I produced the world’s first YouTube video that showed a pilot flying a simulator combined with corresponding in-sim video. AND combined with real video from the real airplane he is simulating. Let me break that down for you. This was…
Video I took of the EAA Ford Tri-Motor when I flew in it
In-simulator video of the EAA Ford Tri-Motor that I created in Flight Simulator 2004
Video of me flying the EAA Ford Tri-Motor in the Roger Dodger Aviation Training Simulator
Roger Dodger’s First Flight Sim
First of all, I completed my first large-scale flight simulator in 2005 and I used it as a part of my aviation ground school. I produced this video to showcase the capabilities of the simulator. I called it the Roger Dodger Aviation Training Simulator (RDATS). It featured dual airplane controls and two comfortable seats from a Dodge Caravan. Notice in the video, I never show the computer monitor. That’s because it was so difficult to get good video of it.
Vintage Aircraft Flight Simulator
Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 included the Ford Tri-Motor as a default aircraft. Consequently, I spent a lot of time flying that vintage airliner. FS2004 made it possible to re-create the entire transcontinental route across the USA. As a result, I got the idea for the NY2LA fund raiser that we hosted the same year. The Tri-Motor was missing from FSX and I miss that old vintage aircraft flight simulator.
EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor
Most noteworthy, the EAA flew its Ford Tri-Motor into Kansas City in 2005. Not only that, they also sold rides because this was a part of their national tour. I happily bought a flight and took a lot of video. Looking at it now, the video is old and grainy, but it was great back then.
A member of the Vara-Tones gave me verbal permission to use their music. I actually called them on the phone and talked to one of them. It turns out these guys are all retired from the aviation industry in California. Very cool!
Dove Tail Games (DTG) announced the release of Flight Sim World days before I wrote this article. Therefore, I haven’t tried it yet, and actually nobody has. FSW will be released for early access in May 2017. DTG really wants FSW to be the replacement for FSX that we’ve all been waiting for.
And yet, FSW is built upon the foundations of FSX. DTG purchased the rights from Microsoft to extend FSX and is building upon that. I think DTG is trying to develop what FSX could have become if Microsoft hadn’t killed the Flight Simulator franchise in 2007. They have an uphill battle today because DTG’s Flight School was not well received in 2016. However, DTG offering a huge olive branch to purchasers of Flight School… they get FSW for free! Consequently, FSW the best cheap flight simulator.
FSW features utilization of DirectX 11 and its a 64 bit application. Of course, the release video looks beautiful.
Flight Simulator X Steam Edition by Dovetail Games
Well, there’s always FSX. It was the all-around best flight simulator for years, but it is slowly fading. DTG successfully dusted-off and re-released Flight Simulator X on the Steam platform in 2014. Microsoft fired the entire FSX development staff in 2009, but dozens of 3rd party developers continued to produce hundreds of add-ons, utilities, and enhancements to FSX. I installed FSX on the DIY Flight Sim Pod and the DIY Roll-Away Flight Sim.
Sometimes there is a sale on Steam and you can buy FSX for about $15. You have little to lose by trying FSX. Therefore, FSX is probably your best cheap flight simulator option. Download some free scenery add-ons or airplanes. Fly some of the old missions. If you have problems, there is lots of information available just a Google away.
Prepar3D is the Best Flight Simulator
P3D is my pick right now, but that could change in the future. The flight sim community is in a time of flux right now. On the other hand, you may have noticed something about these choices. Out of the four titles I listed, three are based on the old FSX foundation. So after two decades, it’s still really just Flight Simulator vs. X-Plane.
The flight simulator community is experiencing something it hasn’t seen in a long time: real choices. After a decade of Flight Simulator X (FSX) dominance, there are now serious software alternatives. So how you do you choose the best flight simulator application? I’ll take a look at four options: Lockheed Martin Prepar3D, X-Plane 11, Dovetail Games’ Flight Sim World, and Flight Simulator X Steam Edition. Also keep in mind, I’m the DIY Flight Sim guy. I do my best work with a drill and a miter saw and I spend more time editing video than I do flying a simulator. But still, people ask my opinion, so here it is…
Lockheed Martin Prepar3D (P3D)
Lockheed Martin is a $46 Billion dollar defense contractor. They build ballistic missiles, armored fighting vehicles, combat ships, rockets, satellites, robots, and a lot more… and real airplanes too. LM purchased certain licensing rights from Microsoft to further develop its ESP simulation platform, which is now Lockheed’s Prepar3D. The P3D development team is a tiny segment of this giant mega-corporation. P3D markets its capabilities as training simulation for commercial, academic, professional, or military interests. They do not make products for armchair flightsimmers like you and me. This is why P3D issues the odd warning against using its product for entertainment.
P3D works so well. I remember when I first installed it on the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. The software automatically detected and properly assigned my flight controls. First time in my life I’ve ever experienced that. P3D is an improvement over FSX and retains familiarity in the menus and options. The frame rates are better, the scenery is better, and many FSX add-ons also work in P3D. Multiple monitors and Saitek switch panels work well in P3D. So P3D is my choice for the best flight simulator software right now, but that comes with a caveat (read on).
Lockheed builds a great product and if you happen like it, that’s fine, but if you don’t then remember that Lockheed is not very concerned about us or the flight sim consumer market. Out of Lockheed’s 126,000 employees, only a few of them work on the Prepar3D program, and P3D is a tiny part of Lockheed’s revenue stream. I’m saying that Lockheed’s priorities could change in the future and we may not have access to P3D any more. And yet, Lockheed offers a great product for retail customers right now and it is my choice for the best flight simulator.
X-Plane 11 by Laminar Research
The X-plane franchise has been the #2 choice for flight sim pilots for years. Will it become the #1 best flight simulator now with X-plane 11? I installed the X-Plane 11 demo on the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. Unfortunately, I haven’t had much time to really experience X-plane 11 on my rig yet, but you guys want my opinion, so here it is. I think X-plane could become the new standard for home flight simulators in the next 10 years. Austin Meyer is the lead developer for X-plane, and this is his baby. X-plane is an essential part of Austin’s identity, so I think the X-plane team has a passion that is perhaps not present at Prepar3D. Plus, X-plane is here for us… the flight sim community.
As of right now, the X-plane community is smaller than the FSX community so there is less choice in 3rd party add-ons. X-plane is 64 bit and that doesn’t necessarily mean your frame rates will be higher than P3D, but X-plane is able to fully utilize the RAM you already have in your computer. This could help in the future. Multiple monitors and Saitek switch panels work well in X-plane 11, but some of the menu options are difficult to read. Austin is seems really interested in bringing built-in VR capability to X-plane, so if that’s your thing, you might want to sign up for Austin’s blog. VR brings several new challenges to flight sims like frame rates, eyeglasses, ergonomics, etc.
What about Flight Simulator X and the new Flight Sim World from Dovetail? Read Part 2 here.
A Maker Faire is a festival of invention and creativity. In the words of Make Magazine it is, “an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, engineers, science clubs…” You would totally expect to find a DIY Flight Simulator at Maker Faire. We didn’t just bring one, we’ve brought four flight sims to Maker Faire so far. I say “we” because several friends helped me. There’s no way I could have done this alone.
DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim at Maker Faire
I funded the development of the T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim with a successful Kickstarter Campaign and I barely finished it in time for Maker Faire. Transporting a flight sim of this size was a terrible logistical challenge, but we did it. The T440 worked perfectly and it was a huge thrill for me to see a crowd of people around the simulator all weekend. So many people, young and old got to try it out.
My goal was to deploy a flight simulator at Maker Faire and I did it, but it was way too difficult to transport for just a weekend event. This experience at inspired me to develop a much more mobile flight simulator.
DIY Roll-Away Flight Sim: Three Versions!
Problem: it was too difficult to transport a flight simulator at Maker Faire. Solution: I developed a much more mobile flight simulator that could be moved as a single unit… on wheels! A Roll-Away Flight Simulator! The first version of the E420 Roll-Away was basically a HOTAS set up to fly a jet fighter. The kids at Maker Faire loved it and is was super easy to transport. I was so pleased with this that I brought two Roll-Away Flight Sims to the next Maker Faire. The second version had a yoke and throttle quadrant and later became the E430C. You can build either of these two types of Roll-Away Flight Sims with the instruction manuals and videos I created for you.
The third version of the Roll-Away Flight Sim was a specialized type I created for kids at a science camp. I later brought it to Maker Faire. This version had no flight controls, only buttons to control a simulated spaceship. We used Martin Schweiger’s Orbiter as the demonstration software. The simulator is very realistic and teaches you a lot about Newtonian physics when controlling a spaceship in zero gravity.
Big Help from Friends
Notice there are several people in these pictures that are not me. I could not have done this alone. We helped hundreds of people try out these flight simulators, and had a lot of fun while we were at it. Many thanks to Aaron, Nick, Jim, Lindsy, Julie, Joe, Jason, Shannon, Michael, and Jennifer!
One of the common questions I get is about altering the DIY Flight Sim designs. Most builders modify the designs in some way to match their specific needs or equipment. For examples, take a look at Customer Gallery 1 and Customer Gallery 2 and notice how no two Simpits are alike. Once a builder deviates from the plans, the project becomes a prototype DIY simpit. There is no way I can predict how people will modify my DIY Flight Sim projects, so that is why I use building materials that are inexpensive and easy to use. Don’t be scared! Prototyping is a wonderfully creative process that can give you real satisfaction with your project.
What Does “Prototype” Mean?
You don’t really know if a flight sim design is going to work until you build it in real life. Really! If some anonymous person on a forum says an idea will work or not work, they don’t really know, because anyone can type words on a screen. You only gain true knowledge by building a DIY simpit in real life. That is prototyping.
So when someone asks me if a design modification will work, I’m very cautious about my answer for several reasons…
I don’t know if my understanding of their message matches what they’re imagining.
I don’t know if a proposed modification will require an additional structural reinforcement.
I don’t know someone’s skill level. Have they built things before, or is this the first time?
I don’t know if they have adequate tools. Are they building in a workshop or a dorm room, etc?
Prototyping means you try your idea, then adjust it and try it again, then adjust it and try it again, and keep at it until you are happy with your work. Fortunately, PVC pipe is a wonderful material for prototyping a DIY simpit (more about that below).
When I am designing large DIY simpit projects I make a scale model of my idea. As a result, this helps me find any major flaws and get a feeling for what it will look like before I build it full size. I use 1/2″ PVC pipe when I build a scale model. The smaller pipe saves me money because I use less 1″ pipe when I later build the full size prototype.
I also make scaled down controls, displays, and switch panels. This isn’t Computer Aided Design, but I still call it CAD: Cardboard Aided Design.
7 Steps for Prototyping a DIY Simpit
So how do you modify a DIY Flight Sim project if you need to scale it up or scale it down? Here’s an example. Let’s say you want to build the D250 Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. However, the project is built around 32″ HDTVs but you want to use 27″ monitors. How do you scale this down?
First of all, buy an extra length of pipe in case you need it (PVC pipe is cheap)
Scale with a percentage. 27″ is about 16% smaller than 32″ Here’s the math: 32 – 27 = 5 and then 5 / 32 = .156, which is about 16%
Decrease the measurements of pipes by that same percentage. Only scale the pipes adjacent to the displays, for now.
Cut the pipes and assemble them with the PVC fittings. Start with just the pipes adjacent to the displays. Observe if the frame fits well compared to the displays or if you need to make changes.
If some pipes are a little too long, remove them and cut them shorter. If some pipes are too short, that’s why you bought extra pipe. It’s easy to assemble/disassemble the PVC pipe frame to test different frame dimensions.
Once you have pipe lengths that you are happy with, secure the PVC fittings with self-drilling screws.
Scale the rest of the pipes to fit with the part of the frame you changed. This is much easier now that you have a starting point.
You can install the Saitek Trim Wheel underneath dual Saitek Throttle Quadrants… but only if you use an adapter plate. I made instructions, a DIY video, and a template to help you build a Saitek Trim Wheel Adapter just like the one you see in the pictures.
I’m very happy with the Saitek Trim Wheel mainly because proper elevator trim is such a vital and basic skill in real flying. We are lucky that an inexpensive and robust trim wheel is readily available for our home flight simulators. Unfortunately, there is no way to clamp the stock Saitek Trim Wheel to a reasonable location. Believe me, I tried. A pilot should be able to adjust the elevator trim without looking for it the trim wheel. As a result, most trim wheels in real airplanes are located under the throttle or next to the pilot seat. Therefore, I made this Saitek Trim Wheel Adapter plate so you can install your trim wheel in a very natural location for your home flight simulator.
You Can Build a Saitek Trim Wheel Adapter
Take a look at these two examples of Saitek Trim Wheel Adapters built by Flight Sim enthusiasts just like You! Most noteworthy, you will see their Adapters look exactly like the one I built. They used the exact same build template that I offer free on my website. Many thanks to builders Dennis and Ben for sending me their pictures. I would love to see your finished Adapter too. If you build one, please send me pictures of your project to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Download the Free Template
Build your own Saitek Trim Wheel Adapter. Start by downloading and printing out the template. Get the template free by signing up for my monthly newsletter, the Roger Dodger Insider. You will be the first to know about product updates, sales, building tips, and more. It’s a monthly email so you won’t be bombarded with a bunch of stuff in your inbox and you can unsubscribe at any time. Become a Roger Dodger Insider here.
I can show you how to build your own home flight simulator. You can build an impressive home cockpit with materials from a home improvement store, flight controls from Amazon, and standard computer equipment. Best of all, my website has more than just DIY flight simulator cockpit plans, each project includes detailed videos and instruction manuals.
DIY Flight Simulator Cockpit Plans
The slides below show you step by step how to order a DIY Flight Sims digital project. Every project is an instant digital download and as a result you don’t have to wait for shipping. I do not sell the building materials, therefore you just buy them from your local hardware store.
Step-by-step Order Instructions
Find the DIY Flight Simulator cockpit plans project you want and click “Add to Cart”
Review your choice at the Shopping Cart screen and click “Next”
Choose your payment method: Credit Card or PayPal
Again choose your payment method. The Credit Card option is at the bottom
Enter your payment information
You will receive an email from Roger Dodger Aviation with the download link at the bottom of the email
Click the download link to go to your private download page
Click the link to save the zip file to your computer. There may be more than one zip file, so be sure to save them all. Pay attention to where you save the zip file, it might be in your Downloads folder or desktop
Right click the zip file and extract the contents. Windows will create a new folder with the extracted contents
Open the new folder.
Click on the pdf files to read the DIY Flight Simulator cockpit plans and manuals or print the labels. Click the video files to view the instructional videos
I made four simple, yet significant changes to the D250 Deluxe Desktop home built flight simulators. Consequently, these changes bring me back into the beloved world of general aviation. See me in the video flying a Beechcraft Baron once agian.
1. Added a Yoke and Throttle Quadrant
I removed the side-mounted HOTAS joystick and throttle and added a Saitek flight yoke and throttle quadrant. I attached the trim wheel underneath the throttle quadrants, and that is the perfect location. Once again, I can fly multi-engine airplanes like the Beech Baron, or light general aviation airplanes like the Cessna 172.
2. Raised the Instrument Panel Display
I use an inexpensive 19″ monitor to display the flight instruments on the D250. The yoke housing did not fit under the 19″ monitor, so I raised the monitor mount a few inches. I simply replaced the board for the Center Instrument Panel and attached an adapter board for the monitor mount.
3. Moved all Saitek Switch Panels
When you fly an airplane with a yoke, your left hand is typically on the yoke and your right hand is free to adjust the radio frequencies, dial in nav headings, and more. The D250 wasn’t set up like this because I used it to fly helicopters. As a result, the radios were on the left side of the cockpit, because a helicopter pilot typically keeps his right hand on the cyclic (joystick) and the left hand is free. I cut new 1×8 boards for the Left and Right Side Instrument Panels and re-arranged, and re-mounted the Saitek switch panels.
4. I Moved the Drink Holder
Don’t fly thirsty! I moved the drink holder to the right side of the cockpit so I could easily reach it with my right hand. The drink holder is the right size for a travel mug or a bottle with a drink coozie.
Plans for Home Built Flight Simulators
Do you want to build this same flight simulator for your home? If I get enough interest from my DIY community then I will create an additional Instruction Manual and include it with the original plans. In addition, customers who have already purchased this project will get the new plans for free.
System Specs and Peripherals
Notice these computers are not especially strong or new. You don’t have to spend $2000 on a computer to have great home built flight simulators.
DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim, item #D250 Primary computer: Powerspec B634 with Intel i5-3450 Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 SSC Windows 7, 64 bit Flight yoke: Saitek Pro Flight Saitek throttle quadrant Saitek Pro Flight trim wheel Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals from Saitek
Switch panels: Saitek PZ55, PZ69, PZ70
Marcin Strzyzewski invited me to do an interview for Onet online in Poland. Onet posts articles on a wide range of topics so I was happy to provide info about building flight simulator cockpit. Below are Marcin’s questions and my answers. Please let me know what you think of my responses.
1. What is the biggest fun in flight simulation?
Flight simulators can do many different things so that depends on what interests you. Think of the flight sim pilot population as three parts: Part 1 are the people that enjoy flying airliners with their flight simulator. Many of these users join Virtual Airlines and fly the same routes in the simulator as they would in real life. They fly online with other users that serve as air traffic control. Part 2 are all the pilots that used to fly in real life, or plan to fly later in real life, or they are active pilots now. You see these people using their simulator for civil airplanes and helicopters like the ones you would find at a flight school. Active pilots can fly a lesson in real life, then practice the same lesson at home with their simulator. Part 3 are the gamers and casual users. They fly space simulators or air combat simulators or maybe they just play around and fly for fun. This also a large and important population.
For me personally, I enjoy all the above. But most of all, I enjoy designing and building cockpit enclosures for home flight sims. I call these Do-It-Yourself (DIY) Flight Sims.
2. If some of our readers want to start making their own simulator, what is your advice?
First of all, know what type of aircraft you simulate the most. For example, a helicopter simulator project will look a lot different than an airliner simulator project.
Second, know your budget. If you live in a country where PVC pipe or lumber is really expensive, you should know that before you start. If you will buy new displays or new controls, start looking for sales. Retailers usually run a sale every month or two.
Third, and perhaps most important: negotiate with your spouse. A flight simulator will take up space in your home that can’t be used for other things. I designed both large and small DIY Flight Sims, but they all take up some measure of space. I recommend you talk this over with your spouse prior to construction. Note: if you can make the case that your children or grandchildren will somehow benefit from your flight simulator, this can help.
3. What is a most common mistake of the beginners?
The most common mistake is never starting the project. Actually, just getting started can be the most difficult part. No matter how large or small the project, you finish them all the same way: one step at a time, over and over, until you are done. I think my DIY videos help because you can see the building process before you personally start construction on your project. Just. Get. Started.
4. Building flight simulator cockpit sounds pricey is it in fact?
The most expensive components are the ones that keep going down in price: computers, graphics cards, touch-screens, and large HD displays. Therefore, these items get better and cheaper every year for building flight simulator cockpit. Other components are the flight controls and switch panels which can be good retail models, or more expensive premium models to fit your budget. My videos show how to build cockpit enclosures with materials from a home improvement store. Those materials are inexpensive in the USA, UK and Canada, but maybe not in other countries. For example, PVC pipe is expensive in New Zealand. I produce videos because they are the best way to teach building flight simulator cockpit.
5. What software is the best for simulators?
The flight simulator community (including third party developers) is unique because it mainly built up around Microsoft Flight Simulator X (FSX) for over a decade. Dovetail Games gave FSX new life by developing a version for Steam, however it’s still old software. As a result, we have wondered for years what will replace FSX, and today we have some newer options. Prepar3D Lockheed Martin’s Prepar3D (P3D) was developed by fixing and modernizing the old FSX code. P3D is an excellent flight sim platform, but some activities are prohibited because of Lockheed’s odd licensing agreement with Microsoft. X-Plane Laminar Research’s X-Plane 10 is also a solid flight sim platform with all the options of FSX, but with a smaller user base and somewhat fewer options from third party developers. X-Plane 11 was just released this month so it will be interesting to see how it performs in the market. Will X-Plane 11 be the ultimate replacement for FSX? We shall see.
6. Since now the best option was multiple monitors setting. Is this better now to use VR headset?
That is an excellent question, and the answer really depends on what type of flying you want to do. If you want to fly combat missions or spaceships, VR is a great option if you can afford it and if you don’t wear glasses. For example, Elite Dangerous and War Thunder are awesome in VR. The depth of field and the immersion are astonishing. Keep in mind, when you wear a VR headset, you can no longer see your actual controls, or a keyboard, or mouse. So your best option is HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) flying. Basically, if you can do everything you need to do in the sim without removing your hands from the joystick and throttle, and if you can memorize all the button assignments, then that sim could be a good option for VR.
If you fly airliners, civil training airplanes, or helicopters you will be performing a lot of tasks where you need to reach out with your hand and touch the control panel. You will tune radios, adjust the GPS, set the navigation headings, set the autopilot, and more. As of right now, it’s really difficult to do these tasks in VR so traditional flight simulators are best for this type of flying. In traditional flight simulators we use actual retail switch panels, modified keyboards, a touch screen, a real checklist, a real aviation map, or all of these things. I think it will stay that way for a long time and more people will be building flight simulator cockpit.
7. How looks your simulator, can you share some pictures with us?
Sure, here are pictures from four very different DIY flight simulators (see the slideshow gallery on this page).
I’m always impressed by the many ways my customers modify the DIY Flight Sim projects to meet their needs. It’s one of the best things about this gig. Customers change the home cockpit plans a little or a lot depending on their needs and resources. Check out these innovative DIY cockpit solutions from the Customer Gallery.
Rich’s Quad Screen Flight Sim
My customer Rich built a T440 DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim and installed an additional screen for the flight instruments. This creates a stunning degree of realism because your instruments are positioned close and you focus your vision outside to see the surrounding environment. Similarly, I demonstrated a quad display setup with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim and Air Managerpowering the instruments.
You can see Rich added four Saitek switch panels and the K140 DIY Airliner Keyboard Mod. Do you think that is a Go Flight TQ6-ADV throttle quadrant? It’s not. It might be two Saitek throttle quadrants with after-market replacement handles attached. You can find such handles from FlightSimPM and others for your own innovative DIY cockpit.
Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS for Flight Sims
You can also see more usage of the Thrustmaster Warthog joystick and throttle with these projects. Here George modified the F331 DIY Easy Helicopter Collective to also include the Thrustmaster throttle. He can use it to simulate airplanes or spaceships in its shown configuration. He can also relocate the throttle to a platform below the collective handle and effectively simulate helicopters. Here is another example of flight sim builders buying quality hardware to equip their creations. Most of all, he built the whole simulator in a closet and included triple screens and Thrustmaster Cougar Multi-Function Panels (MFPs) for this innovative DIY cockpit.
A Very Special Triple Screen Flight Sim
Customer Ron built his T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim so it would fit on his desk. Keep in mind, the original plans are for a self-standing frame. Ron was able to modify the frame extensively so it fit neatly on his corner desk. He also added the Saitek yoke and throttle quadrant that we see so often in home flight simulators. Finally, the virtual cockpit you see there is from a Lockheed Constellation which is exactly what we use in the flight sim I built for the National Airline History Museum.
More Innovative DIY Cockpit Solutions
Enjoy these other customer projects that I recently added to the Customer Galleries. More multi-screen projects and more modified frames for HOTAS and helicopter collectives. In addition, I have many more pictures to add to the gallery and I hope to do that in the coming weeks. Happy Landings!
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