There is something fundamentally different when using a genuine piece of aircraft equipment instead of a replicated item – It’s difficult to define, but the idea of using a piece of hardware that flew thousands of flight hours, in good and bad weather, has a certain appeal.
I’ve attempted wherever possible to use genuine aircraft equipment in the simulator. To date, the following used parts has been used and converted to flight simulator use:
- B737-500 yokes and columns (2)
- B737 Captain-side stick shaker
- B737-300 throttle quadrant
- B737-300 telephone and microphone
- Jetliner style aviation headset (was formally used in an United B737)
- B737-300 three-bay center pedestal
- B737-400 fire suppression panel
- B737 yoke trip indicators (2)
- B737 rudder pedals (2)
- B737-500 audio control panels (2)
- B737 Weber captain and first officer seats
- MD-80 clock (flight officer side of MIP)
- B737 overhead map light
- B737 korry switches
- B737-500 tiller handle
- B737-300 Forward & Aft Overhead Panel w/ Coles engine switches & genuine light switches
- DZUS fasteners
I also intend to replace the brake pressure, yaw and flaps indicator gauges in the MIP, which currently are dummy displays with genuine gauges.
I would like very much like to replace the ADF and NAV modules with genuine units; however, need to research this further to determine if this is possible. In the meantime, I’m using simulation modules from Flight Deck Solutions and CP Flight that do the job well and are easy to configure.
The historical significance of using genuine parts cannot be ignored. It’s relatively easy to research an aircraft frame number or registration number and in the process learn where the aircraft was used and in what conditions.
For example, the throttle unit I am using was removed from a South West B737-300 that plied the continental USA for many years, whilst the yokes and columns were previously used in a B737-500 operated by Croatian Airlines. The clock I have for the flight officer side of the MIP came from a FedEx MD80 and one of the ACP units was used by Aloha Airlines in Hawaii.
Using genuine used parts helps the environment!
For a start, you are not purchasing new “reproduction” parts made from virgin resources. Secondly, the previously used parts you bought probably would have been destined for expensive recycling, or alternatively disposed of to landfill.
Recycling can be fun!!
It’s a good feeling to convert something destined for disposal and bring it back to life.
LEFT: My friend Bob (who owns a desktop grinder) seen here grinding the tails from genuine DZUS fasteners. These will then be attached to reproduction modules to enhance their appearance. (click image to view larger)
One of the major benefits of using genuine aircraft parts is their longevity and ruggedness. Whilst none of us want to damage our simulators through over zealous use; it can and does occur from time to time. Replica parts are – well a little delicate. To ensure long life you must treat them with care.
It’s the opposite with genuine aircraft parts; damaging a genuine part with normal use is almost impossible.
For example, a speed brake lever is relatively easy to bend or break on any number of replica throttle quadrants on the market; damaging a genuine speed brake handle is very difficult as they are constructed from high grade materials to withstand genuine stresses (pilot-driven or otherwise).
Simulation pilots are often as rough on their gear as genuine pilots are; I’ve seen simmers jab ACP buttons with enough force to break a piece of plastic. Genuine buttons are made to withstand this heavy-handed treatment, replica parts – break!
Aesthetics – Look Your Best
It’s a fact; a genuine aircraft part looks 100% more realistic than a simulated part – that’s obvious. If your center pedestal has an assortment of genuine modules mixed in with replica modules, the pedestal will appear much more authentic than one comprised solely of simulated units.
You will be surprised that small things can make a huge aesthetic difference. Take for example, DZUS fasteners. I bought a box of fasteners sometime back and use them wherever I can to replace the reproduction fasteners or screws that many manufacturers use. If the fastener does not fit the appropriate hole in the reproduction module, I either enlarge the hole with a drill bit, or if this isn’t feasible, I cut the tail from the fastener leaving only the DZUS head. I then use a piece of sticky blue tack or crazy glue to secure the DZUS head to the appropriate part.
The fasteners I've used were purchased second-hand; therefore, they show wear and tear. I don’t mind this "used and abused" look. Yes it sounds rough and ready, but the end result looks very pleasing to the eye and more faithful to what you would see in an operational flight deck.
The confines of the flight deck are not as clean as one might expect, and instruments are scratched and dented; pilots rarely concern themselves with aesthetics and technicians complete their maintenance quickly, as an aircraft not flying equates to lost revenue for the airline.
LEFT: Genuine B737-300 two-bay center pedestal showing mix of reproduction and genuine avionics modules fitted with genuine DZUS fasteners (click image for full size view)
The use of genuine parts adds to the immersion factor, and as a Dutch simmer recently commented: “It makes the simulator more alive”
Availability of Parts
Genuine aircraft parts can be difficult to find and it’s a hit and miss affair. As newer aircraft are brought online, airlines scrap their older fleet and parts become readily available.
Finding late model NG parts, at a reasonable price is almost impossible; these parts are still serviceable. Parts in older aircraft may also be serviceable; however, they must meet safety regulations and be inspected and approved by a certified agency. This process is expensive and many airlines find it cost prohibitive; therefore, parts are sold as scrap.
E-Bay can be a good place to find parts. Search for aviation parts - Boeing, 737 or Gables. Aviation scrap yards are also invaluable, as are the classified sections in various flight simulation forums on the Internet such as My Cockpit" and "Cockpit Builders"
Conversion to Flight Simulator
This can be mine field to the uninitiated.
Genuine parts can operate on a variety of voltages and it’s not uncommon to find 5, 12, 18 and 24 Volt power requirements. Further, the wiring inside the neat-looking box can be a rat’s nest of thin wires weaving their way to and from a variety of unidentified pieces, before terminating in an electrical connection rarely found outside the aviation industry.
I am NOT an expert in conversions (although I am learning quickly.....). I’m lucky in that I have access to a few people who are very knowledgeable in this area and pass along their hard-found information.
The first thing to do is give the wiring a haircut – 90% of wiring is usually not required. Then, after determining what the function is of each part, you wire each function to the interface card. Frequently, you can reuse the existing wires. Boeing grade wires (as I call them) are solid core wires which cost quite a bit from the store. It’s fun to recycle!
There are a number of methods to interface a genuine part with flight simulator. The easiest is to use is a Leo Bodnar BUO836 joystick card, or similar, using standard flight simulator commands and/or FSUPIC. The use of these cards makes assigning functionality in FS very easy and straightforward.
One BUO836 card provides 12 inputs to flight simulator which correlates to 12 individual switches or buttons. The 0836 card also has the capability to have a matrix constructed which increases the number of available outputs. To see the Leo Bodnar card navigate here. Another joystick card that is very good and easy to configure is the POKY card.
For functionality that requires movement, a servo motor will need to be used and configured in FS2Phidgets. Phidgets allow you to program almost any moving part, such as the needle of the rudder trim module or the trim wheels of a throttle unit. Digital servos are better than analogue servos as the former do not make an audible squeaking noise when connected to power.
By far, the most difficult part of any conversion is discovering what wire connects to what functionality. Finding the wire can be challenging in itself as most avionics modules are a nest of wires, diodes and electronic circuitry.
LEFT: The inside of a B737-500 ACP module showing the rat’s nest of wiring that can be found within a genuine avionics module. (click image to view larger)
You Have A Choice
You don’t have to use reproduction simulator parts throughout your flight deck – they is a wide selection of used aviation parts available, and with a little searching you probably can find what you want.
Genuine parts frequently can be found at far less cost than their reproduction counterparts, and in every case will always look more visually appealing. If you’re not up to the task of conversion, there are individuals that can convert modules for you leaving you to configure functionality via flight simulator and FSUPIC. At the very minimum, using DZUS fasteners will bring your simulator to the next level of realism. But be warned, using genuine parts evokes a desire to replace anything “replica” with something “real”.
In my next post we will look at converting two genuine B737 Audio Control Panels (ACPs) to flight simulator use.