Local 2 Investigates: In-home flight simulators

By Joel Eisenbaum - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - A You Tube video shows Zaharie Ahmed Shah, the captain of missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, had a fairly elaborate flight simulator set-up.

"I don't think we have a full picture yet as to why he had this," Joshua Verde, a former commercial pilot and current industry consultant said.

The FBI had been dissecting and inspecting a hard drive attached to the flight simulator. As of Wednesday, the investigation had not revealed anything suspicious.

However, it is clear that virtual aviation has come a long way since 9/11. More information about aircraft and how to operate them is available online, and regular people without formal training may be capable of flying jumbo jets.

Virtual aviation is popular with pilots and non-pilots worldwide.

"I think if there were an emergency situation I really could try and fly a 777," Reuben Prevost, a Lamar University student, told Local 2.

Prevost has never flown a real jet, but has spent hours online perfecting his skills both flying and traffic controlling.

Prevost is one of thousands of people worldwide who belongs to VATSIM, the Virtual Air Traffic Simulation Network.

VATSIM is a well-respected community of pilots, air traffic controllers, and enthusiasts.

"I know it's a simulator, I don't pull away from that, but we try to keep things as realistic as possible," Prevost said.

Prevost has invested about two thousand dollars in a computer, software, three monitors, and computer equipment. 

"Ten years ago not just anybody could learn how to keep a 777 flying. Once you've rung that bell you can't unring it," Verde said.

Local 2 Investigates found a downloadable operation manual for Boeing 777 online. Flight tracking and authentic airline flight plans are also accessible to anybody if you know where to look.

"Planes are giant computers these days, it makes sense you can learn how to keep one in the air on a computer," Verde said.

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