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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 Main Instrument Panel (MIP) (2)

Thursday
Dec132018

Using OEM Panels in the MIP

The introduction of the Boeing 737 Max has meant that many carriers are updating their fleets and retiring earlier production 737 NG airframes.  This has flow on benefits for flight simulator enthusiasts, because more and more OEM NG parts are becoming available due to NG airframes being stripped down and recycled.  

LEFT:  OEM Captain-side DU panel.  Note the thick engraving and specialist DZUS fasteners (click to enlarge).

Although some items, such as high-end avionics are priced outside the realm of the average individual, many other parts have become reasonably priced and are often a similar price to the equivalent reproduction part.

This article primarily relates to the panels used in the Main Instrument Panel (MIP), and lower kick stand.  The term panel means the aluminum plate that is secured to the framework of the MIP, and lightplate refers to the engraved plate that is secured to the panel.

Do You Notice The Difference

This is a common question.  The resounding answer is yes – the difference between OEM and reproduction parts can be noticed, especially if you compare the identical parts side by side.  This said, some high-end companies manufacturer panels that are almost indiscernible from the OEM panel.  These panels are bespoke, expensive, and usually are only made to a custom order.  Therefore, it really depends on which manufacturer/company you are comparing the OEM panel against.

By far the biggest difference between an OEM and reproduction panel, other than appearance, is the tactile feel of a knob, the overall robustness of the panel, and the firmness felt when rotating a commercial-grade switch; the later feels very accurate in its movement. 

LEFT:  Close up detail of OEM lightplate and general purpose knobs (click to enlarge)

There is litle compromise with backlighting as an OEM panel has a consistent colour temperature and intensity without hot and cold spots.  

Using a real panel helps to provide immersion and, as your're using a real aircraft part there is no second-guessing whether the panel is an accurate copy; using an OEM panel is literally 'as real as it gets'.  Furthermore, it’s  environmentally friendly to use second hand parts.  New parts (reproduction or otherwise) are made from  finite resources. 

Limitation

Not every OEM part can work in a home simulator.  For example, the OEM potentiometer responsible for the dimming function in the lower kickstand DU panels cannot be used.  This is because Boeing use a rheostat instead of a potentiometer.  Without going into detail, a rheostat is designed to take into account 115 volts AC commonly used in aircraft.  If using these panels. you will need to change the rheostat to a high-end commercial potentiometer.  

Table 1 outlines 'some' of the main differences between the OEM panels and their reproduction equivalents.

Table 1:  Main differences between OEM and reproduction panels (MIP only).

The information presented in the above table, should not be taken in a way that reflects poorly on the manufacturer of reproduction panels.  There are a few high-end companies whose panels are indiscernible from the real item; it’s the purchaser’s knowledge and the manufacturer’s skill that will define whether a reproduction panel replicates the real item.   ‘Caveat Emptor’ should always be at the forefront of any purchase decision.

Potential Problems Using OEM Panels in the MIP

Potential problems often surface when attempting to mate OEM parts to the framework of the MIP.  This is because reproduction MIPs rarely echo the identical dimensions of their OEM counterpart. 

It's not possible to document every potential problem, as all reproduction MIPs are slightly different to each other.  However, some issues encountered may be the misalignment of screw holes between the MIP framework and the OEM panel, the inability to use the panel's DZUS fasteners, the panel being too large or too small for the MIP in question, and the open framework structure at the rear of the panel (which incorporates the wiring lume and Canon plugs) interfering with the infrastructure of the reproduction MIP, or the mounting of the computer screens.

In general, OEM panels cannot be mounted to a reproduction MIP without major work being done to the framework of the MIP.   The solution is to use a MIP that has been designed 1:1 with the OEM MIP, or fabricate a MIP in-house to the correct dimensions.

Specifics to the FDS MIP

The MIP used in the simulator is manufactured by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS), and although the MIP is made to a very high quality, the dimensions of the MIP are not 1:1. 

LEFT:  OEM Stand-by instrument panel. Although difficult to see from a picture, the overall robustness of this panel surpasses all but the very best reproductions (click to enlarge).

The most problematic issue is that the MIP length is slightly too narrow to enable the OEM panels to be fit correctly to the front of the framework.  For example, the OEM chronograph panel is 1 cm wider than the FDS chronograph panel.  Furthermore, most of the OEM panels (such as the standby instrument, chronograph and landing gear panel) measure 130 mm in height as opposed to the FDS panels that measure 125 mm in height.  This causes problems when trying to line up the bottom of each panel with the bottom of the display bezels

The standby instrument panel does fit, however, there is a few centimeters of space between the panel and the adjacent display bezel frame.  In the real aircraft, the display bezel and the edge of the standby instrument panel almost abut one another.  The autobrake panel does fit as do the lower kickstand panels.

FDS use screws to attach their panels to the upper MIP framework, however, OEM panels use DZUS fasteners.  The screw holes on the FDS MIP do not align with the position of the DZUS fasteners in the OEM panel.  The lower MIP panel (kickstand) in the real aircraft also incorporates a DZUS rail to which the panels are attached.  The FDS kickstand does not use a DZUS rail, and screws or reproduction DZUS fasteners are needed to secure the OEM kickstand panels.

The above said, FDS does not state that their MIP is I:1, and when asked will will inform you that OEM panels will not fit their products without considerable fabrication.

Specialist DZUS Fasteners

The OEM panels used in the upper MIP incorporate into the panel a specialist DZUS fastener.  This fastener is used to tightly secure the panel to the framework of the MIP; screws are not used.  Screws are only used to secure the lightplate to the panel. 

LEFT:  DZUS fastener that secures DU panel to the MIP framework (click to enlarge).

The DZUS fastener is shaped differently to the fasteners used to secure the panels located in the lower kickstand, overhead and center pedestal, and these parts are not interchangeable. 

Reproductions rarely replicate these DZUS fasteners.  However, like many things it's often the small things that make a difference (at least aesthetically).

LEFT:  Rear of OEM Captain-side DU panel.   Note heavy duty rotary switches (Cole & Jaycor brand), neat and sturdy wiring lume, and easy connect Canon plug.  The use of the correct bracket in the panel enables the AFDS unit to fit snugly to the panel.  Note the depth of the external frame which can cause placement issues (click to enlarge).

Advantages Using OEM Wiring Lume and Canon Plugs

A major plus using any OEM panel is that the part usually includes an expertly-made wiring lume that terminates at Canon plug.    If possible, the original wiring lume should be kept intact and additional wiring should be done from the Canon plug.  It’s very difficult to duplicate the same level of workmanship that Boeing has done in relation to the wiring.  Furthermore, the wire that has been used is high-end aviation grade wire.

The Canon plug deserves further mention, as the use of a Canon plug (or any connector for that matter) enables you to easily remove the panel for service work should this be required.  If at all possible, the original Canon plug (and wiring) should be used because it’s neat and tidy and ensures a good connection.  However, if the correct Canon plug cannot be procured then a reproduction plug should be fabricated.  There is nothing worse than having to disconnect wires from an interface card to remove a part.

Configuring an OEM Panel

Configuring an OEM panel to use in flight simulator depends on which panel you are referring to. 

LEFT:  OEM landing gear panel. Like any OEM part, the neatness in relation to the wiring is immaculate.  A Canon plug enables the panel to be connected to a lume which then connects with whatever interface card is in use (click to enlarge).

Panels with knobs, toggles and switches are relatively straightforward to interface with a respective interface card (Phidget card, PoKeys card, FDS SYS card or similar).  Determining the pinouts on the Canon plug that control backlighting requires the use of a multimeter, and then connection to a 5 volt power supply.  If the panel includes annunciators (korrys), then these will need to be connected to a 28 volt power supply (using the correct pinouts).

Technology is rarely static, and there are other ways to interface and configure OEM panels.  The ARINC 429 protocol is becomming inceasingly common to use along with specialist interface cards, and these will be discussed in separate articles.

The Future

The FDS MIP can, with some work, be modified to mount the OEM panels.  However, an easier option is to find another MIP that has been designed to mount the panels, or fabricate a MIP in-house to OEM dimensions.

LEFT:  Rear of DU panel showing korry connections and AFDS bracket (click to enlarge).

Final Call

Aesthetically, nothing beats the use of an OEM panel, and the panels used in the upper MIP and lower kickstand offer little comparison to their reproduction equivalents, with possible exception to bespoke reproductions. By far the biggest challenge is determining the pinouts for the Canon plug, but once known, configuration using a Phidget or other traditional card is relatively straightforward. 

As straightforward as it may seem, potential problems surface when attempting to mate OEM panels to an existing reproduction MIP.  To resolve these issues, often a replacement MIP is needed that has been made to the identical dimensions of the OEM counterpart.

Additional Information

The following articles may provide further information in relation to using OEM parts.

Note that some of these articles are to be reviewed and brought up-to-date (technology and ideas are rarely static).

Acronyms

ARINC 429 - Aircraft communication protocol
DU - Display Unit
Lume - A harness that holds several wires in a neat way
OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer
MIP - Main Instrument Panel

Friday
Aug192011

Which MIP - Half or Full

Several companies produce 737NG Main Instrument Panels (MIP) and each company offers different design options.  Basically, you have the following main options - some with and without instrument integration.

  • Full MIP with low panels & CDU (Double Seat Training Device (DSTD)
  • Full MIP (desktop version) without lower panels & CDU
  • Half MIP with low panels & CDU (Single Seat Training Device (SSTD)
  • Half MIP (desktop version) without lower panels & CDU

Which to purchase will depend on what level of realism you are intending to replicate, your budget, your time and ability to fabricate lower sections (CDU bay, etc) and most importantly your available floor space.  Floor space is often a forgotten phase of your research.  Saying it will fit and “she’ll be right mate” often doesn’t cut the mustard.

My old generic flight sim was set up very neatly within a small alcove of a room I call the “utility room or yellow room”.  The room’s gets its name from the colour of the walls and its use – as a place to pack bags for trips, sort gear out and so forth. 

Initially, I decided that a half MIP with lower panels and CDU would be ideal for my purpose; the new sim would fit perfectly into the alcove area and replace my existing sim.  Granted a half MIP is only a one- seater and wouldn’t be as realistic replication of a two-seater aircraft, but the space savings are considerable – sometimes you need to compromise.  Fly Engravity make an ideal half MIP which you can add to as space and budget dictate.  However, the half MIP doesn’t come with full ICS (instrument integration) meaning you must wire it up yourself; for me, a somewhat daunting task both skill and time wise (I'm happy to play electronics expert, but would prefer to start small and work my way up to a larger project such as wiring a full MIP)

LEFT: A half MIP (SSTD) set up exceptionally well.  Just because you don't have a DSTD doesn't mean you cannot have realism (photo courtesy FDS copyright).

Flight Deck Solutions produces a half MIP with full ICS, lower panel and CDU.  But, at the time of writing this MIP is only a very special order.  Therefore, if I was to have full ICS, I had to “bite the bullet” and purchase a full MIP with lower panels and CDU opting to construct a dedicated room beneath the house to set up my new simulator.  In the long-run I know I'll be pleased with choice!

Please be aware that the companies mentioned are but two of several companies that manufacture MIPS.