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Air Cadets take flight at Darlington Nuclear

Youth from the local Air Cadets took to the skies recently without leaving the ground at OPG’s Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Two local Air Cadets sit in the cockpit of Darlington's flight simulator, which is used to improve human performance behaviours.
Two local Air Cadets sit in the cockpit of Darlington's flight simulator, which is used to improve human performance behaviours.

Ten students from the Clarington 172 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron were invited to test their flying skills in a state-of-the-art Boeing 737 flight simulator at the site.

It was a memorable experience for the youth, aged 14 and 15. As part of the free Air Cadets program, kids train in leadership, aviation, survival, and teamwork. They also participate in a variety of fun and rewarding activities, which include time flying in gliders.

“Most of the cadets have had experience flying gliders, but this opportunity gave them the chance to see what it’s like to fly a big commercial airline,” said Jos Diening, Project Director at Darlington.

The new flight simulator is primarily used as a training tool to improve human performance behaviours for Darlington’s operators and staff. While in the cockpit, employees learn to recognize how they complete a task and how they behave outside of their regular work environment.

Built by Newmarket-based Flightdeck Solutions, the impressive piece of machinery is designed within two millimetres of a real Boeing 737-800NG cockpit and features throttles and flight controls sourced from an actual 737 jetliner. Multiple screens display detailed and realistic graphics outside the cockpit to give participants the sensation of flying.

A student from the Clarington 172 Royal Canadian Air Cadets takes to the skies in a Boeing 737 flight simulator at Darlington Nuclear.
A student from the Clarington 172 Royal Canadian Air Cadets takes to the skies in a Boeing 737 flight simulator at Darlington Nuclear.

The aircraft, with its numerous switches and gauges, has a similar design philosophy to a nuclear power station. It’s also intuitive to fly and yet complex enough to allow for multiple scenarios. No prior flying experience is required to train on the simulator.

“Our purpose is not to teach anyone how to fly. We’re taking people from a highly technical environment and putting them in a different but similarly technical environment. This way we can isolate training to just human performance,” said Greg Langford, an Operation Training Specialist with OPG.

“Staff typically perform their duties by relying on experience and technical skill, unaware of the vital impact their human behaviours play. This simulator helps staff to practice various human performance tools.”

As part of their November visit, the Air Cadets were guided by instructors through a pre-job briefing, followed by some exciting and educational hands-on time behind the controls.

Youth from the Clarington 172 Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron were all smiles as they visited Darlington's flight simulator.

For Darlington operators, a typical course in the simulator includes about two hours of theory followed by three, 25-minute stints in the simulator. Trainees are given a technical check-list to go through before getting off the ground, including starting the engine and various electrical equipment. Once in the air, the sim goes on autopilot and the participants are faced with different emergency scenarios, ranging from equipment malfunctions and other stressors.

It’s a unique and immersive training method that is helping to improve staff performance, while giving members of the community a memorable experience.

“Opportunities such as these give the cadets the real-world experience they need to appreciate what their training can lead to,” Diening said. “And for OPG, it’s just another way to reach out and help the community.”