The Art of Flight

Ivar Hestness is a living legend within the global aviation simulator community. His passion for building advanced simulators brought him to places and experiences he can’t talk about in public. The Alpa employee has close to the same knowledge about a Boeing 737 as an educated pilot.

How did you get started with aviation simulators?

First time I used a simulator was on an Amiga in the 80’s. But it didn’t catch me. The graphics were bad, so I moved on doing other stuff on computers. In my late twenties it came back to me. I saw a simulator on the internet and thought that it would be cool to have one in my basement. Basically a crazy idea. But I couldn’t let the idea go. I had a chat with my neighbour about my plans. He was quick to reply, “You can do it, why don’t you just build one?”. So it started ten years ago, just before I turned 30. I was single so it made it much easier to start the project.

How do you start to build something as complex as a full-sized simulator?

I decided to build a full-scale cockpit in my basement. I didn’t have any drawings to start the project, so I did a lot of research to find measurements and a lot of pictures which I scaled up to real size. I figured out where the components were to be placed. I started with what I had, which was the size of the instrument panel. Building one thing led to the measurement of the next component. I had the exact width of the plane, so I just did the math. The simulator was built from the inside out.

How realistically did you manage to build it?

The simulator was pretty close to a real Boeing 737 cockpit. I used some replica parts, but they have the same function as the real ones. Suddenly, I had a pilot calling me, wanting to use it as a training simulator in between two jobs. He came from Ryanair and applied for a job at Norwegian, and came to me for a weekend of training before his job interview at Norwegian.

He was happy. He got the job.

“My passion for research, planning, components and building something from scratch is helping me to conduct my tasks at Alpa even better.”

How many components, hours and pennies have you spent on the simulator?

I divided the cockpit into a few main categories. The main instrument panel, the overhead rack, the pedestal rack and the controls. With all the small pieces it is a lot of components. Thousands! I’ve spent about five years and 3500 hours building it. It cost me about kr 300.000,- in parts, plus all the travelling and shipping expenses.

You started this project as a bachelor, but now you are married. How is your wife dealing with your passion?

Fortunately my wife didn’t have any objections about my project when we were dating. She’s realized that this project was a big part of my life. She married me and my passion.

You have quite a standing in the aviation simulator community, how did this happen?

We were in touch with others on internet forums. Real aviation geeks! The idea of making a film came up. We did it just for fun. Spent three and a half weeks creating a video of the simulator from inside of the cockpit and outside. That had never been done before. We got massive response. People were very impressed. Newspapers in Norway published articles about the video and my simulator. Rumors started spreading. I earned a pretty good reputation because of it. Not just in Norway, but around the world.

Then what happened?

I was working in a transportation company at that time. One day when I was at work, I got a phone call from a very long number. It was an institution in Bahrain. They addressed a problem with their simulator and wondered if I could come down for a visit and fix it. I did, and ended up staying there for two years as an employee at this institution. I had many amazing experiences which I can’t talk about in detail.

Ivar Hestness Simulator

Obviously, your skills with the simulator has changed your life. How did you cope with it all?

Suddenly I moved up from being just one of many to become one of a very few. People started contacting me for simulator advice day and night. Just before I moved to Bahrain, I stepped down and went under the radar. It was too much. People talk about me as a simulator legend. I’m kind of a low key guy, so I don’t use those words myself. But it has put me in a position as one of the best in the simulator world.

Have you ever tried flying a real aircraft?

I’ve tried a small aircraft, Piper. But I don’t strive for taking pilot lessons. Of course, if I ever get the opportunity to fly a Boeing 737, I will grab it. I’ve tried the professional simulators a few times with engine failure and landing gear failure.

I managed to land them without serious damage. In theory I could manage to land a Boeing 737 in real life if it came to it. The difference would of course be the mental stress in real life, but if I keep my head straight and the weather condition isn’t too bad I could land one. To be honest, I prefer the idea of building a simulator rather than flying it. In the beginning of the simulator project I was driven by the thought of flying it, but that quickly changed. I loved the process of building it more.

What is the difference between a professional simulator and the one you built?

They are harder and more realistic, with hydraulic motion in the cockpit and amazing graphics. But then again they cost about 100-150 million Norwegian Kroner. There were things that worked better in my simulator. The professional ones had only a limited selection of airports. In my simulator we had the whole world. I could land in Sogndal or Tokyo and fly under the bridge in Tromsø. We based the software on Microsoft Flight Simulator. It is pretty open, so we modified it and adapted what we needed in my simulator.

Ivar Hestness Sitting at his simulator

What plans do you have for your simulator in the future?

I actually ended up selling my simulator. I had to move on. The simulator started to be a stress moment. It was too many things I wanted to change, I didn’t enjoy flying it because I wanted more. So I am now planning to build a new one, but I’m not stressing. I have ordered a complete new panel-kit, the same as in a real Boeing 737. That’s my aircraft. I like to use switches and not just LCD screens, so I will build the same type of aircraft again. I’m going to pick up a real cockpit from an aircraft at a scrapyard in USA or England, transport it back to Molde and find a proper location for it. I have some ideas for it, but first we have to build a new kitchen in our house. Sometimes reason wins over passion.

Is your passion in life helping your performance at work?

Definitely. My passion for research, planning, components and building something from scratch is helping me to conduct my tasks at Alpa even better.

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