Air Hollywood in Los Angeles claims to be the world’s largest aviation-themed film studio. The company rents out a range of aviation sets, from full-size passenger airplanes to model cockpits and airline-themed props. It’s also the site of FearlessFlight, a program aimed at helping nervous flyers overcome their phobia by exploring an airplane set.
NPR reports that the jet used by Air Hollywood’s FearlessFlight class hasn’t just appeared in movies and TV shows—it was originally the fully functional charter plane of the Los Angeles Lakers. Now, it is the classroom of retired airplane pilot Ron Nielsen, who has been helping people overcome their fear of flying for the past 29 years. Nielsen leads a two-part class which begins at Air Hollywood and concludes after his students successfully complete an actual flight. At Air Hollywood, Nielsen explains the mechanics of flight inside the plane, slowly helping his students acclimate to flight on a conceptual level. Then, at some point, Nielsen has a staff member simulate turbulence by jumping up and down on the pile of compressed air bags on which the plane sits.
In a YouTube video, Nielsen explains, “It seems to be just what your brain needs to create the realism to treat your anxiety, but yet maintain the comfort and safety of a movie studio, without the stress of being on a real airplane.”
Though the class has a hefty price tag of $497—and is, by nature, largely limited to students on the West Coast—Nielsen has a few words of wisdom for anyone struggling with aviophobia. “Sooner or later, you've got to get on the damn plane," he told NPR. "And so people ask me, 'What's the most important thing for me to do to get over my fear?' I say, 'Book a flight.'"