Hands-on flight experience in Chatan, Okinawa
Many people dream of flying. But giving it a try inside a real cockpit takes a giant leap of faith. Not to mention endless hours of training.
For those who want to fly, but know it’s pretty unrealistic they’ll ever achieve it, flight simulators offer the next best thing.
At Tama Aviation Training Center (TATC) in Mihama Chatan, people can experience just that.
The facility is run by Naoya Tamanaha, a former Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) designated pilot examiner/chief instructor for Kadena Flight Training Center on Kadena Air Base.
Being FAA approved means the simulators are good for anyone interesting in aviation, whether for fun or for serious training.
Dwayne Had from Bessemer Alabama, who was visiting his brother in Okinawa, got a taste of what it’s like to be in the cockpit.
“I was expecting more of a video-game feel than it actually was,” Had said. “I’ve got 24 skydives under my belt, so I have been up in small planes. I know how it feels, I know how it looks. And this was very good. I am very impressed. It was a totally immersive experience.”
His words are no exaggeration. Everything - from the switches to the dials and knobs - looks authentic and works just like a real plane. Even a slight maneuver of a lever is answered with a change in your view through the windshield, engine sound, or floor movement.
The realistic settings or the sensitivity of the system can be a big challenge to first-timers. The aircraft can lose balance very easily, especially during landing.
“It makes me have an appreciation for the pilot - especially on the landing,” Had said.
“I kept bouncing up when I wasn’t expecting it.”
The realistic settings fascinate those who take a serious approach and are looking to obtain a certification, as well.
Vincent Italiano, a teenager who lives in Okinawa, is one of them.
“The nighttime flying was really nice. I thought it looked the most realistic out of all the scenarios,” Italiano said from the cockpit. “It definitely gives a realistic view of everything.”
Italiano admitted that he has crashed the simulator before. But with more experience, he now feels his skills are improving.
According to him, one of the great things about the training center is that students can have hands-on experience with the system, without depending too much on instructors.
“(Instructors) show me how to do it, and then (they) let me take it from there and see how I do with it, which is really nice,” said the aspiring aviator.
“You are pretty much on your own,” said Natsuki Okazaki, an instructor pilot who helped Italiano with the simulator. “In the sims, you can try out things. If you see something not working, you can correct without me helping much. You can crash if you will.”
According to Okazaki, the system can simulate almost all the airports in the world. So, if they like, people can take off or land at their hometown airport. For Italiano, Okazaki set up the system for Hill Air Force Base in Utah. The student talked about the time he spent in Utah as he approached for landing.
At TATC, FAA Certified Flight Instructors (CFI) like Okazaki help students become pilots who excel in safety and competency. In addition to the training on simulators, hands-on training with real aircraft are to be introduced at Shimoji Island near Miyako Island, starting in September of this year, according to Yukiharu Sekiya, Deputy General Manager of FSO, a company that runs the TATC. Sekiya also said that the company is looking for people from the U.S. military community who are interested in working as a mentor at the training center.
FSO/Tama Aviation Training Center (TATC)
Address: Media Station 2F, 16-2 Mihama, Chatan, Okinawa 904-0115 (By a Starbuck in the American Village)
Fees: 30 min. for 5,000 yen; 60 min. for 9,000 yen, 90 min. for 12,000 yen
Note: FSO is the only flight training school certified by Okinawa Prefecture.