Imagine telling your kids their party would be a great opportunity for them and their friends to learn more about history, maths and physics. They'd probably suggest you cancel their birthday and walk out in protest.
But, what if the party involved learning to fly (with a secret spin-off being lessons in aviation history, maths and physics)? You'd be off to a flying start.
Fasten your seat belts. Pupil Pilots ready to take off
Enter Flight Experience, centrally located at Sydney's Darling Harbour with other centres in Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Perth. The Sydney centre maintains a full-sized replica of the Boeing 737 cockpit and is approved by the Civil Aviation Safety Authority for the training of airline pilots and, of more interest to us, 11 year-olds who dream of one day flying a plane.
Flight Experience offers a children's education program, Flying Start, which is a fabulous experience designed to put kids in the captain's seat of a Boeing 737. In a fun and exciting environment kids have the opportunity to learn the basics of aviation from professional pilots. Whilst Flight Experience doesn't advertise children's parties as such, they are happy to tailor their Flying Start program to accommodate a group party for kids. With boys of his own, Iain Pero, Flight Experience Sydney's Director of Sales, had a cargo hold full of ideas for our 11 year-old boys and their friends, ensuring their experience would be fuelled with fun as well as spreading their wings with information about the history, maths and physics of flight.
With our crew of ten pupil pilots in tow, we touched down at Flight Experience Sydney with the boys flying high on adrenaline. Iain Pero and his team were ready for the onslaught and quickly had the kids checked in and sorted into groups. After an introductory talk, the first group of kids were taken to the simulator, accompanied by a professional pilot, each getting a turn in the captain's seat to control a flight, including take off and landing at one of the many airports programmed into the simulator. The simulator is amazing. The cockpit has 180 degree visuals, sound and vibration – a sensory experience which leaves you with the impression of really flying a Boeing 737.
The kids awaiting their turn in the cockpit were treated to a multi-media presentation on aircraft and flying. They also completed an age-appropriate quiz put together by Iain, followed by a Q&A with the instructor pilots, Burke, Tim and Ben, who graciously answered questions about education requirements, training, what it takes to become a fighter pilot and whether they'd ever crashed! (The answer to the last question was "no").
As each group finished, the others had their turn in the simulator with each flight being recorded and streamed through a large screen, allowing the other kids to watch each other's take offs, flight paths and landings (a few near misses among them)!
After 2 hours of flying and learning, the kids were each presented with a framed photograph taken in the cockpit, a certificate of achievement and an encouraging talk from the instructor pilots.
As we disembarked the Flight Experience centre, the kids were soaring with their heads in the clouds, commenting on each other's flying proficiency and remarking on the relevance of history, maths and physics in a world outside the classroom.
If you, like many parents, struggle to find new ideas for kids' parties at a reasonable cost, this was definitely value for money with first class service all the way.