Number one issue you have to deal with, when you start your home built cockpit, is the design. Of what I learned from my friends there are two kinds of builders, those who know exactly what they want – let say a nearly full B747 cockpit or such, and those who start with “something”, without a long term plan. In most cases according to the amount of money they wish to spend on their hobby at that time. I belong to the second type.
My appetite for more hardware grew along the project, not so much because of budget, but because I learned a lot along the years and my demand grew with time. But a few things I knew from the very beginning;
- I wished to build my cockpit so it can serve different types of aircraft.
- I had a space limit – my study (or as my wife call it; “the don’t disturb room”) measures 3 x 4 meters.
- I preferred a one computer system – easier to program and maintain.
Here is a layout of my cockpit as it looks now, it was not so from the beginning;
All units are on wheels, so the cockpit is easy to maintain and keep clean. The yoke can be removed in a minute (it arrives with two table screws) and the pedals can be pushed aside with the same ease. This enables me to mount a second PC for normal work, other than flight simulation, on the same rack. This second computer serves me, beside testing new downloads and developing scenery and design programs for flight simulation also for mail, writing and internet.
In Apr. 2006 I bought a new PCI-express machine with 2 video cards, that serves me now for Flight simulation only (marked as PC #1 on the layout). This new PC can drive up to 4 monitors simultaneously. As mentioned above I use only 3 monitors now. In the past I had to use a second computer to drive the third monitor with Maxi-Vista and a win-xp network connection .
As you can see in the drawing and pictures there are several pieces of furniture, all self built;
- The main console is attached to a low wheel cart, so the controls are at knee height (right side)
- The main rack is made out of plywood and 2” beams, supported by grooved steel profiles, so additional supports for new equipment attachments can be added any time.
Left side view with GPS;
Right side view with main console;
As a last word on design I can say this; if starting again I would do it differently. Searching more the web to see what other people did, make a long term plan, with financial considerations too, and only then start with the project (with a proto-type of some unit to practice
CH Pedal Support section
Did this ever happen to you? you spent about $ 150 on a brand new set of CH USB pedals, plugged them into your PC. All works fine, except one thing – they slip forward and you have to break your ankle in order to activate the toe breaks.
Reason for that is the impossible angle of the pedals. They are flat (maybe because of shipping considerations) and have no real support against your leg pressure.
The solution is very easy. Look at this nice little wooden support I built (took me 3 hours);
Pay attention to the even surface of the pedals and the wooden “aircraft floor”, this give you free feet movement. The cross bar is for connecting with a solid piece of furniture, such as your computer desk.
CH products can be bought at many places, most of the time you will pay less. The best bargain is a Pedal + Yoke set (about $ 250)
CH Products - Gaming division http://www.chproducts.com/
For spare parts - http://www.chproducts.com/shop/parts.html
Garmin 500 GPS section
The GPS became the navigation instrument of choice for GA pilots. Microsoft included in FS2004 the Garmin-500 (on panel) and the Garmin-295 (removable). The 500 is a better choice, having more functions. It has one drawback yet, namely you can not load or change a flight plan while being in flight. You have to use the flight planer, and then, if changing something you have to use the “direct to” or “procedure” function. Hope that get better on FS10
To learn the Garmin go to FS2004 Learning Center\GPS. I printed the 36 page tutorial for use during flight. A small tip, you can create a desktop shortcut to the Learning Center, so you can access it at all times. Navigate to "C:\Program Files\Microsoft Games\Flight Simulator 9\FSweb\LearningCenter\lc_index_KeyTopicsTabs.htm" right click on the file and create a shortcut, copy the shortcut to your desktop.
You can install the Garmin 500 in any aircraft you wish. Open the panel.cfg file with notepad and add (or replace the 295) with this lines;
Save and you will have the instrument when pressing shift+X (the number you gave).
Luckily Microsoft gave a dedicated key assignment to all the 17 GPS functions, so it is easy to operate them either by a specially made instrument (which I did) or with some ready made equipment – such as 2 GoFlight RP48 units, as you can see in the following picture
I built my GPS on a separate 15” LCD monitor (I just could not find a reliable 10” to 12” LCD monitor here in Israel). The monitor is covered with a shaped scraped computer case steel structure, on which the triple-axis knob and the right and left GPS panels are mounted. All 17 activation wires (plus ground) are connected to one of the Hagstrom cards via a 25 pin connector.
The main problem in building the GPS around a separate monitor is the complicated triple-axis switch. There are no ready made similar switches on the market (at least I could not find one). I decided to go on a mechanical solution and machined the switch from plastic (Delrin) and aluminum. The switch has 2 concentric knobs, where each of them must activate a separate FS assignment by turning right or left. To do this I reworked 4 standard micro-switches, so they will function as “one way” switches. The reworked switches are positioned in a double layer and in opposite directions. They are activated by two Aluminum gears
(“star wheels”). The third spring loaded axis activates a momentary switch.
And the last thing, once the GPS show on the monitor and you have real buttons and switches, you don’t need a full image of the instrument. Easy to change this – open the panel.cfg file and change the size_mm to;
Only the GPS screen will show
Tools & Materials
From the very beginning I decided to build all my cockpit modules and units from metal and not wood. Reason for that was;
- Sheet metal takes less space (0.7 - 1 mm thickness against 18-20 mm for plywood). The difference in percentage will be higher the smaller the units get.
- Sheet metal can be worked with higher tolerances
- Small moving parts can be worked to high precision even by hand.
- The overall look is more “aircraft” like, especially with suitable paint.
- And last, I like to work with metal.
Recently I upgraded my workshop by adding 2 miniature machine tools; a lathe and a milling-drilling machine – please go to the end of this section for details.
What is needed
First thing you have to get a place where you can work and make noise (don’t make your neighbors angry - anyway they think we simmers are nuts). I believe that 3 X 3 meter is enough, the larger the better. Then you need a solid working bench (I built my own, but you can buy one) with a heavy duty vise. The basic tools you need are power hand tools and normal hand tools. I use the following;
Vertical drill (mine is a hand drill attached to a standard stand)
12,5 mm drill
Medium size angle grinder
Rotary tool kit (with various high quality accessories)
And a pair of safety goggles to protect your eyes!!!!
Here are some of the power tools
There are hundreds of metal working hand tools available. The more you have the better. Keep one thing in mind – don’t buy cheap tools, they will drive you crazy and kill your work. I buy only professional tools, they are expensive, but worth every cent you pay for them. Here are some of them;
Clamps, saws, hammers, files, pliers, chisels and measuring tools (very important).
Specially made tools
There will be many operations you have to do for which standard tools will not be suitable, for example bending a long sheet by 90 degrees. The wise will not be enough, so I made a special tool from two L steel rods to bend larger pieces (the 2 parts are aligned with bolts);
The truth is I never made electronic circuits, nor did I assemble any electronic modules until I started with hobby. Everything I know I had to learn from the very beginning. Here is what I think is needed for a reasonable tool set;
A good welder
A cleaning brush
Pliers of various shapes
A “third hand” clamp (a life saver, if your kid or wife can’t hold the two wires together while you try to weld)
A digital multimeter (to test your circuits, resistors, voltage, etc.)
Main Console - page 1
The main console was built as a multi aircraft controller with 4 parts;
1. Throttle Quadrant; 2 throttles, trim wheel, air brake, flaps, gear, hand brake, push-back, and 12 different buttons and switches– to control view, engine functions, etc. All Buttons are programmable.
2. 36 programmable switches and buttons.
3. Radio Stack, light switches and 8 additional programmable buttons.
4. G\A single engine controls; start key, Battery, Alternator, prop, mix, throttle.
Different hardware and software is involved in the console;
- a 4 axis + 4 button controller connected to the PC via a 15 game-port connector. This controller operates the throttles and 4 pilot seat adjustment buttons. See more about the controller here;
- Two Hagstrom KE-72 encoder cards. The cards can easily be programmed with notepad. They are daisy chained and connected to the PC via the old good PS\2 port and two RS-232 ports (for programming each card). The cards can also be connected with USB adapters. Whenever I wish to change the aircraft I fly I can, in 3 easy steps, load the relevant files (with run command) and change the button and switch functions.
- Goflight modules;
two GF-166 modules for radio\NAV (1 & 2)
one GF-45 module for ADF or transponder
one GF-T8 toggle switches for lights
one GF-P8 buttons for different programmable functions.
two RP48 modules with 16 push buttons and 8 rotary switches for different assignments.
one GF-MCP autopilot module
Now let’s look a little into details of the hardware I made. First the racks, they are all made of scrap computer casings, an easy material to work with. All you need are some basic hand tools and a work bench (see more about that in Tools & Materials). In the attached picture you can see;
1. The throttle quadrant rack, with the rounded cylinder made out of PVC 4” plumbing pipe.
2. the single engine G/A controls
3. The inside of one of the switches. The lever can press two opposite momentary switches (heavy duty)
Then the Throttles themselves. They have a reduction gear arrangement (1:3) so the potentiometers can rotate about 300 degrees while the throttle moves 100 degrees. To save place the arrangement is with an inner gear.
On pictures 4 and 5 you can see how I produced the gears using plumber epoxy and an engine rubber timing belt
You can see the throttle assembly in the drawing below. Two remarks;
1. The sponge can be replace with any material that creates friction.
2. see how the lever plate is cut in order to get full contact with the sponge.
Fresnel Lens Section
A fresnel (pronounced frunel) lens is a transparent plastic sheet with fine round grooves on the surface, between 25/inch to 200/inch. It acts exactly like a magnifying lens, but with a reduced thickness and weight. It can be mounted at some distance before a PC monitor magnifying the image and giving a real 3D feeling because the eye is not fixed on the screen but rather on a “floating” object in the distance.
Read more about the use of fresnel lens in Francisco Garcia Garrido’s site My Own Home-Built Cockpit http://www.flightsim.com/cgi/kds?$=main/howto/cabina.htm
and in Rick Lee site http://www.rickleephoto.com/rlcoll.htm
Upon the experience of others I decided to use in my cockpit a 30” (diagonal) fresnel lens mounted 12” in front of a 19” CRT monitor for outer view. The lens is of industrial quality and was bought from Edmund Optics fresnel lens
. The grooves are so tight (50\inch) that you can’t see them.
Edmund is expensive, there are cheaper lens around and you can find them. For example MaxiAids.com
36” for 26-29 TV for $114.95
30” for 20-26 TV for $48.95
The concept of making a thick lens is by making grooves, where each has a different shape;
Look at the drawing below and you can see where the lens is mounted. The measurement I use in my cockpit are marked in red;
There is one thing you have to remember, the lens should be mounted in a closed container, where no light from the outside can penetrate, you should see only the monitor “floating” in the distance. The box is made of plywood and painted black on the inside.
The grip you see on the right image is part of B737 cockpit, Sorry for the glare – result from the camera flash
ATC Controller (still a concept)
How many times this happened to you? Two hours of flight had passed, you are turning to final, the runway can already be seen, in one minute you will touch the threshold and you are expecting the “landing of the year” but then you hear; “N123SK did you hear my last transmission !!!@@??”. Eyes are searching for key #1 to answer, left hand gets off the yoke and here you are, aircraft is off-course “landing of the year” is gone.
What can we do to fix this problem. We worked so hard to build a fully independent cockpit, no mouse and keyboard any more, but ATC still wants us to touch keys. Solution - move the relevant keys to somewhere more convenient, and that is on the yoke.
Here is the next piece of hardware I am going to build. It is a “yoke ATC command add-on”
The concept is to attach a 15 button piece to the CH USB yoke. The functions are; 1-9 ATC chat numbers used by FS2004 plus 6 buttons for
Zoom in and out; (+) (-) keys
Return view to center; Space key
Show\hide ATC chat; (`) key
Squawk Box transmit switch for on-line flying
1 spare for programming
The unit can be attached to the yoke either with Velcro bands or with some kind of glue. I wouldn’t even out rule attaching with small screws.
The switches I plan to use are of the 12.5 X 12.5 mm momentary type mounted on a PCB. The unit will be encased with a steel frame.
Wiring; the unit will be wired to a Hagstrom KE-72 card for easy programming
On Apr. 2006 I bought a new PCI-Express computer (special order) from the Zigzag company in Newe Monoson near Tel-Aviv. Here are the specifications;
Motherboard - ASUS A8N32-SLI DELUXE - (nForce4 SLI) - ATX
CPU - AMD Athlon 64 (3700+) San Diego - (939 Pin)
Two Memories - 1GB Samsung DDR PC3200/400 each. Total 2 GB
Two PCI-Express video cards – ASUS - EN7900GT 256MB 2DHT DDR - PCX
HDD - WD 200GB-8MB JD - 7200RPM S-ATA II
HDD - WD 80GB-8MB JD - 7200RPM S-ATA II
Case - Thermaltake Middle Tower – aluminum Armor-Jr Middle Tower - Silver, with 680 W power supply
I considered to fit the new PC with a dual-core processor, but finally decided on a single core one. Reason for that was that I actually run only one application (flight simulator) on the machine. The two video cards were a must because of the need to drive 3-4 monitors with a reasonable frame rate (24 plus).
I must say that most of my wishes were fulfilled.
2004 – 2006 configuration
This section, written in 2005, is for the readers who still run flight simulator on older hardware. It is also a piece of history for me.
My cockpit is driven by a main PC that was bought on March 2004 and another inexpensive PC that serves as a “slave” for displaying a 3rd Monitor (GPS). The two computers are connected via a home network. (for using a “slave” PC please go to the “Multi Monitors” section).
Here are the specifications of the main PC;
- Gigabyte AMD Socket 940 Processor Motherboard GA-K8NNXP-940
- AMD 64FX-51 Processor
- 1,024 (2X512) dual channel 400 Mhz DDR Memory
- NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 Ultra - 128 MB video card
- Two 7200 Western Digital HDD (120 GB and 200 GB). arranged in SATA.
- Creative Sound Blaster5.1 sound card
- Two CRT monitors (19" for view with 30" Fresnel lens and 17" for panel)
- CH yoke and pedals - USB connected,
- 8 GoFlight modules - USB connected ,
- 15 pin game-port controller – connected to sound card port,
- Two KE-72 Hagstrom cards connected via PS\2 port and two RS-232 ports (144 switch combination)
Specifications for the second “slave” PC;
- NVIDIA GeForce Ti 4200 Video card
- UNISYS EVG1000-E2 14" CRT monitor
- AMD Sempron 2400+ CPU
- Western Digital 80 gb HDD
- 256, 400 Mhz DDR Memory
O/S win-xp pro
Modem and router for internet and network.
Why AMD and not Intel ? - very simple, less money and same performance, if not better.
As you can see the PC drives 10 USB hardware units. They are connected via x4 hubs with independent power supplies (5 V). Even with this arrangement the PC needs a special power supply which I added lately. It is a Thermaltake Silent Superpower 680W. Expensive but probably the only that can carry the high load.
Another point to remember is cooling. There are several ways to ensure your CPU and Video card are working in low temperatures. The easiest way is to add fans to your PC case (I have 5) and buy an aluminum case (aluminum has better thermal conductivity than steel) which I did. Also don’t over-clock the system.
Replacing the view monitor with a projector. This is a big question, not only because of money, but also because of losing the 3D effect. A projector has the advantage of size, but a monitor with a fresnel lens has the 3D effect which makes, at least for me, the whole difference. So, at this point I do not consider buying a projector.
Read more about;
AMD dual core processors;
Nvidia SLI (scalable link interface);
This section has two parts; Installing a third (and fourth) monitor with MaxiVista software and How to install two monitors for FS2004
1. Installing a third (and fourth) monitor with MaxiVista software
After I already had 2 monitors on my PC (19” for view and 17” for instrument panel) I had to decide on how to add the 3rd monitor for the GPS instrument. There is always the possibility to use one of the network programs where you run FS2004 on two or more computers, linked together via a network. I wanted to stick with one machine because I believe it can carry another monitor as a slave. After a google search I came to MaxiVista and bought their program.
MaxiVista allows you to use any spare PC as an extended display for your Primary PC by making the 2nd PC a “slave” The procedure is easy and can be used only at times you need it. It is done by clicking on an icon and activating the link.
I added a second cheap computer and inserted an old video card in it, Actually an obsolete card I had long ago. Connected the two machines via home network, so the second PC became the “slave”. The 14” CRT monitor that displays the GPS is a reconditioned screen, which I bought for $20.
One thing you have to remember, MaxiVista can not connect the computers when a firewall is running. Each time I fly I have to deactivate the Panda firewall (so far no harm was done).
You can buy the software (by download) at MaxiVista for $35
2. Two monitors in FS2004
The instructions (with some adjustments) apply also to a PCI-Express computer with two graphic cards and 4 monitor connectors (two each).
When you first started your newly, out of the box, FS2004 you probably wondered why the H… you can’t see anything out of the window. Nearly 2/3 of the screen is filled with the overloaded instrument panel of your C-172 and only a little space is left for the view. Is this the way pilots see it too? Definitely not. If you ever had the chance to fly the real thing, or even sit on the right seat as a student or passenger you could see that only occasionally the pilot will look at the instrument panel, but most of the time he will look out of the front and side windows. So ask yourself; isn’t that possible with your FS2004?
The answer is yes, It is possible. But it will cost you some dollars and a little space on your desk. What you need is a second monitor, so you will be able to dedicate one monitor for the out of the window view while the second one will go for the instrument poanel.
I would even say that the priority of additional hardware to make simming more realistic goes this way;
1. A second monitor.
2. A yoke (or joystick)
How to add a second monitor?
Adding a second monitor to your PC needs your operating system to be Windows-XP and you have to have two monitor connectors on the back of your PC case. The connectors can either be on the motherboard and\or your video card (most new video cards come with 2 connectors).
Here are the steps to perform;
1. Install the latest drivers of your video card.
2. Shut down your PC and unplug the power cord.
3. Connect the second monitor to one of the free connectors and then to the power outlet.
4. Start you PC. The two monitors will come alive.
5. Right-click the monitor where your toolbars and icons are and chose “Properties\Settings”. You will get this screen or something similar.
6. click “identify” to know which monitor is #1 and which #2.
7. Make sure the main monitor is #1. You can switch between them with the “advanced” tab or by re-plugging in the connectors (go through 2-4 above).
8. Now open the video card devise settings by clicking on the “advanced” tab
9. The video card setting window will open (in this case NVidia
10. Make #1 monitor the “primary display” monitor and click OK to go back to the previous window.
11. Make sure the #2 monitor is set as “Extend my windows desktop onto this monitor”.
12. Doing this correctly will create a situation where you can “drag” any window (in half size) from monitor to monitor.
13. Set the two monitors to the same resolution.
14. That’s all for Window-XP setup. Now you have to test it in FS2004.
Loading a flight in FS2004
Now it is time to set up your simulator and load the flights to fit the two monitors. Here is what you have to do;
1. Next time you start FS2004 click Settings\Display\hardware\Devise name. You will see both monitors.
2. Set the resolution of each at you wish.
3. Click OK and start a flight. Reduce the window to half size
4. Drag the window to the second monitor and now you are ready for your experiment
5. Click “Views”, then “undock”. You will have now two screens available – drag one a little and you will see the other under it. Drag the view window to monitor #1 and leave the panel window at monitor #2.
6. Now press “full screen” and both will fill their corresponding monitors.
7. That’s all folks.
8. When you finish your flight drag both windows to monitor #1 and only then exit Fs2004, otherwise next time you start the program you will have some disturbances (nothing serious).
What type of monitors?
That one is the 64K dollars question. No two hardware gurus will agree upon this issue. My opinion is; go on two CRT monitors with one size difference, such as 19” (for view) plus 17” (for instrument panel). The reasons for choosing CRT instead of LCD are the following;
1. They are cheaper by 50%
2. They have a better refresh rate.
3. They look much better from wider angels
4. They (at least the better quality ones) have better colors.
5. They can be adjusted to any resolution (no limited native resolution)
Only drawback? Well; size and weight. If you have enough space on your desk or the cockpit you are building go on CRT monitors.
And a final word.
Once you install a second monitor, you will never go back to a single one, even not for regular work. Remember. I warned you!!!
My First Project - a 15 pin Gameport Controller (prototype - not in use anymore)
The first piece of hardware I built was a 4 axis + 4 button controller. It was not too difficult to find instructions about the mechanics, components and wiring of such a controller. One of the better tutorials is Rob Barendregt’s document that can be downloaded at flightsim.com (rcbth-10.zip). The document explains not only how to build the controller, but also how to install it in FS.
At that time, as a beginner, I had only one 17” monitor and a joystick. I saw that without a way to control the engines and the rudder separately there is actually no way to taxi, take off and land. Spending money, at that time, on rudder pedals and a yoke did not cross my mind at all (all that came later), so I decided to build a controller that can do the following;
Operate 2 throttles
Operate trim axis
Operate rudder (by left hand – yes !!!)
2 spare buttons (different view or else)
I made also another decision, which go with me since then, to produce all casings from metal and not wood – as most cockpit builders do. I use scrap computer casing – an easy to work and non-expensive material.
Here is my first 15 pin gameport controller;
Another view will show the insides of the controller. Please pay attention to the rework I had done on the connector, cutting 10 pins and filling the cavity with a wood plug. Just could not find a 15 pin connector nearby;
A few words about the red-green LEDs. Here is a typical LED circuit which I built on a PCB. A few welds and you are done. I used a different resistor because my current source is 5V;
You can find a LED wiring tutorial in http://unclean.org/howto/led_circuit.html
(and in many other places too)
Now to the main subject, How to build the axis and button controls. Lets start with the components. You need the following parts, which you can get in any electronic shop;
- 100K ohm potentiometers (also called POTs). Some people use 200K ohm POTs.
- Momentary press switches
- Suitable Wires (the guy in the electronic shop will tell you what guage)
Remember that the POTs rotate 300 degrees from 0 to full current, so if you wish to reduce the lever rotation to 100 degrees (throttles for example), you have to built a suitable gear reduction assembly for them (more on that subject in the Main Console section)
After drilling the holes, positioning the components, etc. you will have to wire everything together. Here is how I did it (based on Rob Barendregt’s wiring sketch);
The potentiometers are very sensitive, so use a shielded cable and weld the shield metal to the controller case and to the connector.
Now is time to connect the newly made controller to your computer and activate it to be added to FS hardware list. First double check all your wiring (the last thing you wish to do is fry your computer), then plug the controller into the game port (typically found on the sound card) and start your computer. Add the new hardware via control panel\Game Controllers\add (chose the 3-axis, 4-button joystick), click ok. Then open FS2004 and you will find the new controller in Settings\Assignments\Joystick type. Activate the functions you wish (2 throttles, trim, etc.) Use FSUIPC to calibrate the throttles – it is well explained in Rob’s document.
Last remark. The controller can also be connected via a USB converter.
Cockpit Links page
Building a cockpit is a multi year project and most of the links given here are for work in progress. My intension is to give you a link to cockpits that are built by our local VATIL (VATSIM Israel Division) community, a young, but yet a very active community;
A Learjet 45 cockpit. Alexander Lawrence
multi-cockpit to fly single & dual engine GA aircrafts. Eldad Rubin & Tal Elia
747-400 Flight Simulator. Dudi Misha
Boeing 747 cockpit. The site is in Hebrew. Adi Ernst
Boeing 737 cockpit which serves also real “El-Al” pilots for training in a cooperation project between the company and VATIL. Israel Roth
Find your way into simulator cockpit construction.
You think building your own cockpit is too difficult, too expensive and time consuming ... Well on FScockpit.com you will find out that there is a simulator cockpit in every size, also in a size that fits you. The site includes a lot of links to cockpits built by others, hardware and software instructions and much more.