AIRCRAFT SHELL, PLATFORM, LININGS & SEATS
Construction a flight simulator is not just the main instrument panel, pedestal and throttle quadrant. Considerable thought must be given to the shell, internal linings, seats and platform. The shell and internal linings, although visually important are not as critical as the platform, which must be sturdy enough to hold the weight of real aircraft parts and two adults.
Shell & Internal Linings
A shell provides excellent immersion and allows you to concentrate solely on the task at hand without visual distractions.
At the time of writing there are three options available:
- A nose cone from Flight Deck Solutions (FDS). This is probably the easiest option as the nose has been prefabricated. Reproduction linings are also available (buy & forget).
- A custom-made 'roll cage' style assembly of some description which mimics the basics of a shell. This can be manufactured from aluminium, steel or wood. To this front windows can be added. The roll cage could aptly be termed a 'skeleton'.
- A nose cone from a real aircraft retrofitted.
I would like to use a shell, however, space availability is at a premium. Therefore, I will not be replicating the aircraft shell or internal linings 1:1 (at the moment). In all likelihood, option 2 will be selected and a custom-made shell that blends with the theme of a simulator will be used. 'School is not out' and I'm still considering various ideas from custom-made aluminum frames to commerically made frames such as those sold by Sim World.
Certainly, in the future a true shell with linings will be added when space becomes available.
I have often thought of retrofitting a genuine aircraft nose cone. This certainly would be the best option for realism; however, but space limitation and freight costs has removed this from the equation.
My Musings - Real or Reproduction
A simulator falls within three spheres: To the left there is a full simulation which for all intense purposes is difficult to separate from the real aircraft (other than it is inside your house!). Opposing this is the desktop simulator. Riding between the two is a set-up, which most people end up achieving to some lesser or greater degree.
Not wanting or wishing to derate those riding the left wave, a simulation is not a real aircraft but a simulation.
Rather than try and half create something, it is often more productive to develop what appears to be a quality simulator (that looks like a simulator) rather than a half-made nose cone which doesn't stand up to scrutiny. The emphasis is on building a simulator rather than a 1:1 replication of a real aircraft.
Of course if you have the real estate available for a full shell or nose cone - then this is the obvious choice.
A basic platform was constructed late 2011 on which to mount the instrument panel, throttle quadrant, center pedestal and seats. I constructed the platform from wood and painted it Boeing grey in colour.
Images of the construction can be viewed in the image gallery.
This platform has served me well during the development of the simulator, however, it was only meant as a temporary platform. This platform has since been retired after I took delivery of two genuine B737 yokes, columns and rudder pedals.
The replacement platform is constructed from aluminum tubing and quarter bracing and is modular and allows underneath access by way of several removable panels mounted in the floor.
Pilot Seats - Weber or Ipeco
Seating is important, although it has zero functionality other than providing a place to sit. Using a pair of pilot seats (captain and first officer) provides a level of realism and immersion that isn't possible when using a normal office chair or car seat - especially if the office chair has rollers :)
There are many types of aircraft seats, however, Boeing 737 series aircraft use either the older Weber style of seat or the newer seat manufactured by Ipeco. If you're simulating a later model 737NG series aircraft then the Ipeco seat is the more realistic seat to use; it is very unusual to find a Weber seat mounted in a B737 NG aircraft.
I was offered two Weber seats in excellent condition at the beginning of the project, and at the time did not relaize that Weber seats were not the standard seat used in the NG airframe.
I prefer the older style Weber seats which were very popular in the B737 classic series aircraft.
LEFT: Sheepskin cover on Weber Captain-side seat.
In my opinion, the Weber seats are more comfortable than the Ipeco seats. They are also are easier to fit as they do not require the use of straight or J-rails - they bolt directly to the floor.
If you're a purist, you can with a little extra fabrication alter the Weber seats to look almost identical to Ipeco seats. At the end of the project, I may dispose of the two Weber seats and purchase Ipeco seats.
To see the two Weber seats that will be used in the simulator, navigate to the image gallery
J-Rails Verses Claw Feet
Weber seats come standard with claw feet; therefore J-rails are not required. Weber seats were used on earlier airframes (100-300/400 series) when two-bay center pedestals were more than the norm. The narrower pedestal meant that pilots could easily squeeze between the seat and the pedestal.
With the introduction of three-bay pedestals (to house the increasing number of avionic panels), there was less room and seats had to be fitted with J-rails to allow the seats to move laterally and backward to allow pilot access to the flight deck. Ipeco seats come standard with J-Rails.
I have little doubt that if a shell is installed with linings, I will need to install J-Rails to allow easy access to the flight deck.