Instead of flight school, he chose ‘YouTube University’
By CINDY HUANG
Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch
ASHLAND, Va. – Alvaro Coronado put on his headphones as sounds of flight attendants and passengers flooded the cockpit, his eyes looking straight ahead. He checked his various gauges and put his feet gingerly on the pedals. Then the plane lifted off the ground at 165 mph, without Coronado ever leaving his cozy home in Ashland.
Coronado built the cockpit of a Boeing 737 in the middle of his living room. Four outdated Dell monitors display the changing view of the sky and Earth. A keyboard allows him to use Microsoft software that simulates flight. Bent plumbing pipes hold the shape of the nose. Layers of thin metal sheets used for roofing are nailed to a plastic material around the piping. Hard spray foam used for insulation holds everything together
Coronado is a jewelry store owner by trade and a renaissance man by habit. He plays the flamenco guitar, creates replicas of museum artifacts, practices martial arts and, now, dabbles in aerospace engineering.
“The whole thing started because I was afraid of flying,” said Coronado, his voice carrying a smooth Colombian accent.
He said that if he’s afraid of something, it’s because he’s afraid of the unknown. And so he had to face it.
“By learning all the sounds and movements the airplanes does, everything seemed so normal. The sound of the landing gears, the flaps,” Coronado said.
As he flew his handmade Boeing 737 in his living room, his friend and pilot Col. Javier Garcia looked on. Garcia, who flew KC-130s in Iraq, explained how the steering wheel controls the altitude of the plane
“When you push (the steering wheel), the houses get bigger; when you pull, the houses get smaller,” Garcia said. He joked that the goal is to “keep the blue side up, brown side down.”
Garcia said a real simulator costs millions of dollars. And Coronado’s simulator has the basic functions to keep a pilot in practice.
“If I wanted to stay current, I would do this to keep my eyes where I want it to be,” said Garcia, referring to all the gauges and controls that pilots have to monitor and control.
Coronado said he never went to flight school or engineering school.
“I go to YouTube University,” he joked with a grin on his face. The process of building the plane involved trial and error and some unconventional thinking.
Coronado’s wife and business partner, Caroline, said that when the project first began more than a year ago, her husband put the plumbing pipes in their tub, so the hot water could help the pipes retain their shape.
She joked that she doesn’t know how many wives would tolerate having plastic pipes in the tub and an airplane nose in the middle of the living room.
But she’s proud of his fearless approach toward his projects.
“He doesn’t think anything negative. He won’t open that crack to something not being possible. Then you’ve already defeated yourself psychologically,” Caroline said.
She recalled him using chicken wire and papier-mâché when he first began constructing the plane.
The next day, she said, it was all shriveled up because the paper contracted and bent the wires.
“Alvaro had to go to Plan B,” Caroline said. “We’re probably on Plan double E now.”
Coronado connects digitally with people on flight simulators all over the world to fly together.
He said he is looking for a manufacturer to produce his model to sell on the market.
Coronado said that once he sells his Boeing 737, he will start working on his next project: a fighter jet.