Jordanian Muhammad 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.
“Since the beginning of time, man has been watching the birds in the sky, and dreaming of flying freely,” Malhas said.
As a boy, he enjoyed flying his kite and wondered how something so flimsy made of paper could soar so high.
“It was then the desire and love of flying began to obsess me,” he added, sitting in the flight simulator, a replica of the cockpit of a Boeing 737-800, 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.
He graduated in hospital management from a London university in 1969, and went to work with his father at the Amman hospital the family had founded.
But Malhas kept his dreams alive, devouring books on aviation, aircraft engineering and guides to learning how to fly.
He even joined the Royal Jordanian Air Academy in 1976, rising before dawn to take flying lessons in a small Piper aircraft, before heading to work. He obtained his licence two years later.
For almost a decade he was a member of the Jordanian Gliding Club, taking to the skies every weekend.
And by 2006, he was flying virtually thanks to flight software he downloaded on his computer.
He joined a global network of flight simulator fans, where they could fly in almost real conditions directed by an air traffic controller.
“We were a group of about 30 to 40 friends, aviation enthusiasts from different countries chatting about flying virtually in our spare time.
“We used to fly to Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad . . . even Britain and the US. Sometimes we sat for six hours on computers as if we were flying real flights,” he said.
Now retired, his life-long passion has taken a new spin.
Sat in front of three large screens, equipped with switches and indicators, in his homemade cockpit, Malhas has the world at his fingertips.
All the parts were bought at local markets. The chairs were originally part of a bus.
The screens show pictures of clouds and sky above, rivers, forests and deserts below. He can even choose what the weather outside is like.
The work took three years, with the help of friends who are electronic engineers. And it cost around six thousand dinars ($8,400).
His friend Ahmed Fares, 25, helped installing switches and indicators which “respond to the conditions of the plane, so that it looks like a real plane flying”.
Sometimes his wife joins Malhas in the cockpit.
“I think it is amazing to fly while sitting at home and to feel the joy of flying around the world,” he said.