RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT (R&D)
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 did not take long for me to make the decision to upgrade my simulation.
I had been thinking of upgrading for several months and 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 simulator.
I categorised my project into five general phases:
- Phase One - the initial research, financial constraints, commissioning and ordering.
- Phase Two - 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 - the development, construction and implementation of the overhead panel.
- Phase Four - the development of the external visuals and probable implementation of a shell of some type.
- Phase Five - the development of accurate loading on flight controls.
The reason for the phase methodology was to provide a time-orientated approach which would lead to the 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 This is 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 searching the internet to determine market availability. It is also when you choose the type of simulator, and decide 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 is important to realize the level of realism you want.
Furthermore, Phase One involves concentrating on your design and determining what you require to fulfil your 'anticipated' project. Further research is then required to ensure what you want is achievable, both technically and financially. It is important to discuss ideas, equipment and the reputation of suppliers with other enthusiasts who have already walked this same path. Forums are a good place to begin, but it must always be remembered that many forums are biassed to a particular brand product.
I place a lot of importance on the support that suppliers (manufacturers) have for their products. Some suppliers offer no support, others provide 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. The last thing you need is to order a MIP and find it does not fit into 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 is 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 is vital to have and maintain a very good computer to operate the flight simulator.
Following closely is the financial aspect of your project. I used Micro$oft Excel to analyse the cost associated with the project. I knew the simulator was not going to be inexpensive, but the last thing I wanted was the project to snowball to some outrageous figure which was not affordable. To the total figure I added and subtracted components until I was more or less satisfied with the initial financial outlay in relation to my envisaged project. I then added 20% to cover incidentals and unscheduled purchases and expenses.
No matter how precise you are with your planning, it is guaranteed that the project will become at least 20% more expensive than what you planned. Freight costs will become one of the largest expenditures and import duties can become a financial Burdon. it is vital to have a reality check on this rather early.
After completion of the research and financial aspects, it is time to begin to contact the various manufacturers to determine what their timeline is in relation to supply. Many of the hardware items are not off- the-shelf and require a few months lead time to manufacture.
The final stage of Phase One is commissioning the works (aka spending money...)
Phases Two is the construction of the simulator based on the resources and model architecture developed during Phase One. This is when the simulator begins to take shape. In all probability, Phase Two will probably overlap with Phase Three and Phase Four as parts are procured.
It may seem odd that the overhead panel is 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 as the overhead systems interact with many of the other simulator systems.
It is my belief that everything should be functioning correctly in the simulator before the overhead is implemented.
Phase Four is the development of external visuals. In many respects, visuals relate to the type of shell being used. Therefore, these decisions will be made towards the close of the project.
Phase Five will probably not eventuate for sometime.
This phase will encompass realistic loadings on the flight controls - not to be confused with force feedback. Realistic loading will accurately replicate the pressures felt on flight controls when extending flaps, landing gear, spoilers and the like.
Recommended Suppliers (short listed)
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 Flight Sim, and Flight Deck Solutions. Hardware I/O cards were supplied by Leo Bodnar, PoKeys, Flight Deck Solutions, Polulu and Phidgets.
Flight Illusion, a company that produces reproduction flight instrument gauges was removed from the list as I decided to use OEM aviation parts (real parts) where possible. Northern Flight Sim although initially commissioned to convert a throttle unit was removed from the list due to problems with measurements, attention to detail, and use of low cost parts. Fly Engravity was not selected due to expensive freight charges from Europe to Australia.
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