IT'S not everyday you get an email asking if you want to try flying a plane next week but that's exactly what happened when I was invited to Wrexham Glyndwr University to have a go on their state-of-the-art Merlin Flight Simulator.

Located in the engineering department at the Plas Coch Campus since 2009 the simulator enables students to design and test their own aircraft using engineering theory.

"The simulator allows us to model it on any aircraft," explains lecturer Nick Burdon. "If you have enough information it can be anything from the Wright Brothers' Flyer to anything flying today and future projects which is where our students come in.

"They can learn the basics like the interaction between the pilot and the plane and also learn what effects what for example if we change the tail size what effect does that have on an aircraft's performance?

"We also use it as a design tool - if we are given the specifications of a particular aircraft the students could come up with a design, enter it into the simulator and try it out."

As someone who grew up in the shadow of Heathrow Airport, just nine miles from the site and right under the flightpath, it felt only fair that Nick gave me the task of attempting to take off and land an Airbus A380 at my local runway.

Once I clambered up the steps and Nick pulled the lid down on the cockpit, it all felt incredibly real and rather claustrophobic. The £180,000 simulator moves via hydraulics, responding to the controls which you operate with your hands and feet while Nick attempts to guide you through the process through headphones.

Despite going in there with a degree of confidence I was immediately in trouble as I tried to juggle the speed, the throttle and the joystick while trying to keep the horizon level as I careered down the runway. The controls were incredibly sensitive and very quickly the effort of trying to control the angle of the nose while applying the much-needed thrust is all too much and I'm rather embarrassingly plummeting towards the ground at an alarming rate.

"It's not just engineering we can use the simulator for," explains Nick. "We also use it with psychology students because we have man / machine interface and we can put students into stressful situations and look at learning curves, coping mechanisms, panic attacks and all sorts of things.

"It underpins a lot of the ideas we can go through in class - I can wave my arms around until I'm blue in the face but if I can get the students in there, hit the rudder pedal and feel what the aircraft is doing they can really see what effects there are."

Very quickly I appreciate how difficult flying must be and how this experience could help studies into how people handle stress - I'm sweating, annoyed and a little ashamed of my efforts. Thankfully Nick gives me the chance to have a go at landing and as I keep an eye on the speed, I even manage to approach something like cruising height for a serene few minutes before once again hurtling downwards when I overdo the throttle.

Nick is sympathetic but I can tell that flying is not for me and it will be a long while before I'm allowed anywhere near the subsonic and supersonic wind tunnel facilities and flight simulation packages which the engineering department also give students the opportunity to use. Students can also work on jet engine aircraft in the aircraft hangar on campus and a well-equipped thermo-fluid dynamics lab including a fully operational pelton wheel and francis turbine. Aeronautics is big business at Glyndwr with ties with the Airbus Wing Factory and Composite Centre in Broughton, and accreditations from the Royal Aeronautical Society (RAeS), the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institution of Engineering and Technology.

"It's not just planes," adds Nick. "You could finish an aeronautical degree and move off into another performance engineering area.

"We have quite a number of European students and the opportunity to learn engineering in a different language is appealing especially as English is the language of aviation which is a bonus."