3 Suggestions for your mobile flight simulator

Three Suggestions for Your Mobile Flight Simulator

I was contacted by a representative from a giant, international, airline manufacturer who wanted to build a mobile flight simulator to take to events and schools. You may recall I transported the DIY Triple Screen Flight Sim and the DIY Roll-Away Flight Sim to several events. His team had an empty shell from an actual airplane cockpit, with the real controls, but no instruments or much of anything else. Their task was to make the cockpit shell into a mobile flight simulator. Maybe you have had this idea too.

The first major hurdle was to make the real controls work with the flight simulator software on a PC. And that’s when they contacted me for advice. This is what I told them…

Three Suggestions for Your Mobile Flight Simulator

I have a few suggestions for your team regarding this mobile flight simulator. To start off, I believe many of us in the industry tend to regard a mobile flight simulator on an informal spectrum with “more realistic” on one end and “less realistic” on the other. As I understand your need, you will be transporting this simulator to events, setting it up for use by attendees, and then moving the simulator again. For a mobile flight simulator such as this, I have discovered realism is less important than reliability. It either works on the day of the event or it doesn’t. Therefore, expo simulators fall into a binary, more than a spectrum from an operational standpoint.

So with that in mind, I have three suggestions.

Suggestion #1: Hack Retail Products

The first suggestion is to purchase a retail flight sim control yoke, and hack it. By “hack” I mean you remove the interior components and incorporate them into the airplane cockpit that you showed me in the picture. Everything you need for your mobile flight simulator is inside a retail flight sim yoke. The yoke contains potentiometers that measure pitch and roll deflection, so you can integrate those components into the actual controls on your airplane. The potentiometers are already wired into a circuit board and so is a USB cable. When you plug in the USB cable to a PC, it will simply recognize the controller and install the drivers. You can then use any flight simulator software you want.

You could do the same thing with retail rudder pedals and a throttle quadrant.

Suggestion #2: Use Retail Products

In my experience, it’s a logistical challenge to safely transport and set up a mobile flight simulator. It is possible some part of your simulator may not work correctly even though you were very careful and were prepared for the event. If you can’t get it to work, the whole day is wasted.

My other suggestion is to simply install retail off-the-shelf flight sim controls in your airplane cockpit. This looks decidedly less realistic, but you gain an extra layer of reliability because you can have spare parts in reserve. For example, if the yoke isn’t working on a particular day, you can simply switch it out with a new yoke. The same is true with the rudder pedals and throttle quadrant.

Suggestion #3: Get Running Now, Progress Later

Finally, third option would be to use both strategies. Perhaps you start with Suggestion #2, which is quick and simple, and then maybe a year later move up to Suggestion #1, which is more complex but looks more professional. This approach gets you up and running for early success and also provides a path to improvements. Later, you and your team will have more experience with the flight simulator hardware and software. Therefore, it will be easier for you to re-install the real controls and get them running with the PC. Your team and stakeholders will feel good about the progression of the project.

I hope these suggestions are helpful. I’m interested in knowing how your flight simulator turns out so please let me know what you ultimately decide to do.

Wine Flights in the Simulator

Wine Flights

Wine Flights is the nick name we gave to a couple of flight simulator parties we had a while back. The events were a way to launch the new DIY Flight Sim Pod. But do you really need a reason to drink wine and fly a big airplane simulator? The concept was simple: everybody bring some wine, and then fly the sim over Italian wine country. Brilliant!

 

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Pod Mods

If you have a sharp eye you noticed that I built the Pod with a removable window. This makes it far easier to take pictures over the pilot’s shoulder. In addition it allows more people to watch and provide helpful commentary. I originally designed the Pod with a closed top canopy. In these pictures, the top is open. The top canopy frame is still there, but I just didn’t install a foam body panel. This allows much more light in the cockpit for videos and pictures.

The most noteworthy change was the addition of a second monitor for the flight instruments. This is obvious in the pictures from the second Wine Flights party. The additional monitor freed up the entire 40 inch HDTV to display the outside view and it was glorious.

 

Flight Sim Add-Ons

We flew over simulated wine country in Italy. I used upgraded scenery packages from Orbx. Namely FTX Global and FTX Vector. I also installed FSPS Xtreme FSX PC which is a utility that helps FSX fly smoothly with higher frame rates. We used the default FSX Beechcraft Baron. That was pretty much all we needed for a great event. Well, all that plus wine, I mean.

The DIY Flight Sim Pod is one of my more popular DIY projects, but I don’t get a lot of finished pictures from customers. I understand, it’s a big project and it takes a while to build. If you’re building a Pod and would like to send me some pics of your project so far, I would be happy to see them… DIYflightsims@rogerdodger.net

Maker Faire Kansas City

Flight Simulator at Maker Faire: Video

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.

 

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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.

Immediately after Maker Faire, we loaded the T440 into a Uhaul truck and took it to the National Airline History Museum, where it still operates today as a hands-on attraction for the museum guests. I created a complete instruction manual and video for this project so you can build one for yourself. This is one of my most popular products.

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!

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