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Some companies offer a service wherein a complete novice may take a flight in a small aircraft, sometimes as a passenger, sometimes 'taking the controls' under the close supervision of an instructor. Examples of this include:

How should a novice, who has little or likely no flight experience at all, evaluate whether an offer such as this is:

  • Safe, within reasonable bounds (ideally the same safety precautions that a well-run national aviation regulator would require for full-time student pilots)
  • Legal, again within the remit of the regulations that would apply in that particular country
  • Reasonably likely to offer what is claimed i.e. where 'taking the controls' is advertised, that this would constitute actually manoeuvring the aircraft and that this would be legal and proper within the regulations
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  • $\begingroup$ You are taking the controls as far as the instructor is willing to let you take them. It's not like the pilot just sits there reading the paper while you do your thing. He's probably making fine adjustments to control inputs while you make the large inputs to make the airplane poit where you want it to point (I do, for intro rides). $\endgroup$ – acpilot Mar 11 '18 at 0:45
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For Laser dogfighting, you linked to SkyCombatAce.

I did the Sky Combat Ace experience in Las Vegas about 4 years ago, and there were no lasers involved. Rather, the back-seat instructor judged when you were in position for a kill shot, and just radio'd "kill", at which point the other plane activated smoke and started spinning.

Although I enjoyed my experience with them, its worth noting that they'd have 2 major crashes resulting in 4 deaths in about the last two years. The investigations are still pending, but personally, I don't think it looks good.

In the April 2016 crash, the local weather was announcing thunderstorms in the area, and the 3 planes took off anyway, initially requesting flight directly towards the storms until the Tower Controller suggested they reconsider. They either seemed oblivious to the local weather, or didn't care about it. It has not yet been determined if that was a factor in the crash.

On the one hand, I enjoyed my flight. On the other hand, I now have serious reservations about their operation, and would not consider flying with them again.


As far as the "taking the controls" aspect: I had my Private Pilot's license at the time I flew with them, so I'm familiar with flying, although not at the performance levels of those planes. However, "taking the controls" meant the ailerons and elevator only; no throttle and no rudder (controlled by the instructor). In that sense, it was a lot like a simplistic video game with a joystick.


Update: July, 2018

The Factual Report on the first accident, in Henderson, NV is now available on the NTSB website. The report took over two years from the incident to come out, which is atypical (6 months to 1 year is more common).

The report had two concerning findings:

  • First and foremost, the report finds the pilot had detectable levels of THC (marijuana) in his blood and tissue. The report points out that it is impossible to tell how recently the pilot used it or if he was impaired at all. However, that he had any amount of an illegal substance (marijuana did not become legal in Nevada until several months after the accident) is deeply disturbing.

  • Secondly, the report calls into question if the flight operation is operated legally by CFR 14.91 and .61 (Instructional Flights), and suggests they may have been legally required to hold a part 119 air carrier / commercial operator certificate and operate under the stricter 121 or 135 rules.

I will reiterate that I enjoyed myself during my flight with SCA. But after two fatal accidents and this incredibly concerning report, I cannot recommend that anyone fly with them until major legal and operational issues are resolved.

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I am not a lawyer so I can not exactly tell you what is legal or not and don't have any experience with their service. But maybe I can help answer a part of your question.

The pilot that will fly with you is most likely an Instructor. So he has to teach people how to fly who never flew before. Flight students usually take control at their first flight once they are at a safe altitude. So I would not be to worried if they would actually let you take control of the airplane. If the airplane is high enough of the ground and they have declared a separate air space to perform their aerobatics maneuvers in it should be pretty save. The instructor is usually able to recover the plane from any maneuver given enough height. Air to air collisions would be avoided by having a separate area in which other planes are not allowed to fly in. Given it is a true aerobatics plane it is unlikely you could damage the airplane structurally before you pass out.

Most importantly your instructor pilot should know what is safe and what is not and when to step in. Because he wants to get out of the plane alive as well.

So what you can do is to check the NOTAMs for the day to see if they designated a separate airspace. You can also ask to see the pilot's license and check if he is an instructor or ask him about his flight hours on the aircraft type. Lastly you could check out if the aircraft type is suited for aerobatics, which you won't need to do for the MIG-29 and the spitfire of course.

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