||The evolution of a home cockpit
by Pim van Vrijaldenhoven
For a chronological list
of events you really should start at Phase 1 and
work you way to the top.
During FSWeekend in
November I saw Skalarki's hardware using warm-white LEDs for the
backlighting. This looks so much better than the yellow backlight that I
decided to rework all my panels. I ordered 2000 warm-white SMD
LEDs in China, plus a 5 meter LED strip and started to work. It
took about 3 weeks that get all the LEDs replaced. The hardest job
was to replace the LED strips in the TQ, because it
needs to be totally
disassembled. Anyway, the result is great. All the green
strips in the overhead and on the TQ are now clearly visible.
I have about 4 meters of LED
strips left, so I am contemplating on backlighting the Circuit Breaker
- Put rails under the
The liners arrived a few weeks ago from Vier Im Pott.
Since the sim room is limited in size I was unable to fit the side
windows. However, it looks nice with the front windows and the
ceiling with dome lights.
I moved over from the
Jeehell A320 package to ProSimA320. This package is still in
development, so I can help out finding problems. I also helped
Skalarki with their SDK to make it run with "non-P&P" hardware. I
have a DIY Skalarki overhead so I connected the 100+ switches and
annunciators to inputs that I saw fit. These need to be mapped to
standardized SDK calls. Since ProSimA320 also relies on the SDK
when talking to Skalarki hardware, it was now possible for me to extend
ProSimA320's functionality by writing a C# program that interfaces the
dome lights, the refuel panel and the pushback panel.
Liners have been ordered from
Vier Im Pott. I hope to get them before the summer. The F/O
side with side base, side stick, tiller and rudder pedals was installed
a couple of months ago. This allows the simulator now to be flown
with two pilots.
overhead aft panel was installed last summer. It came with a
push-back panel as well as a refuel panel. Unfortunately the
refuel panel is still not working because of a hardware problem.
The future project has been realized. I was able top sell my B738 cockpit in
one piece and I started to build the Airbus A320. Because of the years
of experience with this hobby, I decided to take a different approach.
Rather than slowly gathering parts and building item by item, I decided
to purchase the hardware from only two vendors.
The metal parts come
from Vier Im Pott, a German company and the panels with all their
electronics come from Skalarki Electronics in the UK. Both companies
work together, so the Skalarki parts fit very well in the metal frames.
I have ordered
almost everything possible, except the aft overhead panels. The software
that I use is a freeware package called Jeehell FMGS. It does in fact
all the things that ProSim737 does for the Boeing 737. It lacks, however,
features like Instructor Station, failures and weather.
The AWACS seat that I use at
the captain's side is now running on straight rails. The chair can
be moved enough backwards, so there is no need for J-rails.
I was able to get hold of an
old 747-200 pilot chair, that I will use at the F/O side.
For a few more pictures see this and
Many personal things have happened since I last
updated my site. However, I did make a number of changes to the
FlyEngravity a full metal MIP structure with integrated CDU bay was
wet compass and the F/O Clock was added.
There is now backlighting in the AFT Overhead and I added the
console flood light.
- Based on an idea of
the Aviation Megastore I automated the release of the parking brake
on the CockpitSonic Motorized TQ.
- Interfacing of the
horn cutout and stab trim switches on the TQ.
- I moved from FSX to
Lockheed Martin Prepar3d.
- Modified a
FlyEngravity CDU with color display.
Because of problems with
the supplier I never got the F/O stuff, like seat, yoke and pedals.
I cannot say enough how much Prosim737 has progressed over these years.
In my opinion it is the best avionics software that is available for us
The problem with this hobby
is that as time progresses you want to make it more and more to look
like a real cockpit. So, I made a number of improvements:
- I purchased from
REVOLUTION SIMPRODUCTS a set of tumbler switches for the overhead
panels. These include the locking types for e.g. the GEN
- I purchased from
FlyEngravity a cockpit frame structure and a set of windows
replacing the one that I built myself.
- Also from
FlyEngravity I bought overhead mounting frames and covers.
- Using two Pokeys 56E
Ethernet cards I rewired both the FWD and AFT overhead panels.
- I moved from a 2-bay
aft console to a 3-bay because of space.
- I added my newly
designed IRS Display to the AFT overhead panel.
- I use now a
projection screen for the outside view.
- By using a high
quality 10 m HDMI cable I was finally able to get a HD picture
During the last 6 months I
have changed the forward pedestal so it could support two CDU's.
First I was planning to add a dummy CDU at the F/O position but since
Prosim supports color I changed my mind and purchased the CDU from
During this period I also
replaced the CPFlight MCP with their PRO version.
I have modified a real
Korry annunciator by modifying the glass bulbs to hold 5 mm LED's.
However, I am unable to get to the switch function because it's buried
in a small PCB that I cannot get to.
As a current project I am
designing an IRS display that will resemble as much as possible the real
thing. It will also support keyboard entries. More on that
A number of people asked me
for an update, so here is a list of changes that I made the last 6
- The system is now
fully driven by Prosim. I am no longer using any of my panel(s)
programs because Prosim737 fully supports my hardware. Only
for the FDS SYS1 board there is no native support, so that's handled
via the FSUIPC interface.
got rid of the three monitors and purchased an HD Beamer.
Although the resolution is lower, the immersion factor is much
- From FlyEngravity I
purchased the lower sub panels which are backlit. Prosim737
supports independent backlight control of all sections as powered by
the various electrical busses. Using low cost dimmers from
Hong Kong I can now control the backlighting like the real plane.
- Also from
FlyEngravity I purchased backlit panels for the forward overhead.
The result is spectacular.
- I added to the
pedestal bay the new CPFlight modules. Currently only the WXR
panel has no Prosim support.
- I added two magnetic
switches for the Yaw Damper and the Wing Anti Ice. They are
fully supported by Prosim737.
Quite a few changes happened
during this year.
- During the FSWeekend
show in November 2009 I got in touch with two fellow cockpit
builders from Sweden, Björn Harlin and Lasse Lehman. You will
find their website
Lasse offered to build an aft pedestal for me which I gladly
accepted. I asked him to make a two-bay version because of
space reasons. See here for the
- Since I could not get
the FO side for the old FlyEngravity panels anymore, I decided to
purchase their new desktop set and rebuild everything.
- I met another cockpit
builder in The Netherlands, Martin van Liempt. He has built a
beautiful cockpit and is very good in creating mechanical parts.
I asked him to create two engine cutout. Take a look at the
Engine Start page for more details.
- Another person in The
Netherlands, Marty Bochane, is writing a full 737-800 avionics
suite. His aim is to make it, within the limitations of
Microsoft's FS9 and FSX, as realistic as the real plane. I
started to use his overhead software Prosim737 (which is free of
charge) and I was immediately very impressed. All the systems
are modeled like the real deal. For a while I used it
instead of pmSystems but now I have moved over to the full suite. It
is still work in progress but the results have been very satisfying.
If you are interested in
a look at the site. Since Prosim allows to link all its inputs
and outputs to FSUIPC offsets, it's very easy to change over.
In my system I use a FDS SYS-1 Card for which Prosim has currently
no native support. By mapping the Prosim actions into the
pmSystems FSUIPC offsets, it was very easy to get the system
working. The Prosim maps are saved in an XML file. You
can download my file here.
- I combined panel.exe
and panel_console.exe into one program and added support for Prosim.
See the panels page for more
Phase 9 January 2010
As a retirement
gift my colleagues gave me an AWACS seat. Although it does not
have the B737 colors, it sits and feels excellent. In fact, it's
the only part of my setup that has been part of a real airplane.
During the FSWeekend show in
Lelystad I saw the beautiful overhead frame from SimConstruct.
Since I cannot really justify its price I decided to build it myself
from materials that I could pick up at my local DIY store. I am
using 25 mm steel tubing, steel fasteners and M5 bolts and nuts. The
result is very satisfactory. Although not as sturdy as the SimConstruct
unit, it does the job for me. Total cost about €75 and lots and
lots of hours. Notice that I extended the frame construction
around the overhead, so it too became a solid piece.
My goal to add an enclosure
becomes now more feasible because I can add to the frame in the future
windows, ceiling and side panels.
I noticed in pmSystems all
the support for a fire suppression panel, so I decided to add one.
Because of the nice summer we had (and still have) in Holland, I haven't
much done to the flight deck.
I have added the lower DU and moved the
radio's into a temporary pedestal bay. I purchased the
FlyEngravity MIP annunciator decals, warning switches and the new
captain's six-pack. Because I am using the old style MDF-based
FlyEngravity MIP panels, it took a lot of cutting to integrate these.
The six-pack looks wonderful.
I picked up the Aircraft
Controls Engineering 737 Yoke, everything now looks better and better.
Because the yoke is a little bit farther positioned from the MIP, I
tilted the pedals about 30° backwards. This makes the toe
braking also easier.
FlyEngravity Warning switches and Captain's six
Phase 7 -
The aft overhead panel (March 2009)
Because of the recent support
for the aft overhead panel in pmSystems I decided to add it it to my
system. Since I like to write software I did my own implementation
of the IRS panel. Because I am using a FDS-SYS1 board which has
256 outputs I had enough free outputs to drive all 25 annunciators, plus
the 32 Led's in the LED/Flap indicator.
It's not clear to me at this
point what to do with the audio panel.
Not everything is working at
this point, except the LED/Flaps indicator test switch, none of the
warning test switches do anything.
Phase 6 -
The current system and the future (November 2008)
The system is rather complete
as you can see from the picture on the right. The first officer's
side is missing but that's on purpose, mostly because of space
restrictions. You also see the motorized throttle quadrant from
CockpitSonic that really adds to the immersion factor. For a
complete overview of all the hardware and software see the
Future projects in random
- add a pedestal bay
and move the radio's in there
- place a small monitor
next to the CDU for the lower DU
- get a life-like yoke
- change the 6-pack
(brighter LED's + switches)
- add the aft overhead
- build an enclosure
around the whole setup
- add more backlighting
(overhead, Throttle Quadrant)
- get better
annunciators on the MIP
Phase 5 -
The forward overhead panel
Being a systems-type of
person my hands itched to build the forward overhead panel. For
the actual panel I choose FlyEngravity. I built a metal frame from
15 mm square aluminum tubes on which the 6 panels are screwed. To
interface the switches and annunciators I selected the Flightdeck
Solutions FD-SYS1 board. It supports 64 inputs and 256 outputs.
The outputs can drive a LED directly. Sixty-four inputs is not
really enough but by omitting certain switches (e.g. VH NAV, IRS) that
don't do anything, plus combining switches (e.g. Window Heat Side/FWD)
there was no problem. The number of outputs is more than needed.
Outputs come in blocks of eight; it is best to use one output block per
blue LED and put nothing else on that block. Because of the high
current these LEDs draw they affect the intensity of the others. A
software program that comes with the card allows you connect each input
and output to the proper Flight Simulator function, thus there is no
need to connect a switch or LED to a designated connector pin.
The panel has 9 dual
brightness blue annunciators. I could not get these to work
properly with the FD-SYS1 board, so I did this myself using 9 outputs
that I had left on a Phidget-64 board that I use to control the
pressurization panel. For more information see
There is no simple
solution for the AC/DC panel and for the
pressurization panel, so I built
these myself. Click on the links for more information.
The software that drives
the panel is Project Magenta Systems (pmSystems). The beauty of
pmSystems is that supports a scripting language that allows you to make
modifications to how the various systems operate. For example, I
added a few lines that have the cabin temperature gauge display
different values depending on what is selected.
Phase 4 -
Moving over to Project Magenta
The beauty of PM is that all
the hardware that I had acquired was supported. I only had to
specify the COM port number in the PM software and it worked. During
this phase I bought two new computers: a DELL XPS for running Flight
Simulator and the CDU. The other PC was a Dell Inspiron 530 for
running the ND and PFD, the stand-by Instruments and the Weather Radar.
From the company I work for I got an old Dell Optiplex GXa desktop which
is used solely to run the EICAS.
I kept the PMDG 737-800 but
had to remove all the windows in the panel file.
Phase 3 -
Until now I had to sit
behind my desk and "fly" with the aid of a joystick and number of
hardware modules. The
next step was more dramatic - I moved away from the desk and built a
stand-alone set-up. I purchased from FlyEngravity the Captain and
Center panels, a Matrox TripleHead2Go, and four 17" monitors.
In addition I built a stand from MDF to hold the panels and the CDU/Radio
unit. The gear lever, the autobrake switch and the various
annunciators where wired to a CPFlight MIP Interface board. By
undocking the FPD and ND to a separate monitor and by going to the
outside view (W), I had created a fixed-base simulator that I could
"fly" without a keyboard or mouse.
As you can you see in the
picture there where still may holes to fill, the most conspicuous being
the EICAS screen and the stand-by instruments. To fill the
three big round holes was easy, I purchased the Flight Illusion standby
instruments and I replaced the dummy flap indicator by a working one.
At this point
I had to make a major decision - can I stay with the PMDG solution or do
I have to purchase software that is more amendable for cockpit builders.
Except for key clicks, PMDG never released information on how to
interface to the 737NG. Interfacing to the overhead functions and
a number of MIP functions would be impossible. I also tried
for a while to add another video card to the PC in order to undock and
show the EICAS.
Unfortunately, I was not
able to make this a reliable solution. At the end I decided to
bite the bullet and purchase the Project Magenta software. This
software allows interfacing to any hardware you can think of, and very
importantly, it can run distributed on different networked
computers. This allows for off-loading the main computer that runs
Phase 2 -
the end of 2006 I was able to enter partial retirement and with much
more free time available I decided to enter the path of building a home
cockpit. One of my requirements was that during the building
process I should be able to "fly" as much as possible. After
extensively researching what was available, I decided start by purchasing
the CPFlight MCP and EFIS modules. They looked nice and were able
to work with the PMDG 737. I built a small stand for them (it is
scrapped now) so I could place it as a one unit under the PC monitor.
This was real fun, I could turn and press real knobs and buttons
and the plane was turning, changing altitude and so on. The hardware was
able to control all the MCP functions.
It didn't take long to take
the next step - the purchase of a CDU and a number of radio modules.
The CDU is from FlyEngravity and could interface with the PMDG 737NG
Series via a dedicated driver. The CPFlight radio modules are
connected to the MCP and required nothing special.
The beauty of this setup was
that I was able to "fly" without the need to use either the mouse of
keyboard. Flaps, gear, brakes, rudder and throttle were handled
from the joystick. Only during startup I had to handle the
overhead panel, and during start and landing some miscellaneous
functions like Autobrake.
Phase 1 -
Like most other flight simulation
enthusiasts I started of with only a PC, a flight simulator program and a
joystick. In fact, my first flight simulator was Fly! and I used it until
it became apparent that it had no future. During the Fly! years I had fun
with the PMDG add-ons like the Boeing 757 and 777. Another
interesting add-on to Fly! was Terrascene that allowed you, by downloading USCG data, to generate very detailed scenery for US areas. Since I had
lived in Washington State, I recreated everything west of the Cascades.
After Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 came out I decided to abandon Fly! (Fly2! by that time)
and to move over. It really became interesting for me when PMDG released
their 737NG Series. Before that I had purchased Wilco's A320 but that was
a disaster. On my system the virtual cockpit was totally unusable so I was
glad that PMDG came with a quality alternative. To date I am still using
the PMDG 737-800 albeit in a modified form - more about that later.
On the simulator I did a lot of "flying" with the PMDG 737-800, the
Flight1 Cessna 172 and later the PSS A320, both on- and off-line.