The main instrument panel (MIP) is arguably one of the most important pieces of equipment in a flight deck; it’s around the MIP that everything revolves. There are several companies that produce MIPS and each has its nuances. After extensive research, I decided to commission Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) in Canada to supply my MIP.
Information - Not Pretty Pictures
This post is more information than “pretty” pictures. To see images navigate to the Image Gallery on this website (images FDS MIP). I have not discussed systems cards as ICS units come with the most suitable card included. Nor, have I parroted what is easily read on the FDS website.
Flight Deck Solutions can either supply the MIP “naked” or as an ICS (integrated cockpit system). I choose the ICS route which eliminated the task of wiring and soldering a multitude of interrelated electronic parts together. To be honest, I really don't have the time or inclination to assemble every last diode, resister and wire - I have better things to do with my time :)
The MIP consists of two sections; the main instrument display including the lower display and glare shields (eyebrows), and the base structure incorporating the CDU mounting area, lower display and stand.
UPPER MIP (instrument panel, glare shield and sub-lower panel)
The panel is made from CNC machined acrylic and the glare shield from injection molded plastic. The panel and glare shields have been attached by screws to a light-weight powder coated aluminum frame which incorporates a 4 inch wide shelf on the rear side.
The cut-out lettering, which allows the lettering to be back-lit, is very crisp with well defined edges.
The panel has been professionally painted in Boeing grey. Although the panel is made from acrylic, the use of high quality flat paint removes the sheen that acrylic is renowned for. In my opinion, the panel appearance of the FDS MIP and glare shield “looks more realistic” than several other MIPS that are available, which have a plastic-looking appearance.
Switches have been mounted in the correct locations and the wiring from these switches has been secured within a wiring lumen or by plastic cable ties. The switches and knobs replicate those of the real aircraft and have the correct feel. Where a panel has not been included (not stock B737 configurations) a blanking panel has been fitted.
The soldering work and connections on all switches are excellent; it’s obvious that the person who did the soldering work is a professional with many years experience.
The gear lever is sturdy, feels solid and operates as in the real aircraft; you must pull the level out of it's recess to activate the gear. The detail to the lever is excellent and installation includes the fiber sleeve. Annunciator lights (six packs) and various warning lights are all functional and the lights do not look cheesy and fake but appear similar to the real aircraft. The glare shield is strong textured ABS plastic and incorporates a lip that hides unwanted light that maybe visible. The shield wraps over the top of the MIP and incorporates a chart pocket.
The shelf system, located behind the main instrument panel, is an excellent idea and allows incorporation of monitor brackets to help in securing the display monitor to the rear of the panel. The shelf is also a handy place to mount internal speakers or other system boards required for add on hardware.
I was surprised to note that the lower display modules, which are mounted to the lower area of main panel, are installed using normal Phillips-head screws. In a real B737, panels and modules are usually secured using DZUS fasteners. It would have been nice to have replicated the use of DZUS fasteners. This isn’t a major problem – just an observation.
LEFT: Ground Proximity Panel showing use of Phillips head screws rather than the more usual DZUS fasteners.
As I did not purchase an overhead with the MIP, full functionality is limited. only to the MIP. But, the switches and buttons are installed ready for wiring when I do decide to purchase an overhead.
Display Panel Shields
The display shields which cover the computer monitor screens are made from 1.5 mm thick perspex. I have found the perspex to be very reflective. The simulator is installed in a well lit room so stray light is an obvious issue with my installation, but non reflective glass or perspex would be a good idea. I’ve been told that this is available on request.
Integrated Back-Lighting (IBL)
IBL (proprietary design) is supplied with all FDS panels and modules. Real aircraft bulbs are used to illuminate the panels and modules. One of the main advantages of IBL is the “throw of light” produced from a bulb in contrast to that of a LED. The area of coverage from bulbs is relatively even; where as the light spread from an LED is minimal– almost pinpoint. This is because LEDS are a very precise light source. The only way to achieve a similar light coverage to bulbs is to use several LEDS mounted in close proximity to each other. One area where the use of bulbs verses LEDS is obvious is the back-lit lettering; bulbs allow all the lettering to be evenly lit.
Other manufacturers of MIPS use LED lights which do not replicate the same colour temperature or appearance of real aircraft lighting. The IBL is superb and using the appropriate rotary switch is easily dimmed.
The only downside of IBL (if there is one), and this really doesn’t deserve mention, is that the bulbs generate quite a bit of heat. The life of a bulb is also less than a LED and I am not sure what the lifespan of IBL bulb is.
To view a good video of IBL and see a little more of the detail of the MIP, check out the FDS IBL video here.
What the MIP Lacks
I’ve already mentioned the non use of DZUS fasteners in the lower panel.
Stand-by instruments and clocks are not included. FSD supply a stenciled backing card which is mounted behind the perspex to mimic the look of the yaw dampener, brake pressure, clock and flaps gauge.
For the price, I would have liked a working analogue flaps gauge to have been included. Considering the importance of the flaps indicator, a working gauge is paramount. To view your flap settings you either must look at the flap lever on the throttle, or run part of the Sim Avionics suite to display a flaps gauge.
The other stand-by instruments (not the yaw dampener or brake pressure) can be replicated “virtually” by Sim Avionics software and set-up within Sim-A to appear in the stand-by instrument frames of the MIP.
The speed reference panel is not functional, as this aspect of Sim Avionics (the flight avionics suite supplied by Flight Deck Solutions) does not yet support this functionality. The knobs used in the speed reference panel do not replicate the real knobs used in the B737; the real aircraft uses double rotary encoder knobs
Software - InterfaceIT
The software to interface the MIP (InterfaceIT) seems to be well designed and robust. Once you have some basic knowledge on how to do things you realize the software is quite powerful and easy to configure. Installation of the software is very straightforward.
Further, there is a direct link with InterfaceIT and Sim Avionics which makes internal configuration and programming very easy.
Flight Avionics Suite
Duel Seat Training Devices (DSTD) and MIPS configured by Flight Deck Solutions use Sim Avionics as their flight avionics suite. After you receive your MIP, FDS staff will e-mail to you a file which you import into InterfaceIT. This file holds the data assignments for the MIP buttons and switches.
Although FDS recommend Sim Avionics, there is no obligation to use this software; the MIP will operate with whatever software you choose.
LOWER BASE STRUCTURE
The base structure comprises the lower section of the MIP and includes the structure for installing the CDU and if desired, the lower display screen. The structure is made from powder coated aluminum which has been professionally painted in Boeing grey. As with the upper section of the MIP, the attention to detail is obvious. There are no sharp edges on the stand, nor are there gaps where panels attach together. Screws match their holes correctly.
The bay to mount the CDU is equipped with DZUS rails and the CDU drops onto the rails and is secured by DZUS fasteners. Once secured by the fasteners there is absolutely no movement of the CDU unit. The recessed area that the CDU fits has been designed perfectly so that there are no gaps or spaces surrounding the CDU unit - it fits perfectly.
I am using a real B737 throttle and center pedestal. The forward edge of the throttle quadrant and the base structure join solidly without any gap. It’s pleasing to see that FDS thought ahead and machined the correct mounting size to allow easy joining of the MIP to a real aircraft part.
LEFT: Rear of the MIP during construction. Note the wide shelf, monitor display stands and easy access to wires and cards in the central lower area. The upper portion of the MIP can also be seen showing how the glare shield wraps back over the upper area of the MIP.
Power, SYS cards and Cabling
A computer power pack is used to power the MIP and has been mounted at the rear of the lower base structure. The position chosen is well suited to internal wiring and allows easy access should a problem develop. FDS SYS hardware boards have also been secured to the base structure and all wiring has been expertly soldered or attached via solid electrical clips. Cabling and connections are of the highest quality. Each of the wires that are connected to the SYS board has been tagged with a plastic tag which indicates their function; a good idea if you need to change something at a later date or troubleshoot a particular function.
Base Structure (stand)
The base structure (stand) has been designed to be mounted either directly to the floor or to a base platform. The mounting points are numerous holes along the lower angled edge of the stand. I was concerned that, as the structure is relatively high and made from light-weight aluminum, it would wobble. My concerns were short-lived; once each attachment point was secured with a screw the assembly was quite solid. This said, if you energetically engage the landing gear lever, there is a very slight movement in the upper area of the MIP. If you’re mounting the MIP into a cockpit surround, any movement will cease as it will be attached to the outer skin.
COMMUNICATION, SUPPORT & DELIVERY
Communication with FDS was excellent. E-mails were always answered in a timely manner and Peter and Steven Cos are very professional in their approach. I was continually kept in the loop regarding construction and shipping.
Support if and when required is either via a dedicated forum, e-mail, or if necessary by telephone. I’ve found Peter and Steve Cos very approachable and helpful. 10+3/10 for support.
It’s important to note that Flight Deck Solutions is not a mail order company with products in storage waiting to be shipped; products are assembled to order. This means that often there is a timely wait until you receive your shipment.
The MIP I had delivered to Australia was packed in and attached (screwed) to the floor of a large wooden crate. It arrived undamaged.
Quick List – Pros & Cons
- Well designed & constructed
- Excellent workmanship
- Realistic Integrated Back-Lighting (IBL)
- Excellent functionality
- Very clean appearance - wiring and cards favorably positioned
- 1:1 (or as near possible) to the real B737-800
- Moderate top high attention to detail & accurate 1:1 ratio
- Robust & functional software (InterfaceIT)
- No analogue flaps gauge, other than virtual version (rectified by spending more money)
- No stand-by instruments or clock (rectified by spending more money)
- Non use of DZUS fasteners in lower panels above "kick stand" (small things do make a difference)
- VOR knobs are low quality
- Speed reference knobs are very low quality & don't replicate real switches from B737
- Landing gear lever does not recess behind shield when in down position
- Display panel covers are very reflective (easily rectified- replace or remove them)
- Long lead time from ordering to delivery
RECOMMENDATION & OVERALL SCORE
The MIP is well made and has been finished with obvious care; parts line up correctly, screw heads have not been burred and paint not chipped. Wiring, soldering, parts, switches, rotaries, blanking panels and display frames are of the highest quality. It’s obvious you’re dealing with a premium product that provides an outstanding rendition of a stock standard B737-800NG instrument panel.
Downside is the lack of any hard-wired gauges, poor quality speed reference and VOR knobs, lack of DZUS in lower panels, no flaps gauge, and inaccurately positioned landing gear lever (when in the down position).
The closest rival to the FDS MIP is the MIP manufactured by Fly Engravity. Other MIPS are available from other companies, however, the FDS MIP, although lacking in some "minor" areas, is superior in many ways.
My rating is 8.7/10
Please note that this review is my opinion only and is not endorsed.
I must apologise for the lack of separate stand-alone MIP images. I was very keen to begin building and failed to photograph the MIP as a stand-alone item. Thanks to Peter Cos, Flight Deck Solutions for allowing the use of the front image.
A review of Sim Avionics will be published in the near future.
I've received several e-mails over the last six months or so asking about the quality and accuracy of the FDS MIP knobs and landing gear. Rather than alter the original post, I've attached a few photographs showing the detail of the 737 general purpose knobs, VOR knob, speed reference knobs and the positioning of the landing gear lever.
The general purpose knobs are high quality, however, cannot be compared to the genuine item; the straight line on the front of the knob is an adhesive transfer and it's obvious it's a manually applied transfer, as some of the transfers are not identically aligned. The knobs are made from grey painted acrylic; therefore, are translucent to back light from IBL. However, the straight line doesn't appear to be as bright as it should be in comparison with knobs in a real aircraft. In the real aircraft all knobs are back lit by IBL and the line can easily be seen at night. This is but a small detail, however, small details can make a difference sometimes and should not be overlooked. The knobs can be easily replaced with high detail reproductions that have greater translucency, or genuine Boeing knobs.
The landing gear lever requires more explanation.
In the real B737-800 NG the landing gear handle sits closer towards the main instrument panel. The half circular shield is designed so that the red gear trigger sits between the two shields when in the down position. In the FDS version, the trigger sits out from the two shields which is very similar to the design of earlier 737 classic airframes.
Overall, this does not detract from the MIP, but if your looking for as much as authenticity as possible, these small details will need to be rectified.
ABOVE LEFT: General purpose knob located on lower display unit. The black line is manually applied adhesive and the line doesn't appear to be as bright as in a real aircraft.
ABOVE RIGHT: Speed reference panel on the MIP. The knobs are very poorly produced reproductions which do not mimic the genuine knob in any shape or form. The genuine knob should be a double rotary encoder knob. There has been no attempt to replicate this type of knob.
ABOVE LOWER LEFT: The Boeing NG landing gear trigger assembly should, when in the down position, sit in the recess between the two half circular shields.
ABOVE LOWER RIGHT: This knob is made from acrylic with a transfer attached. The knob has no functionality and is attached to the MIP in a recessed hole. Although the knob look similar to the genuine knob, the quality is very poor.