The reason for this website is two-fold.
First, it's to cement my thoughts as I move though the development and implementation to provide an incite to how and why I came to the conclusions I did.
A project of this magnitude doesn't transpire overnight, and I'm anticipating the complete project will take considerable time to complete. 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, and provide a way of "giving back" to the flight simulation community who have been very helpful to me over the last decade or so.
Scientific Method and 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 but, a group effort involving the knowledge and expertise off others. It's replicating and building upon what has already been done. 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 B737-900NG complete with glass panels.
I'd decided relatively early in the project to utilise real aircraft parts, and it's obvious that acquiring genuine B737NG parts is impossible without parting with a small fortune. Therefore, I decided to replicate a B737-800 series jetliner to the best of my ability.
Replicating a B737 flight deck to the tenth degree is possible, but to do so becomes an expensive task. Flight simulation in many respects is about compromise. It isn't feasible or necessary to replicate every last screw on a flight deck. Functionality is very important and should always be foremost in any design. Equally, ascetics are important. I'd like to think that with my simulator design I've reached middle ground. I have attempted where possible to replicate the NG airframe, however, in some areas this has not been possible.
With this mind-set in place, the main instrument panel replicates a B737NG series aircraft while the yokes, columns, throttle quadrant and center pedestal have all been resurrected from a B737-300 and 500 series airframe. The seats have been resurrected from a B737-500 airframe.
How Far Do You Go - There Has To Be A Compromise
Simulating a B737 with everything operational, in my opinion, is a mine field. Bluntly put, my project is not going to simulate every very last working feature in a B737; however, it will simulate functionality that is plausible and available through the currently available software platforms - Flight Simulator 10 (FSX) and the avionics package chosen (ProSim737).
Project Time Line
There is no time-line established for the project, but it's hoped completion will be in late 2013. Project research began in early 2011
Completion is very dependant upon the reliably of the various suppliers of parts. If suppliers are on time with their promises, then it's anticipated that the simulator will be flying, without an overhead panel, in mid 2012.
Level of Realism - "Almost There"
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. Whilst this is possible, it's not without its problems. If you intend to do this be aware that your budget and frustration level will be very high.
I decided at the beginning of the project that I was not interested in replicating each and every last dial of a B737. 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 "almost there" and 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.
Real Aviation Parts
I decided at the outset that I wanted to try and use genuine aviation parts where possible; I don't believe you can get more realistic than actually using a real aircraft part. For a complete list of genuine parts see the section Real B737 Parts.
This said, compromises must be made.
For example, to purchase a real 737NG throttle and pedestal is cost prohibitive, so I purchased a real 737-300 throttle and center pedestal. The throttle unit has been converted to appear very similar to the NG unit . To a purest it's not 100% perfect, but it's 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 for a number of the avionic instruments. There are several companies that manufacture quality modules, but you cannot match the realism, appearance and immersion of a genuine module converted to flight simulator use.
I can't exactly explain the feeling one has when you grasp real throttle handles and pull back lightly on a real yoke during a take off roll. I guess it's just one step closer to the real thing and it's a good feeling knowing that the hardware your using came from a real working and breathing Boeing aircraft.
How Far Do You Go - More on Compromising
Unless you want to spend $100,000 USD for a turn-key flight simulation, there must be compromise.
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's an unfortunate fact that most of us have real jobs and real lives and just don't have the time to allocate to such an undertaking.
To convert some real parts to FS use is just not feasible: technical knowledge, time constraints and lastly patience all play a factor.
Time, Frustration, Flying and Patience
Time is valuable to me.
The concept of spending weeks constructing a flight deck from scratch and learning advanced electronics didn't appeal; I prefer to fly!. I'm more than happy to dabble, but my aim is not to become a mechanical engineer.
I can think of nothing worse than spending days wiring and testing each bulb and gauge on the Main Instrument Panel (MIP) and then troubleshooting why something doesn't operate as it should. At an early stage, my focus shifted towards integrated components that more or less work out of the box with minimal tinkering. The exception to this is the conversion of genuine B737 equipment.
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, or "something like that"