Journal Archive (Newest First)

PROJECT OVERVIEW 

The reason for this website is two-fold.

First, it is to cement my thoughts and document the methods used during the development and building process.  In essence, a 'dear diary' explaining how and why I came to the conclusions I did.

A project of this magnitude does not transpire overnight, and I am anticipating project completion will take quite some time. I'll be documenting the project as it transpires from the initial research and development stage through to the construction, flight testing and final phase.

Therefore, this blog will be continually in a state of flux as I add information and provide reviews of equipment purchased and used.

Second, I hope this website will provide information, ideas and inspiration to individuals tackling similar projects. 

Scientific Method & Repeatability

Your probably wondering what this has to do with flight simulation.  The definition of Scientific Method is 'A body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge'.

Building a simulator is not an individual effort.  It is group effort that replicates and builds upon the knowledge and expertise of others.  Therefore, while I will be designing, building and implementing some items, I will also be utilising the services of individuals more knowledgeable than myself.

To those individuals that have helped me, I offer my sincere thanks.

Which Flight Deck to Simulate ? 

This can be a difficult question to come to grips with once you have decided to move away from a generic style of flight deck.  Once you select an aircraft and begin construction, there is little scope for alteration.

I enjoy flying Boeing aircraft from the 'retro' all gauges B737-200 through to the B737-900 NG complete with glass panels.  However, only one airframe can be simulated and the B737-800 NG was chosen.

Level of Realism - Functionality and Aesthetics

This is and always will be a difficult aspect of any simulation. Some people want to replicate and simulate everything within a particular aircraft from the complete avionics suite to the fire extinguisher and windows. 

Replicating a fully functional B737 flight deck is possible, but it comes at the cost of a large financial outlay.  Flight simulation in many respects is about compromise.  It is not necessary to replicate every last screw on a flight deck.  Functionality is very important and should always be foremost in any design.  Equally, aesthetics are important.  I like to think that with my simulator design I have reached middle ground. 

I decided at the beginning of the project that I was not interested in replicating a B737 flight deck in entirety. Nor was I interested in constructing a simulator that rivalled those found for pilot certification at UPS, FED EX or Boeing; to do so would be cost prohibitive.  

I did, however, want a level of 'immersion' that was beyond that offered by a standard generic style desktop flight deck.  As such, anything replicated had to be done as realistically as possible.  Aesthetics are important in any simulation, but equally important is functionality and immersion.

First and foremost I wanted to design and build a simulator that was a simulation of real aircraft systems, and this ethos comes ahead of replicating a full-scale flight deck that 'looks pretty' but has limited functionality.

Immersion Level

The words realism and immersion often go hand in hand.  Realism refers to using genuine aircraft parts and to mimicking and replicating exactly what is observed in a real flight deck.  Immersion is making the person operating the simulator believe that they are somewhere else or in another place and time. 

This mind manipulation process is called 'suspension of disbelief', which is a phenomenon where the occupant of the simulator stops thinking they are located in a home setting and starts believing that he/she is in a real flying aircraft somewhere over Europe or elsewhere.  It could be likened to a type of hypnotic effect.  Immersion is the term used to describe the depth to which this belief intensifies.  Without this hypnotic effect, the simulation will appear very game-like and unrealistic. 

Real Aviation Parts (OEM - Original Equipment Manufacturer)

I had decided relatively early in the project to utilise real aircraft parts, and I knew that acquiring late model NG parts would be financially prohibitive.  Fortunately, Boeing in their infinite wisdom of 'saving money' use in the NG many parts used by the classic series airframes.

For a complete list of OEM parts used in the simulator, see the section Real B737 Parts.

This said, compromises must be made.

For example, to purchase a real 737-800 NG throttle and pedestal is cost prohibitive, therefore, an OEM 737-500 throttle and center pedestal were purchased.  The throttle unit has been converted to appear very similar to the NG unit.  To a purest it is not 100% perfect, but it is very very close!  Whatever is said, using a real B737 throttle that has been retro-fitted to appear similar to a NG type is 'eons' ahead of using a reproduction throttle.

The same can be said with instruments, avionics and panels (aka modules).  There are several companies that manufacture quality panelss, but you cannot match the realism, appearance and immersion of a real panel or gauge.  Using an OEM gauge is literally 'as real as it gets'...

I cannot exactly explain the feeling of immersion one has when you grasp real throttle handles, and pull back lightly on a real yoke during the take off roll.  I guess it is just one step closer to the real thing and it promotes a good feeling knowing that the hardware you are using came from a real working and breathing Boeing aircraft.  It is also a good feeling knowing you are recycling an old airline part destined for the scrap yard, rather than purchasing something new that uses finite resources.

Modular Approach

I believe the Scandinavians were the first to capitalise on the modular approach with the building of home furnishings.  In Australia IKEA promotes their'"flat pack style of furniture' that can be put together using basic tools.

I will strive to use a similar approach, especially in relation to installing interface cards and other components required to operate a particular part of the simulator.  All interface cards will be installed to a number of modules, called Interface Modules.  An Interface Module will be constructed for each major system or system group.  For example, the Throttle Interface Module (TIM) will house all cards that relate to the operation of the throttle quadrant.  Another module, named the Overhead Interface Module (OIM) will store all cards relating to the forward and aft overheads, and so forth...

The reason for using a modular approach was troubleshooting and ease of maintenance. 

More can be read regarding the interface modules in the appropriate section.

Compromising - There has to be a Limit

Unless you want to spend $100,000 USD for a turn-key flight simulation, there must be compromise in any project scope.   Achieving the maximum level of realism and immersion will stretch your budget to breaking point; therefore, there has to be a time when you say 'enough is enough'.

Yes, you can have everything working to the tenth degree, but it will take an inordinate amount of time to do this.  It will also require a relatively high level of technical skill, and patience to sit and fiddle with things until everything works as it should.  You will also have to maintain what you have done to ensure continued operation.

It is an unfortunate fact that most of us have real jobs and real lives and do not have the time to allocate to such an undertaking.  Furthermore, the conversion of some OEM parts is not feasible: technical knowledge, time constraints and lastly patience all play a factor.

Importantly, it is wise to remember that the simulator is used to mimic flight, and if you spend your time continually building you will quickly forget how to fly.  Worse still, your project will never exit construction mode.

Scope Creep and Evolution

'Scope creep' is a term used in consultancy meaning that a project becomes larger and larger as time progresses.  I have noticed that my project is not immune; as parts of the project are completed, new areas open up.  Although creep is not bad, it must be kept an eye on; it is easy to let the project go beyond what either you are capable of doing, or able to outlay financially.

Project Time Line

There is no time-line established for the project, but it's hoped completion will be in late 2015.  Project research began in early 2011.

Completion is very dependant upon the availability of OEM parts, the reliably of the various suppliers of parts, and the time I have available for conversion. If suppliers are on time with their promises, then it is anticipated that the simulator will be flying, without an overhead panel, in mid 2012.

Time, Frustration and Patience

Time is finite and valuable to me; I do other things in addition to building and flying a flight simulator.

The concept of spending weeks constructing a flight deck from scratch and learning advanced electronics did not appeal; I prefer to fly!. I am more than happy to 'dabble' with OEM panels and the like, but I was not prepared to wire a complete Main Instrument Panel.  My aim is not to become a mechanical and electrical engineer.

At an early stage, my focus shifted towards integrated components for the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) that more or less work out of the box with minimal tinkering.  This is why an integrated MIP from Flight Deck Solutions was chosen as a starting point to act as a skeleton from which OEM parts would be attached.  From this benchmark I will slowly replace the FDS components with converted OEM parts.

One aspect of flight simulation that is often difficult to grasp is PATIENCE.

Everything takes time and more than often manufacturers and suppliers are small scale operations that cannot deliver overnight; larger companies even seem to have excessive delays in supplying their products. 

Patience is a virtue...

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