AS a boy Steve Everson dreamed of being a pilot after a visit to the cockpit of a Boeing 737 on a trip to Spain.
“After that, I’d throw sheets over my bunkbed and pretend I was flying,” says the 42-year-old broadcast engineer, from Bacup.
And although he now has a glider’s licence, he’s invested £40,000 and 10 years of his life building a flight simulator which he’s turned into a business from an industrial unit at Toll Bar Business Park in Stacksteads.
So how does one start building a life-size model of a Boeing 737-800 Winglets?
“Well, it started with a joystick and just sort of grew,” says Steve, who sources actual and replica parts from all over the country.
The welding, electronics and all the clever stuff, he’s learned from books.
In fact so life-like is Steve’s ‘sim’ that film companies are interested in using it for location shots and it’s easy to see why.
His interest in all things aeronautical has also brought him romance and marriage.
His wife Vicky, 32, was wooed by pictures of his flight deck on Facebook. And it’s just as well that she shares his interest since he had to cut a hole in the bathroom wall of their last house to accommodate the growing cockpit.
“I’m as obsessed with aeroplanes as much as Steve,” she says.
“I’m a bit of a tomboy and my dad always used to take me plane spotting when I was a kid.
“We had a caravan in Norfolk and I used to sit near the end of the runway at RAF Coltishall watching the planes.
“I love military aircraft so much that I want Steve to build me a tornado simulator next.”
In his role as Captain, Steve wears a pilot’s uniform and aviators – as you’d expect. Even the couple’s Jack Russell, Alf, gets into the roleplay.
“In his high-vis jacket he welcomes customers as Flex Airlines’ sniffer dog.
After coffee and biscuits and a quick sniff from Alf to ensure I’m not carrying illegal substances, Captain Steve leads me to the Boeing’s door.
At this point, I’m a little bemused as it’s just a plane door, nothing else.
But as he throws it open, I’m suddenly in a plane with roomy leather passenger seats – clearly not modelled on Ryanair – and tiny windows with a familiar landscape in view.
“This is Manchester Airport. I’m tempted to order a vodka and tonic. Now, I’m no expert on cockpits, but it looked like the real thing to me. Manchester Airport’s main building was visible ahead of us.
In fact, there are 250 countries in the sim’s database, so I could have tried a daring approach into Innsbruck in the Austrian Alps or the famous checkerboard approach into Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport. But Manchester was cool for a virgin flight.
Captain Steve invited me to take the co-pilot’s seat and instructed me to put on the headphones.
He talked me through a vast array of flimsy looking levers and switches, none of which registered with my girlie brain.
I did, however, clock the brake lever which didn’t look anywhere near big enough to stop a runaway Boeing.
I also learned that a half wheel to my right was for steering the plane as it taxied along the runway and the rather strange wheel in my lap required pushing and pulling to lift or lower the plane. Simples!
Within 30 seconds of taxiing, I’d decided that I had no aptitude for flying when I missed the runway and demolished the airport. “I can’t break it can I?,” I asked nervously. Captain Steve laughed in the way pilot’s laugh when they’re about to hit the eject button.
So after he straightened us up, we had lift off. Not bad for a first attempt.
I circled the airport a couple of times, waved to my mum in Altrincham and it was time to find the runway once more and land.
Now hitting the runway was a skill in itself.
I missed it entirely, churned up most of the Cheshire countryside and felled a forest.
The second attempt was equally catastrophic. It’s not as easy as it looks.
“It’s not like driving a car, it’s more like shepherding in the sky. A light touch is required,” says the Captain.
Flex Airlines has clients from all walks of life, corporates, simulator enthusiasts, children, people who are afraid to fly – ‘one lady was so scared that she couldn’t even get into the taxi for the airport’.
Thankfully Captain Cooke wasn’t flying that day.