Research and Development
In early 2011 I decided to re-investigate the option of a full flight simulation. I was surprised that many of the software glitches of the past were now history, there was a large variety of hardware equipment available, and the prices had become a little more affordable. I was still very happy with my small generic flight deck, however, I craved for additional realism, functionality, and technical challenge. It didn't take long for me to make the decision to upgrade my simulation.
I had been thinking of upgrading for several months, therefore, I already more or less knew what I wanted. I searched the Internet, read many of the forums and in general became a computer geek as I researched everything and anything associated with constructing a home-based flight.
I categorised my project into five general phases:
- Phase One is the initial research, financial constraints, commissioning and ordering.
- Phase Two is the development of a working simulator with full MIP, all avionics, yoke, throttle quadrant, center pedestal, and rudder pedals running one external view screen, but no overhead panel.
- Phase Three is the development, construction and implementation of the overhead panel.
- Phase Four will be the development of the external visuals and probable implementation of a shell of some type.
The reason for the phases was to provide a time-orientated approach which will lead to the full completion of a phase before moving into the next phase.
The phase system is to provide a guide; in reality, some phases may overlap due to operational constraints.
Phase One I believe to be the most important phase. This is when you think and plan. The outcome of this phase will narrow the road that you take towards building your operational flight simulator.
Initial research involves internet searching and working out what's available in the market and where. It's also about determining exactly what type of simulator you want and how far you are prepared to go to develop that idea. I have spent countless hours (actually weeks) looking at other set ups - some were downright awful, whilst others looked like the real thing. I decided I was going to be somewhere in between. it's important know what level of realism you want, as you can then move forward to the next phase.
Phase One involves concentrating on your design and determining what you require to fulfil your "dream" project. Further research is then required to ensure what you want is achievable, both technically and financially. It's important to discuss ideas, equipment and the reputation of suppliers with other enthusiasts who have already walked this same path. Forums, although not always non biased are a good place to begin.
I place a lot of importance on the suppliers (manufacturers) support for their products. Some suppliers offer no support whilst others offer forums to solve issues. In my opinion, considering the sum of money you are out laying for many items, full support and a forum should be obligatory.
During this time, the outline of your flight deck should be becoming apparent as should the timeline for the project. At this time, it's important to know the dimensions of your planned flight deck including an idea to where you will be installing it in your house. The last thing you need is to order a MIP and find it doesn't fit in your house or apartment.
Remember that the flight deck is as powerful as the computers that run it. Although a though knowledge of computer and software systems is not required, a good working knowledge is. It's easy to forget about computers, but this is like ignoring the heart when looking at how the human body works. Computers are important and it's vital to have and maintain a very good computer set up to operate your flight simulator.
Following closely is the financial aspect of your project and this is just as important if more important ,than the research work already completed. I used Excel to analyse the costs involved with my project. I knew it wasn't going to be inexpensive, but the last thing I wanted was for it to snowball to some outrageous figure which was not affordable. I added and subtracted components until I was more or less satisfied with the initial financial outlay in relation to my envisaged project.
After completion of research and financial aspects, it's time to begin to contact various manufacturers to determine what their timeline is in relation to construction and manufacture.i Many of the hardware items are not off the shelf and require a few months lead time. If your looking at utilising real aircraft parts, then the searching for these parts can take a long time. Further, many of the products are not available locally and freight charges need to be determined. Freight, Freight forwarder and import duties can be sizeable financial burden, and it's important to have a reality check on this rather early.
The final stage of Phase One is commissioning and the beginning of construction. This is the fun part. This is where you get to go shopping and heat up your AMEX card. Soon after, begins the construction phase which can take anything from a couple of days for a pre fabricated ICS unit without extras, to months if you have chosen the "design and build your own" concept.
Phases Two, Three and Four involve the actual construction of the simulator based on the resources and model architecture developed during Phase One. This is the fun stage of the project where the actual physical construction begins and the simulator takes shape. These phases will most likely overlap as parts are procured.
It may seem odd that I have selected the overhead panel to be implemented toward the finalisation of the project. The reason for this is relatively straightforward. Many flight deck builders have problems associated with the construction of the overhead; it is one of the more complicated areas to replicate.
My thoughts are that it's important to have everything functioning correctly in the simulator with other systems, before replicating the overhead.
Phase Four will be the development of external visuals. In many respects, visuals relate to the shell type being used.
Short List of Recommended Suppliers
Several companies and various products were earmarked for trial, and after extensively researching each product and its manufacturer, a list was developed. The actual product is important, but equally important is the support the company provides. My requirements were specific so the list slowly became shorter.
The short list for hardware was: Fly Engravity, CP Flight, Flight Illusion, Ace Engineering, Northern Simulations, and Flight Deck Solutions. Hardware I/O cards were supplied by Leo Bodnar, POKEY, Flight Deck Solutions, and using real Boeing parts converted to flight simulator use.
All of the above companies produce high quality simulation products that replicate a Boeing 737 flight system.