For some time I’ve been debating whether to use a reproduction or genuine forward and aft overhead panel. I have been favouring a genuine panel as this is in line with using genuine parts in the simulator, however, the overhead is a complicated piece of kit and ensuring complete functionality would be a challenge.
RIGHT: Forward Overhead Panel. The centre panels will be replaced to conform to a 737 NG. Panel was removed from a United Airlines 737-300 aircraft.
Certainly, using an overhead panel made by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) or Fly Engravity is an easier option, however, their overheads use flight illusion gauges and I don’t want to go down this route. After seeing and using genuine gauges in the MIP I can see a huge difference in quality and aesthetics between a genuine gauge and those produced by flight illusion.
Genuine B737 Overhead Panel Purchased
My decision was made for me when I was told a forward and aft overhead had become available from a recent 737 pull down. Rather than remain indecisive, I thought I’d jump in “boots and all” and purchase it. The two overhead panels have come from B737-300 and include the frames, DZUS rails, center panels, engine starter switches, landing gear toggles and various other knobs and toggles.
I’m impressed at the condition of the panels; usually when panels are removed from an aircraft in a tear down yard there is little care given and the frames become scratched, dented or damaged in some way. The frames I have purchased appear to be in relatively good condition.
I was very lucky that the two engine starter switches (Cole switches) were included. These switches are made to exacting requirements and use a solenoid mechanism. Purchasing Cole switches individually is quite expensive, so I'm pleased they were not striped from the overhead.
LEFT: Difficult to find operating Cole switches are used on all Boeing airframes from the 727 through to the NG and I believe NGX (click to enlarge).
Panels and Back Lighting
When I began to construct the simulator in mid 2011, I was adamant that back lighting should match that of the MIP, throttle quadrant and center pedestal. My opinion has altered since then and now I am happy to have a mix of IBL bulb and LED lighting (within reason). I believe it was around 2006 that Boeing began to replace bulb-generated back lighting with LEDS. Certainly, the latest made Boeing now uses LEDS for IBL and older airframes, with replacement parts will present with a mix of lighting types.
The use of bulbs in the overhead uses a lot of power and generates considerable heat; using LEDS minimises power consumption and produces less heat. If the LEDS are installed correctly, their resultant light is very similar to that of bulbs and the illuminance observed in the real aircraft.
Ultimately the back lighting will be dependent on whether I decide to use older style genuine Boeing panels or reproduction panels.
Realism & Authenticity - How Far Do You Go
Some flight deck builders go to extremes to ensure their flight decks replicate exactly what is seen in the real aircraft and while this is admirable, this is not the route I am 'religiously' going to travel. There has to be compromise between replicating something exactly and having a functional flight simulator.
The end product will be a combination of genuine (OEM) and reproduction parts - mostly OEM.
Furthermore, serious thought must also be given to how the overhead is going to be installed to the simulator; whether it be to a shell, such as produced by FDS or to a custom-made roll cage assembly.
I'll keep the Blog updated as parts are found and the overhead is developed.
To see additional images of the "naked" overhead, navigate to the image gallery.
- I must apologise for the poor resolution of these images; they were supplied by the vendor. Currently the overhead is still located in the US. In time better quality images will be uploaded.