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Mission Statement 

The purpose of FLAPS-2-APPROACH is two-fold:  To document the construction of a Boeing 737 flight simulator, and to act as a platform to share aviation-related articles pertaining to the Boeing 737; thereby, providing a source of inspiration and reference to like-minded individuals.

I am not a professional journalist.  Writing for a cross section of readers from differing cultures and languages with varying degrees of technical ability, can at times be challenging. I hope there are not too many spelling and grammatical mistakes.

 

Note:   I have NO affiliation with ANY manufacturer or reseller.  All reviews and content are 'frank and fearless' - I tell it as I see it.  Do not complain if you do not like what you read.

I use the words 'modules & panels' and 'CDU & FMC' interchangeably.  The definition of the acronym 'OEM' is Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aicraft part).

 

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Journal Archive (Newest First)

Entries in Fly Engravity (3)

Saturday
Oct032015

B737 NG Display Unit Bezels By Fly Engravity 

I recently upgraded the display unit bezels (frames) on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP).  

LEFT:  The bezels that have replaced the acrylic bezels made by FDS. The landing gear, clock annunciators (korrys) and brake pressure gauge are OEM parts converted for flight simulator use - First Officer side (click to enlarge).

The previous bezels, manufactured by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS), lacked the detail I was wanting.  Increasingly, I found myself being fixated by glaringly incorrect hallmarks that did not conform to the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) – in particular, the use of incorrectly positioned attachment screws, the lack of a well-defined hinge mechanism, and the use of acrylic rather than aluminum.

Although it is not necessary to have replicated items that conform to a real part, it does add to the immersion level, especially if you are using predominately OEM parts.  The MIP in my case is pruelly a skeleton on which to 'hang' the various real aircraft parts that have been converted for flight simulator use. 

This is not a review, but more a reason to why sometimes there is a need to change from one product to another.

OEM Display Units

The OEM display units used in the Boeing Next Generation airframes comprise a large rectangular box that houses the necessary avionics and glass screen for the display.   

LEFT:  The OEM display is a solid unit that incorporates the avionics, display and bezel in the one unit.  This unit has the protective plastic attached to the screen.

The display unit is mounted by sliding the box into the MIP along two purpose-built sliding rails.  The unit is then locked into the MIP by closing the hinge lever and tightening the thumb screw on the lower right hand side of the bezel.  The hinge mechanism is unique to the OEM unit in that once the thumb screw is loosened; one side of the lower display adjacent to the hinge becomes a lever in which to pull the unit free of its locking points in the MIP.

The units are usually manufactured by Honeywell.

The display unit is one piece which incorporates the bezel as part of the assembly; therefore, it is not possible to obtain just the bezel – this is why a reproduction is necessary.

Reproduction Bezels

Reproduction bezels are manufactured by several companies – Open Cockpits, SimWorld, Fly Engravity and Flight Deck Solutions to name a few.  As with all replica parts, each company makes their products to differing levels of accuracy, detail and quality.

I looked at several companies and the closest to the  OEM item appeared to be the bezels manufactured by Fly Engravity and CP Flight (CP Flight are a reseller of Fly Gravity products).  

The main reasons for changing-out the FDS bezels were as follows:

  • FDS bezels have two Philips head screws in the upper left and right hand side of the bezel.  These are used to attach the bezel to the MIP.  The real bezel does not have these screws.
  • FDS bezels are made from acrylic.  The bezels in the real B737, although part of a larger unit, are made from aluminum.  Fly Engravity make their bezels from aluminum which are professionally painted with the correct Boeing grey.  
  • FDS have not replicated the hinge in the lower section of the bezel.  Rather, they have lightly engraved into the acrylic a facsimile of the hinge .   Fly Engravity fabricate a hinge mechanism, and although it does not function (there is absolutely no need for it to function) it replicates the appearance of the real hinge.
  • FDS use 1mm thick clear Perspex whereby the real aircraft uses smoke grey-tinted glass.  Fly Engravity bezels use 3 mm smoke grey-tinted Perspex.
  • The Perspex used by FDS is very thin and is attached to the inside of the bezel by double-side tape.  The thinness of the material means that when cleaning the display it is quite easy to push the material inwards which in turn breaks the sticky seal between the Perspex and the inside of the bezel.  Fly Engravity use thicker Perspex that is attached to the inside of the bezel by four screws.  It is very solid and will not come loose.

Table 1 provides a quick reference to the assailant points.

 

Attaching the Bezels to the FDS MIP

The FDS and Fly Engravity bezels are identical in size; therefore, there is not an issue with the alignment of the bezels with MIP – they fit perfectly.

LEFT:  Detail showing the hinge mechanism in the Fly Engravity bezel.  Although the hinge is non-functional, the detail and depth of the cut in the aluminium frame provides the illusion of a functioning hinge mechanism (cilck to enlarge).

Attaching the Fly Engravity bezels to the FDS MIP is not difficult.  The Fly Engravity bezels are secured to the MIP using the same holes in the MIP that were used to secure the FDS bezels. However, the screws used by Fly Engravity are a larger diameter; therefore, you will have to enlarge the holes in the MIP.  

 

For the most part the holes align correctly, although with my set-up I had to drill two new holes in the MIP.

LEFT: Detail of the hinge thumb knob on the Fly Engravity bezel.  Although the internal screw is missing from the knob, the cross-hatched pattern on the knob compensates.  The knob is screwed directly into the aluminium frame and can be loosened or tightened as desired.  The circular device is a facsimile of the ambient light sensor (click to enlarge).

The Fly Engravity bezels, unlike the FDS bezels, are secured from the rear of the bezel via the backside of the MIP.  The bezel and Perspex have precut and threaded holes for easy installation of the thumb screws.

LEFT:  Cross section of the Fly Engravity bezel showing the detail of the Perspex and attachment screw (click to enlarge).

Upgrade Benefits - Advantages and Disadvantages

It depends – if you are wishing to replicate the real B737 MIP as much as possible, then the benefits of upgrading to a Fly Engravity bezel are obvious.  However, the downside is that the aluminum bezels, in comparison to acrylic-made bezels are not inexpensive.

The smoke grey-tinted Perspex has definite advantages in that the computer monitor screens that simulate the PFD, ND and EICAS appear a lot sharper and easier to see.  But a disadvantage is that the computer monitors colour calibration alters a tad when using the tinted Perplex.  This is easily rectified by calibrating your monitors to the correct colour gamut.  I was concerned about glare and reflections, however, there is no more using the tinted Perspex than there is using the clear Perspex.

The Fly Engravity bezels have one minor inaccuracy in that the small screw located in the middle of the hinge thumb knob is not simulated.  This is a small oversight, which can be remedied by having a screw fitted to the knob.

Improvements

A possible improvement to the Fly Engravity bezels could be to use flat-headed screws, or to design a recessed head area into the rear of the Perspex (see above photograph which shows the height of the screw-head).  A recessed area would allow the screw head to sit flush enabling the monitor screen to be flush with the rear of the Perspex. 

The inability of the monitor screen to sit flush with the Perspex does not present a problem, but it is good engineering for items to fit correctly.

Final Call

Although the bezels made by FDS do not replicate the OEM item, they are still of good quality and are functional.  However, if you are seeking authenticity and prefer an aluminum bezel then those produced by Fly Engravity are superior.

Endorsement and Transparency

I have not been paid by Fly Engravity or any other reseller to write this post.  The review is not endorsed and I paid full price for the products discussed.

Glossary

EICAS – Engine Indicator Crew Alert system.
MIP – Main Instrument Panel.
ND – Navigation Display.
OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer (aka real aircraft part).
Perspex - Poly(methyl methacrylate), also known as acrylic or acrylic glass as well as by the trade names Plexiglas, Acrylite, Lucite, and Perspex among several others.
PFD – Primary Flight Display. 

Friday
Feb282014

Main Instrument Panel (MIP) - Seeking Accuracy in Design

I’ve posted this image of the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) of the B737-800NG to briefly examine a few of the differences between a real MIP and a reproduction MIP.   Although a reproduction MIP may appear identical to the real item, there can be subtle differences. 

Let’s look at a few of these differences using the photograph as a reference.

LEFT:  MIP (OEM) from 737-800 NG (click image to enlarge).

Bezel. The bezel is the frame that surrounds the display units (DUs).  In the real aircraft the bezel forms part of the display unit, which is why the bezel breaks open in the lower area; to allow access to and removal of the unit. 

If you carefully look you will note there are no screws that hold the bezel in place to the MIP.  Quite a few manufactures use Phillip head screws in each corner of the bezel to attach the bezel to the MIP

In the real aircraft the bezel is made from machined aluminum.  

Landing Gear Lever.  The real aircraft has a smaller than often seen landing gear knob (the translucent knob).  Further, when the landing gear is in the down and locked position, the red trigger located on the gear shaft completely recesses between the two half-moon protectors. The trigger also is spring-loaded allowing the gear lever to be unlocked by depressing the trigger in specific conditions.

Fuel Flow Reset Switch. The real aircraft incorporates a switch/toggle with a larger defined and bulbous-looking head, rather than a standard-style toggle most manufacturers use.  The OEM toggle is also very specific in operation (3 way pull & release). 

The knobs used on the MIP. These knobs are called general purpose knobs (GPK) and it's uncommon for a reproduction knob to look identical to an OEM knob.  OEM knobs present with curved rather than straight edges and have the grub screw located in a different position.  Many reproduction knobs lack this detail and have the grub screw located at the rear of the knob. 

Furthermore, OEM knobs have an inside metal shroud (circular metal retainer) and a metal grub screw thread, both important to ensure operational longevity of the knob; reproduction knobs usually do not have this.  The shroud can be important as it increases the longevity of the knob as it stops the acrylic from being worn down over time with continual use.

The NG also has a backlit black coloured line that runs adjacent to a translucent line on the front of the knob; at night this line is backlit. Most of the replica knobs have a black line which is a transfer (sticker) that has been hand applied to the knob.  Stickers and transfers over time often lift, especially at the ends and hand application is often haphazard with some transfers straight and other a little off center.

In my opinion, any high end MIP of considerable financial outlay should have appropriate knobs that are high fidelity and replicate the OEM item.

If you look carefully at the photograph you will note that the knobs have curved edges and the Used Fuel Reset Switch has a bulbous appearing toggle.

I am currently writing a short article on "knobs" which will be published in the near future.

Annunciators (Korrys).  The annunciators on reproduction MIPs use LED technology, are only lights/lamps/indicators, and may exhibit an incorrect colour hue in contrast to the OEM part.  Reproductions can also be lacking with regard to the legend, as OEM legends are lazer cut and well-defined. 

Annunciators in the real aircraft are illuminated by 28 Volt bulbs contrasting the low brightness LEDs seen in reproduction Korrys - this alone can make a huge difference in aesthetics.  Finally, the push to test function seen in the real item, to my knowledge, is lacking in reproductions.

  • Note that some newer airframes may use LEDs in favour of bulbs.

Colour.   Boeing grey (RAL 7011), has a specific RAL colour number; however, rarely is every MIP or aviation part painted exactly the same grey colour; there are sublime differences in shade, colour and hue.  Inspect any flight deck and you will observe small colour variations.  Type RAL 7011 into Google and note the varying shades for a specific RAL number.

Dimensions & 1:1 Ratio.  High-end MIPs for the most part are very close to the correct 1:1 ratio of the real item and differences, if noticeable, are marginal.  But, less expensive MIPs can have the incorrect dimensions.  It's not only the overall dimensions that are important, but the dimensions of the spaces, gaps and holes in the MIP that allow fitment of the various instruments and modules.

Whilst this may not be a concern if you're using the stock gauges, etc that came packaged with your MIP, it can become problematic if you decide to use OEM parts.  There is nothing worse that using a Dremel to enlarge a hole in a MIP that isn't quite the correct size.  Worse still, is if the hole in larger than it should be.

Musings - Does it Matter ?

If everything fits correctly into whatever shell you're using, then a small difference here and there is inconsequential.  However, if you are striving for 1:1 100% accuracy then it's essential to know what’s reproduced factually and what is fiction (Disneyland). 

I have only mentioned differences based on what can be seen in the photograph.  There are additional nuances that differ between MIP manufacturers. 

System Simulation is a Priority

As I move more into my project, I realize that many items available in the reproduction market are not identical to the real aircraft; a certain artistic license has been taken by many manufacturers.  This said, while it's commendable to have an exact reproduction of a flight deck, keep in mind that a simulator is primarily a simulation of aircraft systems.

Of course this doesn't mean you throw everything to the wind aesthetically.  To do so would mean you would have an office chair, desk and PMDG in front of you.  Aesthetics are important as they stimulate by visual cues, a level of immersion that allows the virtual pilot to believe they are somewhere other than their own home.

If you inspect real-world flight simulators used by aircraft companies, you will quickly note, that many of the simulators do not replicate everything or strive to have everything looking just like the real aircraft.  Simulators are designed for training and whilst a level of immersion must be apparent, replicating aircraft systems takes priority.

B 737-800 NG Project Status

The overheads are my main concern at the moment; however, I am also working on replacing as much as possible on the Main Instrument Panel with OEM items.  Once completed, all that will remain is the FDS MIP skeleton and a few bits and pieces.  A decision has yet to be made concerning replacement of the glareshield.

The question is probably asked - why not replace the FDS MIP with a OEM MIP.  Whilst this is possible, a NG style OEM MIP apart from being difficult to find and expensive, would require consdierable fabrication to use in a Flight Simulator.  It's far easier to use a commerical MIP as a template and then replace as much as possible with OEM items.

As the MIP project progresses updates will be made.

Acronyms & Glossary

Annunciator - A single coloured light or group of lights used as a central indicator of status of equipment or systems in an aircraft. Usually, the annunciator panel includes a main warning lamp or audible signal to draw the attention of operating personnel to the annunciator panel for abnormal events or conditions.  To annunciate means to display or to become audible.  Annunciators are often called Korrys; Korry is a manufacturer of annunciators.
FDS - Flight Deck Solutions
Korry – See Annunciator.  A brand of annunciator used in the Boeing 737 airframe.
Legend - The plastic lens plate that clips to the annunciator.  the legend is the actual engraved writing on the lense.
MIP - Main Instrument Panel.
OEM - Original Aircraft Manufacture (aka real aircraft part).
RAL - International colour matching system.

Friday
Aug052011

Research & Development Completed - MIP & Yoke Ordered

I've been in R&D mode for quite a while, but the last two weeks or so it's been more or less full time as I've been completing the final research.  It takes time to double check everything, scour the Internet and wait for e-mail replies from various manufacturers.

Now it's time to order the various components and get the show rolling.

I researched a number of companies to supply my Main Instrument Panel and two companies stood out from the rest: Flight Deck Solutions and Fly Engravity.  In the end I choose Flight Deck Solutions mainly because of local support availability in Melbourne, Australia and a more reasonable Australian to Canadian exchange rate.  Fly Engravity were a very close second, however the Euro is so strong and freight so expensive from Europe that using this company became financially prohibitive.

Therefiore, Flight Deck Solutions in Canada will be supplying the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) and some of the avionics panels.  As part of the FDS MIP package they have included the use of Sim Avionics, therfore, this will be the flight management software I will be using.

Rather than purchase a naked MIP and spend countless hours in electronic hell, I decided at the outset of my project that the MIP was going to be a full ICS unit - meaning that the woring will have been done for me and the unit should be almost plug and play.

Here are a few snaps of the new MIP

ACE Engineering (another Canadian company) will be suppling the 737 yoke and column.  I'll continue to search for two genuine B737 yokes and columns

The MCP and EFIS I already own (EL model).  They are manufactured by CP Flight in Italy.  These will be replaced with PRO model MCP nd EFIS.

I've been told that delivery of the yoke and MIP will be late September (2011).

Now that the main part of the simulator has been ordered, I can search for additional equipment that is needed.

At the moment I'm talking with a guy who has a genuine Boeing 737 throttle for sale.  If negotiations are successful I hope to purchase this quadrant.  I hope to have further information in a few days.

If you want to read a little more on the depth of research on this project, clock the Research & Development tab or click here