Home Flight Simulator Plans – How to Install Larger Displays
The DIY Deluxe Desktop home flight simulator plans are designed around three 32” HDTVs used as the main displays. But what if you want to use displays that are larger (or smaller)? Many DIY Flight Sim builders modify the plans to match their unique requirements. Furthermore, PVC pipe is a great material for experimental trial-and-error. It’s no wonder so many builders modify their projects.
Home Flight Simulator Plans
Gary is a DIY Flight Sim builder. He developed a useful spreadsheet to use when using larger (or smaller) displays with the DIY Deluxe Desktop home flight simulator plans. He was kind enough to share it with me, so I’m providing it to you in the course content. First of all, Gary’s spreadsheet is really clever. You simply enter in the dimension of the displays you want to use and then spreadsheet calculates how much to change the affected PVC pipes. Also the relevant pipes are identified in a new Pipe Frame Map.
You still may require a little trial-and-error because different PVC manufacturers make the fittings differently. Fortunately, PVC pipe is inexpensive and easy to work with.
First of all, as I introduce the subject of motion flight sim theory, it helps to start with a foundational understanding of how our bodies sense movement and orientation. Movement is our sense of acceleration/deceleration and the notion that we are traveling through a space. Orientation is our attitude in space, our sense of pitch, roll, and yaw. The quality of a motion flight sim is in its ability to fool the human sensation of movement and orientation. For many normal flight attitudes in an airplane, there is a corresponding flight sim action that can emulate how it should look and feel from the cockpit. Consequently, this is the basis of motion flight sim theory.
Motion Flight Sim Theory: How do we know we’re moving?
The human body has three systems that inform the brain about movement and orientation:
Visual system – the eyes that sense position by what is seen
Vestibular system – the inner ear organs that senses balance and orientation
Somatosensory system – the nerves in your body that sense position and movement. For example, when you accelerate forward, you feel pressed back into your seat.
Valid motion flight sim theory states that a moving rig, like the Kinetic motion flight sim, does specific things to fool each of these systems.
A pilot recognizes his position in space by seeing the simulated environment produced by the flight sim software. It is vital that the pilot only sees the simulated environment, and nothing else. For example, imagine you’re looking at the flight sim displays, but you can also see the walls of the room in your peripheral vision. As a result, your brain will not be fooled.
One way to create an immersive visual experience is to seat the pilot in an enclosed cabin like the expensive flight sims used by airlines. Even when a pilot uses an inexpensive DIY rig like the DIY Flight Sim Pod he can feel immersion because all he sees is the simulated flight environment. The other option is to use a high-quality virtual reality headset. In either case, the pilot must not see the room beyond the flight sim.
Even with a static flight sim, an effective visual system can give you a feeling of movement… or even motion sickness if you are prone to it.
Vestibular System (the Inner Ear)
In our airplane, we control movement around the pitch axis, the roll axis, and the yaw axis. Coincidentally, the inner ear contains three semicircular canals that are aligned roughly the same way – pitch, roll, and yaw. How do we fool the inner ear? You already know at least one way to do it. We discover as little kids that if we spin around and around, we get dizzy and lose our balance. The effect is so profound that even when we stop spinning, we still stagger around for a bit before fully regaining our balance.
The semicircular canals contain tiny hairs and a special fluid. When the fluid is displaced by movement, the hairs are pushed around by the moving fluid. The brain interprets this signal as motion.
In a motion flight sim that moves in pitch, roll, and yaw, the inner ear will also detect that same movement. In real airplanes, there are certain scenarios that can confuse a pilot’s inner ear and cause spatial disorientation. Furthermore, some of these scenarios can be emulated in a simulator.
Imagine accelerating down a runway. You can feel yourself being pressed back into your seat. Now imagine you’re in a regular chair and you simply lean back in it. You can feel yourself being pressed into the back of that seat too. Your somatosensory system will give you a similar feeling for the two situations, to a certain extent. A motion flight sim can fool your somatosensory system for mild maneuvers and mile acceleration/deceleration.
When you’re in a real airplane, and you’re making a steep bank, your somatosensory system will tell you when you’re starting to pull G forces. In a 60 degree bank, you will feel two G’s as you are pressed down in your seat. If you fly inverted, you will feel one negative G as you hang upside-down from your seatbelt. Unfortunately, we can’t simulate G forces like that in a simulator. But certain motion flight sims can simulate heave, like turbulence, or like a hard landing.
Putting it All Together: Motion Flight Sim Theory
For example, imagine a pilot is in the Kinetic motion flight sim and he starts a climbing turn. He can see the simulated horizon and as he banks the wings, he can see the corresponding bank angle. Also, shadows inside the cockpit move as the airplane turns. This is a climbing turn, so the pilot also pulls back on the joystick. His inner ear detects that he is pitching nose up. The pilot also feels that he is being pressed back in his seat slightly, that’s his somatosensory system.
The pilot should feel like he’s flying. If the pilot is in a quality motion flight sim, then the machine is able to fool the pilot’s sense of motion and orientation.
Frequently Asked Question: “What is the best and cheapest way to build a home flight simulator? BTW, don’t have much money.”
Answer: Fortunately, you can build an exceptional DIY Flight Sim with a little work and some planning. It might cost a lot less than you think.
The Best and Cheapest Way to Build a Home Flight Simulator
The home flight simulator of your dreams may seem a daunting and far-away goal. However, following this tried-and-true method, you can divide a huge job into small, workable, steps. Plan the work and work the plan: this is the best and cheapest way to build a home flight simulator.
Step 1: Plan Ahead
How much is this all going to cost? Before you pick up your credit card, pick up a pencil and figure this out. I made this really easy for you with the DIY Flight Sim Budget Tool. It is a flexible method for determining cost and takes into account components you may already have. Once your budget is in place, it’s easy to identify where you can save money.
In addition, an organized plan can help you get support from your spouse.
Step 2: Use What You Got
Want to know the best and cheapest way to build a home flight simulator? You may be able to re-purpose, repair or modify some components you already have. For example, you might re-purpose an old desk for use with your home flight sim by painting it. You will be delighted at what an inexpensive can paint can do.
Pro tip: online flight sim retailers run a sale every month or two. You can get discounts on software and also flight sim controls and peripherals. In addition, check individual manufacturer and developer websites for sales. And don’t forget Steam.com!
Finally, shop Amazon. When you place an item on your Wish List, it will alert you if the price falls.
Step 4: Source Local Materials
You can build impressive, functional flight sim frames and enclosures with materials from your local home improvement store. All you need are common hand tools that you probably already have. It’s easy to build with PVC pipes, Styrofoam insulation, and wood boards. This is, by far, the best and cheapest way to build a home flight simulator.
Check out the Builder Academy for a wealth of information on using inexpensive materials for home flight sims. You can enroll for free!
Don’t forget to keep your receipt from the home improvement store. You can easily return any materials you don’t use.
Step 5: DIY Flight Sim Online Tutorials
Know what to expect before you even start the project. These online courses show you every step of the building process with video clips, diagrams, pictures, printouts, and complete instructions. The tutorials are the least expensive part of your project, but most of all, they save you money and frustration with your project.
My customers finish their projects and get back to flying!
Proper flight sim painting will make your home flight simulator look finished and professional. The paint has an almost magical transformative effect. Most importantly, it turns a framework of pipes, wood, and foam into a complete, comprehensive aviation solution. Check out these # tips for flight sim painting.
Tip 1: Materials
It’s actually inexpensive to paint a DIY Flight Sim project, so it’s well worth doing it. Here’s what you’ll need for flight sim painting:
Latex primer. Ask the paint associate at the store to tint this to your desired color. Latex primer covers well and it dries with a flat sheen (not glossy).
Paper towels and a household cleaner like Formula 409 or something similar. Clean the PVC pipe frame before painting. PVC pipe can be rather dusty, even when it’s brand new.
Disposable 2″ wide paint brushes for the pipe frame. These can be re-used and then later thrown away.
3″ wide paint rollers (and handle) for foam body panels. If you have many wood boards to paint, then also use the rollers for those. If you only have a couple of boards, the brush will do.
Paint tray for the rollers.
Plastic drop cloths to catch drips.
Scrap boards to prop up the frame for painting.
Quart ziplock bags and gallon ziplock bags.
Tip 2: Tint
Yes, you can tint latex primer. The store clerk might tell you that the color may not turn out exactly the same as the paint chip because it’s primer. That’s ok, just tell them you are a pro at flight sim painting and you know what you’re doing.
Here are the colors I use:
Dover Gray D58-4 by Olympic. This is a light gray that I use for nearly all of my DIY Flight Sim projects.
Knight’s Armor D25-5: This is a dark gray that I use for the windows of the DIY Flight Sim Pod and the frame for the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim.
You don’t have to use these exact colors for your flight sim painting project. One builder reported a problem using Olympic paint + primer combo on PVC pipes. He said it did not to adhere adequately to the PVC. On the other hand, I haven’t heard of any other builders that encountered that problem. It might be best to just stick with regular latex primer.
Tip 3: How Many Coats?
I usually end up putting three coats on a flight sim painting project. Especially when it is a simple PVC frame like Item #F311 DIY Side Joystick Frame. First of all, start painting the frame right side up and allow it to dry. Next, turn the framework upside down and you’ll see all the places you missed. Apply another coat and allow it to dry. Finally, flip the framework right side up again and apply the final coat.
Usually, I remove the wood boards from the frame, label them, and then paint them separately. That’s actually much easier than keeping them in place.
Tip 4: Keep Fresh
You can use your brush and roller multiple times without worrying about them drying out. Simply put the brush in a quart size ziplock bag and keep it in your refrigerator between coats. Push out as much air as you reasonably can from the bag. The same works for the paint roller, but use a gallon sized ziplock bag. Therefore, you can use the brush and roller as many times as you need during your flight sim painting project. Finally, then throw away the brush and roller when you’re finished.
Tip 5: Why not Spray Paint?
Why don’t I recommend spray paint for flight sim painting? Using spray paint on a PVC pipe frame is actually pretty difficult. It’s hard to paint pipes, because you always miss a spot and you end up applying 5 or 6 or more coats. Plus, you need adequate ventilation for spray paint.
Latex primer, on the other hand, is safe to use indoors. This is especially important because many DIY builders work on their projects during the winter months.
Tip 6: Light
Finally, make sure you have good lighting so you can catch the drips or any areas you may have missed. This is common sense, but many people ignore it. I recommend you set up additional lights around your flight sim painting project.
Flight Sim Painting Tips
You can learn more about this topic and many others in the Builder Academy. You’ll also receive updates about new, free DIY Flight Sim content.
The DIY Flight Sim Pod is a fully enclosed flight sim cockpit and your view is completely filled with the simulated environment. Therefore, you don’t see the other things in the room like furniture, book shelf, plants, etc. You fly in a totally immersive environment. In addition, when you strap into the Pod to start a flight, it really feels like you’re preparing to go somewhere. It’s relatively easy to disassemble the Flight Sim Pod because it’s a modular structure. This is how to disassemble this enclosed flight sim.
Enclosed Flight Sim Components
The entire project includes three major assemblies, three subassemblies, flight simulator hardware (including computer), and displays.
Left fuselage side
Right fuselage side
Nose cone (top and bottom)
Top Canopy with Bumper
Disassemble the Enclosed Flight Sim
Start by removing the Tail, Top Canopy with Bumper and Tail. The Bumper is simply the single padded PVC pipe that attaches the Left and Right Fuselage Sides just below the Top Canopy. Unscrew the self-drilling screws as needed to free the PVC fittings.
Next, remove the Left and Right Fuselage Sides. This leaves the Inner Frame still packed with computer hardware and displays. Again, unscrew all self-drilling screws necessary to free the applicable fittings.
Carefully remove the 40” HDTV main display, cushion it, and place in moving box. Do the same with the instrument panel display. Finally, remove and box all computer hardware and flight controls.
Disassemble the Inner Frame
The Inner Frame consists of lumber and PVC pipe and is consequently the strong center structure of the enclosed flight sim. The Nose Cone is the pipe and foam structure that attaches to the front of the Inner Frame.
The top and bottom of the Nose Cone is glued together. However, you can separate the bottom Nose Cone panel by cutting just under the point of the Nose Cone. Cut from across the top edge of the bottom Nose Cone panel and also the top corners around the fittings. This will separate the top and bottom of the Nose Cone leaving only the fittings to hold them together. Remove self-drilling screws as required.
The Pod on the Move
If you load the Pod into a moving van, note how many of the parts can lay flat. Even the Inner Frame doesn’t take up much room because it’s like a shelf – you can load boxes onto it. Your flight sim controls will all fit into boxes as shown in the picture.
You’re looking for a home flight simulator for sale and you come across two similar DIY projects. How do you tell the two apart? The DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim and the DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim are similar, but there are some significant differences too. Here are 7 ways to choose the best multi-screen DIY Flight Sim for you.
The D250 Deluxe is much more adaptable than the T440 Triple Screen.
D250: You can build the D250 with a yoke and throttle quadrant, or pair it with one of the DIY floor frames so you can use HOTAS style controls or even a helicopter collective. Match the D250 with the #F311 Side Joystick Frame, the #F321 Center Joystick Frame, or the #F331 Easy Helicopter Collective.
T440: On the other hand, the T440 is great with a yoke and throttle quadrant as originally designed. But if you want a joystick and side throttle, you would need to invent some modifications.
2. Recent Work
The D250 instructional video is much newer than the T440.
T440: I produced the T440 video in 2011 as a part of a successful Kickstarter campaign. I had a very short amount of time to design and build the project and a short time to film, edit, and publish the video. It’s still a great project though.
D250: I produced the D250 video in 2016 so it has better lighting, better sound, I used a better camera, and I had more experience editing than I did in 2011.
The D250 has larger screens.
D250: I used 32” HDTVs for the three main displays. The combined screen width is over 6 feet wide.
T440: I used 24” monitors for the three main displays. The combined screen width is less than the D250, but still impressive.
4. Keyboard Modification
The T440 was designed to have an overhead panel like an airliner. For this reason, the T440 Triple Screen bundle includes the DIY Airliner Keyboard Modification. The D250 doesn’t have a place for an overhead panel.
The T440 has Styrofoam, the D250 does not.
Builders use ½” styrofoam sheets when constructing the T440 Triple Screen project. Styrofoam may be cheap or expensive depending on where you live in the world.
6. Instrument Panel on a 4th Monitor
T440: You will see several builders in the Customer Gallery added a 4th monitor to display the flight instruments. I didn’t include anything about that in the instructions, those clever builders modified their projects on their own.
D250: I included instructions to add an optional 4th monitor for the flight instruments.
7. Ease of construction
I think the D250 is easier to build than the T440.
D250: The project doesn’t require gluing any Styrofoam panels in place. But the D250 does include 1×8 boards. If your saw won’t cut 1×8 boards, you’ll need to get that done at the store when you buy them.
T440: The project doesn’t require you to cut any lumber wider than a 1×6. You do cut Styrofoam with a utility knife, but it is not difficult just a little time-consuming.
Home Flight Simulator for Sale
You have a lot of choices when it comes to your home flight sim project. I hope this comparison helps you.
The most common question I get asked is about products I do not make. For example, “What is the absolute best computer for flight simulator? BTW, I don’t want to spend very much.” First of all, yes I do help people make better flight simulators and I’ve done that for 10 years. My videos and tutorials have helped thousands of people build a home cockpit and modify their flight sim controls. I show people how to use inexpensive materials from a hardware store to build functional, attractive DIY simpits. If you have a question about PVC pipe, lumber, Styrofoam, or self-drilling screws, I’m the guy to ask. If you want to know about graphics cards, or multiple monitors… well, read on.
Best Computer for Flight Simulator
Why don’t I focus on teaching people how to build fast computers for their flight simulators? Why don’t I help people set up their flight sim software? There are several reasons why I don’t offer these services:
There are already tons of free opinions about this on forums and YouTube. I can’t sell expertise that is already free.
I’ve watched other people attempt this type of service and they only last a year or two. That tells me it is an unsustainable business model.
The manufacturers and software developers already pay people to provide technical support. I don’t get paid anything by these big companies. More importantly, I’ll happily provide tech supports for my products.
I can’t really evaluate computers and graphics cards unless I actually have them. Nobody gives me this stuff, so I would have to buy it. That means buying multiple graphics cards, CPU’s, monitors, flight sim controls, etc. I don’t have a budget for that.
Computer hardware evolves rapidly. On the other hand, PVC pipe, lumber, Styrofoam, and self-drilling screws remain the same. That means the DIY projects I produced 5 years ago or even 10 years ago can still be helpful and valuable for people.
Ok, maybe I’m not the authority on the absolute best computer for flight simulator, but what do I use? I used to buy computers from MicroCenter and then I immediately replaced the graphics card, power supply, and RAM… which is not my idea of fun. The last time I bought a computer I decided to delegate that work to someone else: Cybertron. I bought a gaming computer from Cybertron last year and I’m very happy with it.
This is the greatest difference between Roger Dodger Aviation and the other guys: my customers actually complete their projects! My online courses include instructions for each step of the project including video clips, diagrams, pictures, and printouts. You can build a FSX cockpit DIY project like these guys!
DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim
First of all, look at this beautiful DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim item #D250. It was built by Greg in Savannah Georgia, USA. This is one of my favorite designs because it is so versatile. Builders can create exactly the type of home cockpit they need to match their flying interests. You can install a yoke and throttle quadrant in the #D250. On the other hand, you can also use a HOTAS joystick and throttle or even a helicopter collective.
The DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim, item #T440 is still my most popular DIY course. As a result, I get more T440 pictures than any other project. Two customers recently sent me pictures of their completed projects (see below). Wayne and Richard both build the same project but built it to suit their particular simulation requirements.
Help Spread the Word: FSX Cockpit DIY Projects
Don’t let Facebook bury these success stories! These men worked hard on their FSX cockpit DIY projects and deserve to be congratulated. When I post on Facebook, the message only goes out to 10% of my fans. Please LIKE, COMMENT, and SHARE to spread the word. If you are reading this as a blog post, please link to it or share it with friends. Let’s show these guys our community appreciates a job well done.
How to Use a Flight Simulator for Private Pilot License
Can you learn to fly a real airplane with a home flight simulator? Two aviation schools say yes, and they provide training to help armchair pilots become real pilots. Interestingly, both schools use X-plane as their chosen flight simulator for private pilot license. I’ll discuss both schools below.
First, an initial caveat: don’t record home flight sim training in your FAA logbook. The FAA will not recognize it. On the other hand, you can certainly learn material at home that will make your training time in the real airplane more efficient.
PilotWorkshops is a distance learning company that provides ongoing proficiency training with videos and manuals. Some online courses are one time fees, others like the IFR Mastery Course, is a subscription. They use X-plane 11 as the flight simulator for Private Pilot license training. The material provides impressive details about installing and setting up the X-plane software, controls, views, monitors, weather, replays, debrief tools. PilotWorkshops also introduces online, live human ATC with PilotEdge.
Interestingly, they try to do all this with a simple Phase 1 home flight sim setup (what is a Phase 1 flight sim? Read more). They use a single monitor, a joystick (not a yoke), and a TrackIR for the most part. You could have a much better training experience with a setup like the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim which features, multiple monitors, yoke, rudder pedals, throttle quadrant and more.
Gliem is a decades old legacy company that sells study guides, text books, videos and other materials for pilot ground schools. Anyone who has trained in North America has seen a Gliem book at one time or another.
The videos and content uses a traditional Private Pilot syllabus with a flight sim focus. However, note that Gliem is still using X-plane 10 (not 11) as their flight simulator for private pilot license training. The promo video shows a real Direct Fly Alto light sport airplane, instead of the Cessna 172 used in X-plane, which is a bit odd.
Gliem also sells a triple-screen cockpit frame for $549.95. That’s the price for the frame only! You will spend a lot less and get much more when you build your own DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim.
Flight Simulator for Private Pilot License
In conclusion, home flight simulator software keeps getting better and is an excellent addition to your Private Pilot training if used correctly.
There are two types of virtual reality flight simulator games. One type includes titles with native support from the developer. The other type includes titles that need third party technology to work with VR. Virtual Reality brings with it exciting possibilities, but also significant performance challenges for developers.
Why is VR challenging for developers? Frame rates. Any software must provide at least 60 frames per second in order to be used with VR, and preferably over 90. Flight sim software has always struggled to provide high frame rates because of the expansive and detailed environment it models. Consequently, the software choices come down to a trade-off between performance and features, and I’ll elaborate on that more next.
Titles with Native VR Support
First of all, here are the flight sim titles with native VR support (as of Nov 2017): DCS World (modern military), IL-2 Sturmovik and War Thunder (both WW2), Aerofly FS2 (civil and military airplanes) and Elite Dangerous (sci-fi). These titles have good VR performance, which means they operate at high frame rates and look stunning.
The tradeoff is their limited features for flight simmers. They do not have global maps, weather options are limited, aircraft systems are not completely modeled, and they have limited choices in aircraft. Now before I get angry messages, DSC World is deeply detailed in aircraft systems and environmental fidelity, but only with the limited choices of aircraft and geographic area.
Furthermore, I’m not saying these virtual reality flight simulator games are undesirable. Each one is spectacular in its own way and the immersion is breathtaking. Indeed, once you try these titles in VR, you may never go back to a flat screen again.
Titles Without Native VR Support
The flight sim purists will point out that the titles I mentioned above were games, and the ones I discuss next are SIMULATORS. The three full-featured titles are Prepar3D, X-Plane 11, and FSX Steam. Can you fly these in VR? Yes, but only with Fly-Inside software and a Leap Motion device. Again, performance becomes a problem because these titles can’t hit consistently high frame-rates for VR.
Lastly, Dovetail Games’ Flight Sim World currently has no VR capability at all.
Using Virtual Reality in the Real Word
Once you strap on a VR headset, that is your new world. Forget using keyboard commands, you can’t see the keyboard. You may even lose track of your mouse or beverage. Everything must stay in the same place so you can put your hands on it without looking. This is why I strongly recommend a framework to hold your controls in place, like the DIY Side Joystick Frame, the DIY Center Joystick Frame, and the DIY Easy Helicopter Collective. These projects are for serious flying, so they include a mounting point for rudder pedals.
Add a trackball mouse, because it is priceless for VR flying. Use a drink holder and note it is hard to drink from a regular travel mug while wearing a VR headset. Use a cup with a straw. Also, set up a fan because VR headsets are warm and they make you warm too.