MAIN INSTRUMENT PANEL (MIP)
This is the main panel where the detail is. A professionally produced MIP will greatly enhance realism and the experience of immersion. The MIP can be viewed as a skeleton or framework from which many of primary panels are attached.
An OEM MIP is a prime candidate to use as a skeleton, especially if implementing OEM panels and gauges. However, NG MIPS are almost impossible to find and MIPS from the classic series airframes which are completely different in design.
After extensive research, a MIP manufactured by Flight Deck Solutions (FDS), was chosen. The other contender for the supply of the MIP was Fly Engravity in Europe. Both manufacturers replicate, to a degree, the main instrument panel of a Boeing 737-800 NG.
The main reason for selecting Flight Deck Solutions as opposed to Fly Engravity were freight charges, exchange rate and product support. The freight, although expensive from Canada to Australia, is far less expensive than freight charges from Europe. Further, FDS have a support structure in Australia. As I have mentioned in the Project Overview section, support is a vital component that can be beyond price when constructing a realistic flight simulator.
Space Requirements and which Manufacturer
A flight simulator consumes a relatively large footprint and most of a large room is consumed by a double seat training device, external screen (s) and computers.
Initially, I was interested in what FDS call a single seat trainer, or half MIP; these trainers are very compact and are ideal when space is at a premium. At the time of ordering the half MIP was not readily available, so I had to contend with a double seated trainer (captain and flight officer). I was fortunate in that a large room became available to house the simulator; however, the room is not large enough to house a full sized shell.
All MIPS are not Identical
It is critical to understand when selecting a MIP that not all MIPS are exactly 1:1 ratio with the their real counterparts. This disparity can cause issues when installing OEM aviation panels and gauges.
Another issue is that some manufacturers take artistic license when making their MIP; A angle here or there may not be quite right, or a panel used may not be exactly accurate to the real item. Whilst artistic license may not be an issue if using everything from the same manufacturer, it will present a MAJOR problem if mixing items from several manufacturers. For example, the bezels (frames) of the display units are different between FDS and Fly Engravity and are not interchangeable.
It would appear obvious that a MIP should be made from aluminium, and not plastic or acrylic. Yet, although the main part of the MIP is made from aluminum, the bezels used by FDS are made from acrylic, in contrast to the real aircraft and items made by Fly Engravity.
It is unfortunate that all manufacturers do not produce an identical MIP, as this leads to a buyer having to compromise on certain items from one manufacturer to obtain the benefits from another.
In the real Boeing 737, back lighting for the MIP is by 5 volt incandescent bulbs.
Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) usefor their MIP, which is a term coined by FDS to describe their propriety back lighting system. The system used a string of 5 volt incandescent bulbs, strategically placed to illuminate the the MIP. FDS claim that this system as closely as possible, replicates that used in the real aircraft . FDS's competitors for the most part use LEDs to backlight the MIP.
If choosing a MIP that uses LEDS for back lighting, ensure that the brightness and throw of light is realistic, as in the past LEDS have been poor performers in comparison to the more evenly distributed light from bulbs.
One further point worth consideration, is that bulbs draw more energy, burn warmer, and generate more heat than LEDS.
Photographs courtesy of Peter and Steve Cos, Flight Deck Solutions (FDS).
- A detailed review of the MIP has been published in the journal section.