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Retired man travels around the world with a DIY cockpit he built in his basement

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Muhammad Malhas, 76, operates his flight simulator cockpit at his home in Jordan's capital Amman on November 8, 2021.
Muhammad Malhas, 76, operates his flight simulator cockpit at his home in Jordan's capital Amman on November 8, 2021.   -   Copyright  KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP
By Julie Gaubert  with AFP

This Jordanian man dreamed of becoming an airline pilot and travelling since he was a child.

So Muhammad Malhas, 76, did the next best thing and built a flight simulator in the basement of his home, complete with a full-size cockpit replica of a Boeing 737-800.

"Since the beginning of time, man has been watching the birds in the sky, and dreaming of flying freely," Malhas told AFP.

Now retired after 35 years as head of a hospital in Amman, Malhas can finally enjoy his true passion, on his many virtual trips around the world, with his wife as his co-pilot.

"It was then the desire and love of flying began to obsess me," he added, sitting in the flight simulator which he has spent three years building from scrap and secondhand items.

"My heart was always hanging in the sky, and my dream was to become a pilot, but circumstances did not allow it," he said.

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP
Malhas has long harboured dreams of being a pilot. Now at 76 years old, he's soaring above the clouds in a cockpit he built in his basement.KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP

A €7,500 “toy”

Over three years, using bits of scrap metal and second-hand parts, he assembled the cockpit. The seats, for example, are from a bus. All the parts were bought at local markets, costing him a total of 6,000 Jordanian dinars (€7,500) to construct.

His friend Ahmad Fares, 25, helped him install the electronics for the onboard systems in the cabin, to give the illusion of "flying a real plane", Malhas explained.

"I found that flying on a small computer screen does not induce the true feeling of flying, so I resorted to building a cockpit that is as close to reality as possible," Malhas said.

On the cockpit screens, he can enter seas of clouds and flies over rivers and forests. He can even choose the outside temperature.

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP
Over three years, using bits of scrap metal and second-hand parts, he assembled the cockpit.KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP

Flying lessons

Throughout his working life, Malhas spent his free time reading books on aviation, aircraft engineering and even guides on how to fly.

In 1976, he enrolled at the Royal Jordanian Air Academy. There, he took flying lessons every morning at dawn in a small piper plane and obtained his pilot's license two years later.

In 2006, he started to fly virtually, thanks to a software downloaded on his computer.

And with other flight simulator enthusiasts, a "group of 30 to 40 friends, aviation enthusiasts from different countries," he flew with his computer "as far as Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad... and even as far as the United Kingdom and the United States".

KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP
His friend Ahmad Fares, 25, helped him install the electronics for the onboard systems in the cabin, to give the illusion of "flying a real plane", Malhas explained.KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP

"I think it is amazing to fly while sitting at home and to feel the joy of flying around the world," he said.

Video editor • Marie Lecoq