Located on a thriving general aviation airport just to the south west of London, SEMET Aviation offers a friendly yet professional training and experience simulator venue staffed exclusively by airline pilots.
SEMET Aviation is a new simulation venue having only commenced operations in February 2021. They are co-located with their sister company, Airline Experience, at Fairoaks Airport in Surrey, which has a busy general aviation scene and hosts the very popular Hangar Café as well as a host of other aviation businesses. We received a friendly welcome from the SEMET Aviation owners who kindly spent much time explaining their simulator and business plans to us along with some interesting future projects.
What is good
What's not so good
The simulator has a single seat and represents a generic light aircraft with multiple configuration options. It can simulate a fixed gear, fixed pitch single engine piston aircraft such as a Piper Warrior, a ‘complex single’ with retractable gear and variable pitch propellor and also a complex multi-engine aircraft such as a Beechcraft Baron. With these aircraft types in mind, we feel the single seat set up is both realistic and appropriate as these aircraft are typically flown by one pilot. The instructor station is located behind and to the right of the pilot position and allows a good instructional environment with space to share manuals, charts and experience between them. The pilot seat was comfy and adjustable, but didn’t have a harness as found in other similar simulators.
Out of the cockpit windows is a 180 degree wrap around 1080p HD projected visual system which has ever so slight patches of overlap, but no blank spots or dark areas. Our instructor for the session pointed out to us that while it is possible to simulate flying visually in any location around the world, 90% of the time the simulator is in IMC (instrument meteorological conditions) using the worldwide database of airways and navigation aids. The simulator has special scenery installed for Innsbruck in Austria and also the whole of the UK, with particular mention going to their home base (Fairoaks) where even the construction cranes on the horizon have been modelled! Weather and air/ground traffic is simulated and while the majority of the time the simulation was smooth, we did experience a couple of visual ‘jerks’ as the computers kept up with the complex scenery generation.
The flight controls are off the shelf simulation products and as such have a slightly artificial feel to them. However, we didn’t feel this detracted from the simulation at all and considering the variety of types simulated it wouldn’t be possible to cater for such a requirement. The electric yoke mounted trim was realistic as was the appearance and feel of the materials, but we found the rudder pedals a little challenging with directional control on the ground. The engine sounds were realistic and set at a level that would be appropriate for inside the aircraft. We didn’t see an intercom facility, but ambient and system noises were present and realistic.
The instrument panel can be configured in a variety of manners to replicate the traditional instrument layout found on both VMC and IMC rated light aircraft. We were disappointed to see that a glass cockpit option wasn’t available as this represents a growing number of modern GA aircraft, but we understand this is a new simulator and it is on the owners’ development wish list along with partial panel configurations to simulate instrument failure or degradation. On the subject of failures, when turning onto final approach during our test flight, the cockpit began filling with smoke reducing the pilot’s visibility and further adding to the urgency of landing the simulator. Far from being a real emergency, this is a neat feature SEMET Aviation have added to their simulator’s list of capabilities and while some may consider it ‘a little gimmicky’, we think a smoke generator adds another element of realism when training in non-normal situations.
Of particular note is the simulator’s connectivity – this is something we like to see in an increasingly ‘linked’ simulation world. The simulator can be operated with real-time, real-world weather and can also tap into the virtual online air traffic network, VATSIM, incorporating other air traffic piloted in simulators from around the globe. Our favourite feature of the simulator is the integration with popular GA products such as SkyDemon (popular in Europe) and Foreflight (more prevalent in the USA). By using a tablet mounted to the right of the pilot, real world flight data can be presented as it would in the actual aircraft giving access to simulator ‘location’, flight measurements/parameters and also instrument procedure charts/manuals. Particularly impressive is how all of the above can be combined to present the VATSIM traffic on the SkyDemon display as aircraft targets – just as it would in the actual aircraft. Whilst a realistic and very fancy capability, the training potential this provides is immense, whether it be tactical flying in congested airspace, dealing with traffic avoidance or simply adding a spoiler to increase pilot workload at an inappropriate time!
We make no secret of the fact that, at Simulator Review, we are huge fans of airport locations and in our opinion, it doesn’t get much better than this – especially for a GA simulation venue. Fairoaks Airport is a busy general aviation airfield with both flying instruction and private/VIP fixed and rotary wing operations.It is located approximately 5 minutes from the M25 to the South West of London in Surrey and the airport is well signposted – as is the venue. It’s worth noting that the west entrance to the airport provides simpler access to SEMET Aviation and this entrance can be found a hundred metres or so on from the main airport entrance. Parking is plentiful and access to the building is via a few steps.
Inside is well appointed with a couple of desks for briefings, plenty of seating and large leather sofas. The session will begin here by the large TV displaying pertinent weather and flight information before moving into the simulation room. Seating is also plentiful in the simulator room, with more than enough room for family/friends to accompany the pilot, or multiple students to benefit from the training sessions. NB: This is currently limited due to the social distancing restrictions the venue is obliged to follow.
Complimentary refreshments are offered, but we’d highly recommend the popular Hangar Café just a short walk across the airfield (umbrella required on a rainy day!) where a mean sausage, bacon and egg baguette and a flat white can be purchased and consumed for only a few pounds. The Hangar café offers great close-up views across the apron and is often busy with pilots, students, families and enthusiasts soaking up the aviation atmosphere.
When considering customers with special needs or reduced mobility, the business owners acknowledge that not having a ramp or lift and being situated up a series of steps does pose a challenge. They are very happy to chat in advance or even host a pre-visit to assess any requirements. Once inside, the rest of the venue is mostly accessible, but the simulator has a shallow step up and access to toilet facilities is down a series of steps. SEMET Aviation was very keen for the situation not to deter any customers, and they would do all they can to assist and arrange any help required to accommodate everyone.
Bookings can be completed on the website or over the phone, and the venue is manned most of the time by one of the owners. Both experiences and training details can be booked, with experiences requiring booking through sister company Airline Experience. Offers are often available and this can be found through the Fairoaks Flight Simulators website. The simulator can also be privately hired by pilots and instructors for practise and tuition. Half an hour is planned between sessions to allow the simulator to be fully cleansed and also add a bit of buffer for when sessions over run. The venue is keen to point out that there is little clock watching and should the opportunity to slightly extend the session arise then they happily/usually do this – getting something from the session and enjoyment are their top priorities.
As we’ve said previously, the majority of SEMET Aviation’s custom is training based and as such they’ve seen an opportunity to offer some bespoke training courses using their simulator. Worth mentioning are technical courses such as exploring the full SkyDemon/Foreflight range of capabilities or use of the Garmin GPS systems and also more ‘soft skill’ courses such as SRM (single pilot resource management) where the instructors will apply their real-world airline experience to offer tips and advice on decision making, leadership, human factors and general airmanship.
The Staff and Business
Even though the venue was very busy and operating with a full schedule, the owners made us feel very welcome and booked us a considerable amount of time in their simulator. We met most of their team and we’re hosted by one of their top airline pilot instructors, who also happened to be an examiner and instructor on Airbus A320 airliners for a large UK airline. The business really wants to be viewed as a friendly and approachable venue and wishes to really foster the aviation community spirit. They want customers, friends of the business and enthusiasts to drop in, have a coffee and chat and there’s usually an airline pilot or two about – we all know they love nothing more than to chat about aeroplanes!
SEMET also offer a limited number of work experience placements as part of their desire to give back to the local community and a relationship with Aerobility is being established to offer the charity some valuable time in their simulator. We like to see community and charitable commitments as it is a good indicator as to the nature of the business and its owners.
Located on a thriving general aviation airport just to the south west of London, SEMET Aviation offers a friendly yet professional training and experience venue staffed exclusively by airline pilots. Being such a busy venue is a testament to the owners and how the simulator has been pitched and we are confident as to the value it provides our fellow aviators and aspiring pilots.