. He said: “I have always had an interest in aviation from an early age and have used flight simulators for many years – since the debut of Microsoft Flight Simulators 1.0 in 1982.
“Construction started once I returned to England after lockdown. I picked up the van in October 2020 after buying the plane around June of the same year. The Iveco van was around £3500 and had done around 35,000 miles when I bought it.
“I stripped down the interior to modernize all the gauges and avionics systems.
“When I was satisfied with the quality of the van and the plane myself, a few beefy friends handled the Piper in the van. Once the Piper was in the van, I proceeded to integrate all the software and hardware I am using the latest fully licensed version of Xplane11, Laminar Research.
He added, “It is arguably the best flight simulator software for accurate flight dynamics, giving participants a more realistic flight experience.”
Steven now offers his simulator to experts and novices who want to learn how to pilot his remarkable creation.
He said: “It’s a single propeller aircraft so it’s limited to short flights, but you can fly it anywhere in the world on the infographic. No experience is necessary for potential participants, which is suitable for novices and potential pilots alike.
“I am very happy to offer this to weddings, parties or any event where the public thinks it would benefit their special day. Attendees can also rent my simulator for an hour if they wish or visit my static location, based in Accrington.
He added: “I am currently building a Boeing 737, but it will be static.”