Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum

I built a flight simulator and donated it to a local aviation museum. The museum guests enjoy a hands-on experience because they get to fly the simulator. Some people say the Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum is their favorite part of the museum.

National Airline History Museum

The NAHM is the only airline-specific museum in the United States. The museum has several airliners but the Lockheed Constellation is the crown jewel of the collection. The Triple Screen Flight Sim allows visitors to fly a simulated Constellation just like the one in the museum.

The Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum is also used as a introduction to general aviation. Visitors receive a flight “lesson” as they fly a simulated Cessna 172. A museum volunteer personally teaches some basic flight maneuvers while the guest tries them in the sim. The simulator is such an excellent teaching tool because you can pause the flight to answer questions or explain something in more detail.

 

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Triple Screen Flight Sim

The pictures here show a stock version of the DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum. My DIY video and instruction manual show you how to build this same project from PVC pipes, lumber, and foam insulation. I installed a Saitek Pro Flight yoke, throttle and rudder pedals in this particular project. The painted keyboards are stock versions of the DIY Keyboard Mod: Airliner project.

The DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim is the perfect addition to the Sky Lounge at the NAHM, and it would be a perfect addition to your home.

Kickstarter Fund-Raiser

This project was the first successful flight simulator project ever funded through Kickstarter. It is truly historical. The fund raising campaign paid for the supplies and materials I needed to build the project from scratch. After I built it, I brought it to the Kansas City Maker Faire and then to the NAHM.

 

The Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum
The Triple Screen Flight Sim at the National Airline History Museum

Merry Christmas from Roger Dodger Aviation

Here’s wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas from Roger Dodger Aviation. I’m lucky for my opportunities to share aviation (both real and simulated) with people.

Merry Christmas from Roger Dodger Aviation
Merry Christmas from Roger Dodger Aviation

Christmas Lights on a Flight Simulator!

Let’s deck the flight sims with boughs of holly, tinsel, and colored lights! I like to decorate my flight simulator for Christmas and it’s one of my favorite holiday traditions. I think I’m the only flight simulator entrepreneur that currently does this. All of my decorating efforts go into the simulator because more people see it than see my house. December is so busy I rarely have people over to visit, however many people see my pictures and videos online. 

I like to fly some of the old winter missions in FSX like the apple delivery missions or the Alaska missions. I drink hot chocolate and fly my simulator, it’s a wonderful time. Often I’m bundled up in a hoodie and scarf since I can’t afford to run the furnace at a reasonable temperature.

 

Matt Thomas, Plaza Flight pilot in Kansas City
Matt Thomas, Plaza Flight pilot in Kansas City

Plaza Flights in Kansas City

Many of you don’t know this but I am a real pilot with 1200 hours. I used to provide scenic flight in an actual Cessna 172 over Kansas City. Each year, the Plaza decorates all of its buildings with brilliant lights throughout the entire holiday season. I provided night flights to the public from the KC Downtown Wheeler Airport over the Plaza Lights. For many people this was their first experience in a small airplane. I even awarded certificates and aviator wings after the flights since this was a special occasion. Season after season I provided these flights and it became an important part of Christmas to me and for this city. I did more Plaza Flights than anyone else in the city during the years I offered them. 

Merry Christmas from Roger Dodger Aviation

I wish you the best this holiday season. Get ready because January is Build Month! Many customers build DIY Flight Sims projects during January. It’s a great time to do it.

 

 

Tacky, Old, Roger Dodger Aviation Headquarters

Long before I started making the DIY Flight Sims videos, I provided aviation training and simulator rental out of my home. This wasn’t as odd as it may seem at first. I remember as a kid, my mom would go to a stylist that had a salon built into her house. A lot of people run small businesses from their home and so I started an aviation training center in my living room. We did a lot of good training at the Roger Dodger Aviation Headquarters from 2005 to 2009.

Roger Dodger Aviation Headquarters

I had one flight simulator, the Roger Dodger Aviation Training System (RDATS). I used this simulator to teach people about flying that was very similar to the approach I used when I instructed in actual airplanes. We started each lesson by briefing at the table, and then moved to the simulator to perform an abbreviated preflight. Next, we flew the lesson and performed the maneuvers from the FAA Practical Test Standards booklet. I demonstrated each maneuver while describing it, and then the student attempted the same maneuver while I verbally coached them. The Roger Dodger Aviation Headquarters had actual training videos for students to view. I always had a selection of free sodas available for students.

 

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TrackIR For a Dual Seat Flight Sim

The TrackIR view tracking system was a revolutionary technology at the time. Furthermore, I wouldn’t have had any interest in flight simulators without it. TrackIR allows you to look around the virtual cockpit by simply moving your head. It is an infrared camera that sees reflectors on your cap. TrackIR was vitally important to my lessons because the students needed the ability to look around their virtual environment. In real airplanes, we are always looking around, scanning for traffic, and maintaining situational awareness so this had to be included in the simulation too.

TrackIR was designed to detect one pilot only, so how did I adapt it for two? I attached the TrackIR camera on a sliding pedestal. We would simply move the pedestal in front of whichever pilot was flying at that moment. As a result, this was just a part of the positive exchange of controls that is an important part of instruction. In other words, we always verbally designate which pilot is flying.

I built a base to include two seats from a Dodge Caravan. These seats were wonderfully comfortable, fully adjustable, and very sturdy. You can see more about those seats in this video.

South Pacific Theme

I decorated the Roger Dodger Aviation Headquarters in tacky island-theme party decorations. I wanted it to feel like you had traveled to someplace different than Kansas. Look at the walls, they are covered with a thatch-weave paper, as well as fish nets, plastic sea creatures, airplane pictures, and more. The island theme also worked well with the addition of the Air Combat Training Simulators (ACTS) that I was also developing. We later flew the ACTS sims in a lot of South Pacific WW2 missions.

I’m a real Certified Flight Instructor but we didn’t log this as credit towards any actual license. I found that people were naturally curious about aviation and simply wanted to learn more about it. The FAA does not allow anyone to log simulator time in a home-built flight simulator.

5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair for Virtual Reality and More

The DIY Side Joystick Frame is one of my most popular projects, and it’s very versatile. Even though I published this project 6 years ago, the design has stood the test of time. Yet, as great as it is, I have recently made a few modifications to the design that you might find helpful for your project. Read on for 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair for Virtual Reality and More.

A True HOTAS for your Flight Sim

The DIY Side Joystick Frame, Item #F311, makes a true HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) possible for your flight simulator because the project also includes rudder pedals. True pilots use rudder pedals, not joystick twisty grips so always remember that. I originally envisioned the F311 as useful primarily for jet fighter simulators, but now, many customers are using it for space sims like Elite Dangerous and Star Citizen.

Use the F311 in combination with a Virtual Reality headset. Remember, when you wear a VR headset, you can’t see your keyboard any more and any functions you have assigned to your keyboard keys are literally out of sight. You can also use the F311 with a traditional multi-monitor setup like the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim (Item D250). The F311 is delightfully versatile and useful. Use these 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair to update the F311.

 

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5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair

I made five main modifications to adapt the F311 Side Joystick Frame for my current requirements. None of these modifications are difficult. If you can build the F311 in the first place, you can certainly make these modifications or include these changes during the initial build.

1. Wider Side Stand Platforms

First of all, I installed wider side stand platforms, cut from 1×8 boards. To be clear, the PVC pipe side stands did not change, just the the boards that attach to the top of the stands. I topped the side stands with 1×8 boards, 12″ long. The wider boards give you room for a trackball mouse next to the joystick and give you room next to the throttle to set down your phone or whatever. Most importantly, you can place the controls in a more ergonomic location. This means placing the joystick and throttle in line with the chair’s arm rests. This is so important! Place the joystick and throttle so that your arms sit straight on the chair’s arm rests. This will allow you to fly comfortably for hours.

In addition, I attached the joystick and throttle with wood screws instead of Velcro. I also trimmed the inside corners of the 1×8 boards by 1″ and sanded the edges so my legs wouldn’t get caught on the corners.

2. Longer floor boards

I use the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals, and I really like them, but they have to be positioned further away from the pilot. The rudder pedals attach to the Floor Boards with Velcro, but the original boards were too short. Therefore, I replaced them with two 1×6 boards, 22″ long. You might not need to make this change for your rudder pedals.

3. Raised center stabilizer

I also raised the center stabilizer bar to allow room for the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna Rudder Pedals. Specifically, the back of my ankles banged into the stabilizer bar, so I had to move it. It is now 6.5″ higher than it was before.

4. Self-drilling screws

I now use self-drilling screws in everything I build. Back in 2010 when I designed this project, I used Liquid Nails Project Glue to attach all the PVC pipes and fittings. This allowed for some cost-savings, but self-drilling screws are far superior. The screws allow for a simpler assembly with no overnight dry time. In addition, the screws create a much stronger frame. Lastly, you can remove the screws later if you decide to modify the frame. I absolutely recommend using 1/2″ self-drilling screws to build DIY Flight Sims from PVC pipe.

Video: Learn more about self-drilling screws for DIY Flight Sim projects

5. Cup holder

Don’t fly thirsty! I include a cup holder with almost every project I design. The cup holder is located next to the throttle and it’s easy to find it, even when wearing a VR headset. I use these inexpensive cup holders from Amazon.

If you’ve already built the DIY Side Joystick Frame, Item F311, or if you haven’t built one yet, these 5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair can enhance your home flight simulator experience for years to come.

 

5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair
5 Modifications for a DIY HOTAS Chair

Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel in a DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim

Our customer, Tom, sent in these pictures of his completed project. He installed a Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel in a DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim. Actually these are eight separate units that combine to work as a complete instrument panel, therefore he has the standard six flight gauges, plus two VOR displays. 

T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion
T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion

Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel

The Saitek Pro Flight Instrument Panel you see in the picture is eight separate flight instruments. Each unit can be set individually to display whatever instrument you choose, in addition, you have 15 different displays to choose from. The units cost $170 to $190 USD depending on where you purchase from. 

The instrument panel is the perfect addition to Tom’s DIY Flight Sim. He says: “Had great fun building this triple screen, with your instructions and videos even I couldn’t mess it up!”

T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion
T440 Triple Screen Flight Sim customer completion

Merchandise Shortage

But wait, can you even purchase the Saitek flight instruments right now? On mypilotstore.com they note a merchandise shortage with the following message: 

Out of Stock. There is a massive, world-wide, back-order situation on all Saitek Pro Flight merchandise.  All orders will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.  Order now to reserve your spot in line. You will not be charged until the order ships and you can cancel at any time prior to shipment.  Orders placed now are expected to be shipped in 6 to 12 weeks.

MadCatz recently sold Saitek to Logitech. Gameindustry.biz reports that MadCatz purchased Saitek in 2007 for $30 million, but is now selling it to Logitech for only $13 million. We can only hope that Logitech can keep the Saitek product line in production and going strong for years to come. I’ve owned several Logitech products (keyboards, mice, etc.) and I’ve always been happy with their reliability and functionality. I know that there have been concerns lately about the workmanship in Saitek products and consequently I hope the sale to Logitech improves the reliability of the entire Saitek product line. 

X-Plane 11 Beta on Triple Screens, First Look

You can download the X-plane 11 beta right now. Configuring the X-Plane 11 Beta on triple screens with a full flight simulator cockpit is a challenge. I’m using the DIY D250 Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim for this evaluation. The D250 uses three 32″ HDTVs running from a single Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 SSC.

The download and installation was straightforward, and furthermore X-plane automatically spanned all three screens when it booted. The software detected my Saitek Cessna rudder pedals and provided a quick calibration. Unfortunately, it assigned the pitch and roll axis to the toe brake functions. Also, I was unfamiliar with the user interface so it wasn’t apparent how I would properly assign the functions to my flight yoke.

X-Plane 11 assigned pitch and roll to the toe brakes
X-Plane 11 assigned pitch and roll to the toe brakes

Immediately Airborne

The demo gets you into the air immediately. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to assign the controls properly so I stopped after a few minutes. Also, I wasn’t able to zoom out the view, so the virtual cockpit was unseen, except for the wet compass.

X-plane 11 control menu with options behind the bezels
X-plane 11 control menu with options behind the bezels

I found my way to the control settings menu to set up the yoke, throttle quadrant, and trim wheel. In addition I wanted to correct the rudder pedal assignments. On my triple-screen setup, some of the menu options are obscured behind the bezel. You don’t have the option to move the menu window around like you do in P3D. The only way to see these menu options would be to exit out of X-plane, turn off bezel correction in Nvidia Controls Panel, restart X-plane to run the menu, and then turn bezel correction back on afterwards. Or you can just guess what’s behind the bezel. I had some troubles with identifying which axis is which on the Saitek throttle quadrant.

X-Plane 11 graphics settings, some options hidden behind the bezel
X-Plane 11 graphics settings, some options hidden behind the bezel

X-plane allows you to manually set the screen resolution, which is a very nice option. I set it to the same screen resolution as my desktop with no trouble at all.

I’m using Air Manager to display the flight instruments in FSX and P3D. I think it requires additional configuration to use it with X-Plane 11. Air Manager has an excellent set of Beechcraft Baron flight instruments and I’m looking forward to using them with the Baron X-Plane 11.

I spent a lot of time stuck on the runway
I spent a lot of time stuck on the runway

Stuck on the Runway

I couldn’t get all my controls properly assigned and as a result, I spent a lot of time on the runway. I didn’t even attempt to set up the three Saitek control panels because they probably need an updated driver to work with X-plane. I’ll look into that.

The demo expired before I could set up the controls
The demo expired before I could set up the controls

And that was it. I ran out of time in the demo, in addition, I didn’t have any more time in my day to wrestle with the simulator settings. The message said that my “flight controls will no longer function.” To be clear, my controls never functioned properly because I couldn’t get them assigned. I will try X-Plane again and I hope to actually fly it next time.

 

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Fix: Rubber Bands

This rubber band modification is the simplest and cheapest way to improve the feel of this particular yoke. Welcome to the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Fix: Rubber Bands.

Before we start, we’re assuming you’ve already removed the pitch spring and swing arms as shown in the disassembly video. Also, I recommend leaving the roll return spring in place. This modification is specifically for the pitch axis.

NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

 

The first issue we should address is the use of rubber bands. Some people won’t use them because they fear the rubber bands will break someday. Yes, there is that possibility, especially if you use old rubber bands. So buy new ones. This bag of rubber bands cost less than one US dollar and they should last a long time. They will definitely last longer than reusing old rubber bands you have sitting around your home or office.

Credit for this Saitek Pro Flight Yoke fix should go to Tom Gromko who published this method on the AVSIM forum.

Rubber Band Installation

As we get started, note the Saitek yoke has these two tabs that bridge the center shaft. Also locate these horns on the center shaft. I used five rubber bands for this modification, and here’s the first one. Wrap it around the horns and the front tab.

The second one goes around the rear tab and the horns. Try not to twist it much. The third is same as the first, and here’s the fourth. Also push down the rubber bands around the horn. The last rubber band will hold the others in place. Wrap it tightly around the horns.

Test The Control Tension

Now try it out. There is no abrupt detent in the middle of the pitch travel. You can make subtle pitch changed easily. Try the full travel of the controls. Notice it looks like the rubber band may slip off the rear tab. No worries. Recall that these tabs will fit into these slots on the bottom lid. This will keep the rubber bands secure. These tabs may be a little bent out of alignment because of the tension from the rubber bands. This can make it challenging to get the lid back on the control housing. You may need to wiggle the tabs a little to better align them with the slots on the lid.

You can try out the feel of the yoke now. Hold it down with one hand. Note how easy it is to make small pitch changes when you don’t have to struggle against that center detent. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And then go flying to test out your new modification!

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

Saitek yoke fix: Rubber Bands
Saitek yoke fix: Rubber Bands

 

Prepar3D with Triple Screens and More

What you’re seeing here is Lockheed Martin Prepar3D with triple screens and more. The software is Prepar3D version 3.4, the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim, the DIY Side Joystick Frame, Air Manager is running the instruments on the 4th display. The installation of P3D was straightforward and you’re looking at a stock installation with no add-ons (yet).

 

 

The three main displays are inexpensive 32″ HDTVs connected to a single Nvidia GeForce mid-level graphics card. The system specs are at the end of this blog post.

Prepar3D Installation

P3D recognized the Saitek X52 Pro and properly assigned its functions, which was very nice. For other flight simulator programs, assigning the controls correctly is an awful awful chore, but not for P3D. This is the first flight simulator software I’ve ever seen that correctly identified rudder pedals and successfully assigned them to the correct function. Including the toe brakes. So, kudos to Lockheed Martin. They also build spaceships, by the way. Just so you know.

It’s easy to combine the DIY Side Joystick Frame, (item 311), with the Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim project. I’m using the Saitek Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals. Great rudder pedals. I updated the drivers for my Saitek switch panels that enabled them to work with P3D. That was easy.

You’ll notice that nothing here is expensive or exotic… or even new. For example, I’m using a second-hand computer to display the flight instruments. The second computer is so old it’s running Windows Vista.

Air Manager is the software that generates the flight instruments and it communicates through the local network connection with P3D on my primary computer. Air Manager also works with X-plane and Flight Simulator X.

System Specifications

DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim, item #D250
DIY Side Joystick Frame, item #F311
Primary computer: Powerspec B634 with Intel i5-3450
Nvidia GeForce GTX 950 SSC
Windows 7, 64 bit
Saitek X52 Pro Flight HOTAS controls
Saitek Pro Flight Cessna rudder pedals

Secondary computer: Dell Inspiron 530s with Pentum E2200
Windows Vista

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Prepar3D with triple screens and more
Prepar3D with triple screens and more

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring

Welcome to the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring instruction video. This modification will replace the roll return spring with rubber bands. Most people don’t have an issue with the roll action of the Saitek yoke, but if you do, this mod is for you. Before we start, I’m assuming you’ve already removed the roll return spring as shown in this disassembly video.

NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

Also be sure to use a new rubber band. This bag of rubber bands cost less than $1.00 USD. You’ll only need one, but it’s worth it to know your modification will last a long time.

 

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring

Let’s start by looking at a very interesting structure inside the Saitek yoke housing. Locate the roll return horns as shown in the video and the picture below. Notice as I roll the yoke from left to right, these two horns extend to the left or to the right. It should be pretty easy to loop a rubber band around these horns and let the rubber band provide tension. Select one rubber band. Loop it over three times. Now loop one mini zip-tie through, but do not tighten it all the way. Repeat with another mini zip-tie.

Now simply loop one zip tie over one of the horns. Make sure the zip-tie gets underneath this catch. Tighten down the zip-tie all the way. And repeat with the other zip-tie on the other side. Clip the excess from both zip-ties. The rubber band is now providing tension for the roll axis of the yoke. The rubber band should be secure in its place and should not fall off when we turn the unit over.

Replace the lid and carefully turn it over. Hold the control housing down with one hand. Try it out to see how you like the feel of the yoke now. The rubber band provides a slightly smoother feel. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And give it a test flight!

 

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

Attach a rubber band to the control horns - Saitek Pro Flight Yoke: Replace Roll Spring
Attach a rubber band to the control horns

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties

This modification to the Saitek Yoke Pro Flight Yoke uses rubber bands and zip ties. In some respects, it’s similar to the method I used for modifying the yoke from CH Products. This is the modification I personally use with my Saitek yokes. Notice that both yokes have this horn-shaped structure on the center shaft. That’s what we will be modifying. We will also be using these four screw posts. The Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties only takes a few minutes to complete.

 


NOTE: modifying the Saitek yoke will void the warranty. However, if you purchased the yoke over two years ago, the warranty has already expired.

Before we start, we’re assuming you’ve already removed the pitch spring and swing arms as shown in the disassembly video. You can leave the roll return spring in place for this mod, or if you want less resistance, you can remove it.

Rubber Bands? Yes.

Should you really use rubber bands to modify the yoke? Some people won’t use them because they fear the rubber bands will break someday. Yes, there is that possibility, especially if you use old rubber bands. So buy new ones. This bag of rubber bands cost less than one US dollar and they should last a long time. They will definitely last longer than reusing the old rubber bands you have sitting around your home or office.

Let’s start by rotating the yoke so the back of the control housing is facing you. It’s best to prop up the yoke on some boards or something. Locate these horns on the center shaft. And specifically locate this small gap in the plastic structure. Use a drill and an 1/8” drill bit to make a hole right through that small gap. Repeat on the other side. A 1/8” hole should be large enough for these mini Zip Ties.

Next, select four rubber bands and four Zip Ties. Double over the rubber band like this and then loop through and attach a Zip Tie. Repeat for the remaining pairs of rubber bands and Zip Ties. I’ve sped up the video now, but feel free to take your time with this step. The only purpose for these four Zip Ties are to help you handle the rubber bands. They will be cut off later.

Install the Rubber Bands

Here, we have attached the rubber bands and zip ties to one side of the center shaft. Here’s how we did it. Select an additional Zip Tie and thread it through the hole you drilled. Take one of the looped rubber bands and put it over one end of the Zip Tie. Select another looped rubber band and put it over the other end of the Zip Tie, and then attach the Zip Tie to itself, but do not tighten it all the way down yet. Now loop one rubber band over the rear screw post. Loop the other rubber band over the front screw post.

We’re almost finished with the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties. Tighten the middle Zip Tie all the way. Carefully clip off the four extra Zip Ties and also trim the extra length from the middle Zip Ties.

Replace the lid and try it out.

There is no abrupt detent in the middle of the pitch travel. You can make subtle pitch changed easily. If you’re happy with the results, reattach the control housing. There are 14 screws.

And give it a test flight! I hope the Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties worked well for you. Happy landings! 

 

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Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification Videos

 

Saitek Pro Flight Yoke Modification: Rubber Bands and Zip Ties
Rubber bands installed in a Saitek yoke