Learning to fly is a long-held dream for many people but one most of us never get to experience.
Now people of all ages can fly without wings thanks to Craig Saunders’ new business, The Aviator Experience.
The former Royal New Zealand Air Force avionics technician and IT professional set up two flight simulators in Mount Maunganui with his wife, Anita, in May last year. Using virtual reality headsets, would-be pilots can strap themselves into a simulator cockpit and fly some of the most iconic warbirds ever built including spitfires, MiG-15s and F-15 fighter jets.
“Flying is expensive; simulator flying is affordable and with technology advancements has become almost like the real thing,” Craig explains.
“Our goal is to give people the most realistic flight experience in a warbird that we can, so a very hands on approach is taken in talking and guiding customers through the simulated aircraft and how to handle it and get the most from it. The experience is unlike anything they imagine, so it can be mind-blowing. It can also be extremely competitive but fun.”
Participants can challenge their friends to air-to-air combat or join forces to face computer-controlled enemy aircraft. “We also cater for small to medium groups for team events and have BBQ facilities. And for people who love to fly as much as we do, concession rates are available.”
The husband and wife team are both passionate about flying and being able to share that with other people gives them a huge amount of joy.
“We had a man and a woman in their 80s who flew the spitfire in the skies of Normandy for nearly an hour and didn’t want to get off. Then we had another woman who cried with joy as she had felt she had really achieved flight. It’s successes like those which really hit home to us that we are doing something that can bring joy to people.”
Keeping costs down to keep the experience affordable for the whole family, and finding funding for expansion, are two key business challenges that the Saunders currently face.
“We plan to add a third simulator in the coming months, with full motion. This will improve what we offer. From there, we have other simulators planned for 2019 and beyond. Another goal is to open other Aviator Experiences around the country.”
Craig says Tauranga is a beautiful place to live and raise children, and he’s glad he’s chosen to set up business here. The best piece of advice he’s received so far is to identify your strengths and weaknesses as soon as you can and then surround yourself with people who can fill those weaknesses.
And his top tip for other small business owners? “Give it your all, get outside your comfort zone or employ someone who can. Identify what you won’t compromise on and stick to your guns.”
The Aviator Experience