How to Build a Flight Simulator

Introducing the Builder Academy

The Builder Academy is a comprehensive resource for learning all the basic flight sim building skills. What is it like to build a DIY Flight Sim project? The Builder Academy will show you. In addition, you can also learn about modifying the existing DIY Flight Sims projects. If you’re wondering how to build a flight simulator, this is your first, best resource. By the way, it’s free!

 

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Builder Academy Content

What is in the Builder Academy? Some of the videos in the Builder Academy were formerly a part of the “Free Videos” folder included with some purchases. Other videos were first published on YouTube, but are now only available in the Builder Academy. Some of the content is new and available only at the Builder Academy. Finally, all of the content assists you in different ways when you’re learning how to build a flight simulator.
This is an overview of the course curriculum:

  • Recommended Tools
  • Building with PVC Pipe (new)
  • Self-Drilling Screws
  • Add a Monitor for the Flight Instruments
  • Display Flight Instruments with Air Manager
  • Install Saitek Switch Panels
  • Styrofoam Body Panels
  • Prototyping – How to Modify DIY Flight Sim Projects
  • Saitek Trim Wheel Adapter
  • X52 Saitek Throttle Fix
  • Saitek Yoke Modifications
  • CH Yoke Modifications
  • Paint for Home Flight Simulators
  • USB Cable Management
  • Change Log

 

Training Available Wherever You Are

The Builder Academy is available on nearly any device. As a result, you can view the training on a tablet or phone while you’re in your workshop or view it on a laptop or desktop. Also, there are some printouts and templates for certain projects, so you might need a printer at some point. I periodically add new content, so be sure to check the Change Log if you haven’t been there in a while. The Builder Academy is my platform to show everyone how easy it can be to build a home flight simulator. Even the most complex projects are really just a series of relatively easy steps. Visit the Builder Academy today and let me know what you think of it.

 

View the Builder Academy on your phone or tablet or anything
View the Builder Academy on your phone or tablet or anything

More DIY Flight Sim Completions in the Expanded Customer Gallery

I added more pictures of DIY Flight Sim completions to the new expanded Customer Gallery. Note there are now three distinct examples of customers adding the popular Thrustmaster Warthog HOTAS joystick to the #F321 DIY Center Joystick Frame.

 

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Thrustmaster Warthog and other Additions

Several customers modified the #F321 Center Joystick project slightly to accommodate the Thrustmaster Warthog joystick. They did this by shortening the center joystick stand by several inches and then bolting on the joystick. The Thrustmaster Warthog originally comes with a flat, square base which can be easily removed. Notice that the DIY Center Joystick Frame works well with Saitek rudder pedals because of their wide stance. You can comfortably straddle the center joystick to reach the pedals. Note the Saitek Combat Rudder Pedals installed on the #F321, but you can also use the Saitek Cessna Rudder Pedals. I originally designed the #F321 project around the early model Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals, witch still work well. You can use the CH Rudder Pedals but they are difficult to use because they are narrow and makes it harder to straddle the center joystick stand.

Center Joystick or Side Joystick?

Check out Craig’s pictures in the new Customer Gallery 2. Craig created one of the most attractive DIY Flight Sim completions. He built the #F321 with a removable center stand and with side stands on both sides. He can now switch between a traditional center joystick and a HOTAS side joystick. Notice the D-ring fasteners he uses to attach the center stand.

DIY Flight Sim Completions: Modified DIY Roll-Away Flight Sim

Rob modified the #E420 DIY Roll-Away Flight Sim to match his needs and style of flying. He added an expanded mid-shelf for the Saitek yoke and throttle quadrant and a swing-out platform for the compact mini-keyboard. Also note the additional platform for the mouse and mouse pad. The Roll-Away Flight Sim frame is wonderfully mobile because Rob installed four castering wheels to it. Two of the castering wheels can be locked in place so he can comfortably use the rudder pedals without worrying about the frame rolling away. You should always use rudder pedals, they are an important part of DIY Flight Sim completions.

 

Beautiful painted PVC frame for HOTAS flight controls by Craig

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.

Inside the CH Products Yoke

Inside the CH Products Yoke

Inside the CH Product Yoke

This is the CH Products Flight Sim Yoke. I’m going to disassemble it to show all the hackers and makers what to expect if they ever want to modify one.

Note: This will void the manufacturer’s warranty, but if you bought the yoke over a year ago the warranty has already expired.

Start by popping off the knob handles from the little mini-levers. Unscrew the table clamps, so now you have access to this corner screw. The screws in the opposite corners are under the rubber stoppers. Also there’s a screw under the warranty sticker of course. There are 8 screws total.

Now we’ve re-attached the table clamps and removed the top in order to show the inner workings of the control housing. Be careful that the back of the shaft doesn’t pop up. There’s a lever underneath the shaft, and this links to the pitch potentiometer. Note you will need to verify it’s seated correctly when you re-assemble the housing later. Here’s the linkage for the pitch potentiometer. Note that the pitch trim wheel moves the potentiometer too. The trim is way too sensitive to be useful, as a result, I just forget about it and use the Saitek trim wheel (which is great).

Additional Observations

The roll movement is linked to the other potentiometer at the back of the unit. If you have a separate throttle quadrant (and I hope you do), these mini-levers on the top of the housing become redundant. You can remove these 6 screws and the wiring clip to take out this component. The yoke grip can be disassembled if you’re adding buttons, or something similar. There are 10 screws total in the grip.

Once the face is off, you can see all the wires from the various buttons. The wires snake through the shaft and come out here. The centering springs return the yoke to its middle position for pitch and roll. Most noteworthy, these springs, plus the friction of the control shaft can make it difficult to make subtle control movements like during a landing flare. Click to this blog post and video to see how to fix the CH Products Yoke to avoid over-controlling your home flight simulator.

Inside the CH Products Yoke
Inside the CH Products Yoke

CH Products Yoke Modification

 CH Products Yoke Modification

The CH Products Flight Sim Yoke is a solid addition to your home flight simulator. Even so, we can modify it a little to make the yoke work more smoothly because the spring tension and the friction within the mechanism can cause you to over-control the airplane. Sometimes you need to make more subtle control inputs.Ideally, when you have the airplane trimmed properly, you can fly with a light touch on the yoke. For example, if you’re over-controlling the airplane during landing, you’ll porpoise down the runway. Well if you don’t do that in real life, it’s embarrassing when it happens in flight simulator.

Our previous video showed how to disassemble the yoke. This video will show the CH Products yoke modification. I’m basically replacing the tension springs with rubber bands. The mod is reversible, so if you decide you don’t like it, you can change it back to the way it was before.

CH Products Yoke Modification

Note: disassembling consumer products may void the manufacturer’s warranty.
We will start by removing the springs. There is continuous tension on the spring, so push it down onto the pylon. Then remove the screw and washer… and carefully unhook the spring. Reattach the screw. Unhook the other end of the spring from the shaft. Repeat on the other side to remove the second spring. This cable is held in place with a small zip tie. Carefully snip it off. We’re going to use the hole that the zip tie was in…but we’re going to need one on the other side too. Here’s the existing hole, and now we’re drilling one in the same place on the other side. This is a one eighth inch drill bit. Just removing the little plastic shavings here.

Now we have our own little zip ties for the next step, and rubber bands. Insert the zip tie through the hole. Take two rubber bands and loop them over themselves like this. Connect the zip tie to one end of the rubber bands like this. Then stretch the rubber band over the pylon. Repeat on the other side. Notice I’m holding the yoke handle when I loop the rubber bands over the pylon.

Everything is looking good so far so let’s tighten up the zip ties. Loosen the rubber bands, cinch up the zip tie, then loop the rubber bands over the pylon again. Here’s the opposite side. Try not to get the rubber bands twisted too much. Snip off the ends of the zip ties.

Finishing Steps

Now you might ask, isn’t there a simpler way? If you look at how the shaft is constructed, you’ll notice we can simply loop these rubber bands on the opposite horn like this and loop the other rubber bands on the other side. Well that does work, but not very well. The rubber bands tend to rub against each another and make a banjo sound. I’m assuming you don’t want your yoke to sound like a banjo, so that’s out.

Remember this lever needs to be seated correctly on the bottom of the shaft, and the sleeves need to set in the grooves on the back of the unit. Finally, this wiring harness was disconnected from the mini-levers that we removed in the previous video. We don’t want it flopping around, so we attached it to these other wires with a zip tie, and everything is tucked away nicely.

The CH Products yoke modification is complete! Now the yoke has a better response to those subtle little control inputs that we tend to use when the airplane is trimmed for cruise flight, or any time a soft touch is necessary.

CH Products Yoke Modification
CH Products Yoke Modification