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.
Developers struggle to create software that displays a legible flight simulator instrument panel, and also present a realistic outside world with scenery that stretches to the horizon. Today I’ll focus on viewing the flight instruments. You have a few options to choose from and each has its own benefit trade offs. It’s up to you to decide which flight simulator instrument panel works best with your particular needs.
I’ve used TrackIR from Naturalpoint for a long time. It is a view tracking device that allows you to look around the virtual cockpit by moving your head. TrackIR “sees” your head move in 6 axes, also called 6 degrees of freedom. Instead of explaining all 6, I’ll just say your real life head also moves in 6 degrees of freedom, and leave it at that. As a result, you can lean into the flight simulator instrument panel if you want to see something closer. You can also look out the windows, look over your shoulder, look around struts and other parts of the airplane. The picture above shows TrackIR with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim.
TrackIR works with a single screen, or multiple screens. It works with a very wide variety of titles: Prepar3D, X-Plane, FSX, Flight Sim World, DTG Flight School, DCS World, even Elite Dangerous, War Thunder, IL2, and many others. In conclusion, TrackIR is very useful but it’s still difficult to use with a GPS or other instruments that require fine tuning.
Moving/resizing windows (free)
You can move and resize the 2D windows in old FSX and FSX Steam. When you type Shift+1, or Shift +2, Shift+3, etc. then FSX will display different windows that you can move around your screen. You see how this appears in the picture above with the DIY Flight Sim Pod. This trick also works with multiple screens. For example, you could show the outside view on all three monitors, and then in the bottom of your middle screen, show smaller windows with the flight instruments. You can also re-size the windows. That’s all great, except FSX does not save these settings on exit, and you have to set up all your views again the next time you turn on your computer.
Air Manger works with Prepar3D, X-Plane 9, 10, and 11, FSX and FSX Steam. I’ve personally used Air Manager for displaying the flight simulator instrument panel on a separate screen. What I mean is, a totally separate monitor that is set aside for just the flight instruments. Flat panel computer monitors are so cheap that I literally have 3 in my house just waiting for a project. Air Manager can also work on an iPad or other tablet computer.
Air Manager is very versatile, see it above with the DIY Deluxe Desktop Flight Sim. I run the software on an old, obsolete computer (running Windows Vista) which is connected via network to my flight sim computer. A separate computer means there is zero impact on my frame rates. Download full flight simulator instrument panels, mix and match gauges (free), even create your own (also free).
Saitek Pro Flight Instruments $169.99 each
The most expensive option is the Saitek Pro Flight Instrument gauges. I listed the price, but that is only for one single, physical USB gauge. Consequently, if you want a panel consisting of 6 flight instruments and an RPM gauge, that is 6 x $169.99 = $1019.94. I haven’t personally tried these gauges because they are so incredibly expensive. In addition, you are limited primarily to round-gauge type displays.
Flight Simulator Instrument Panel
In conclusion, there are several ways to display a flight simulator instrument panel and the method you choose will depend on your needs and your budget. Have you tried anything I haven’t listed here? If so, let me know in the comments (you don’t have to log in to comment).
“The Golden Age of Flight Simulators” I started using that phrase in 2016 as I noticed fresh inspiration from software developers, and a renewed optimism in the flight simulator community. See in the picture, that’s what my old website looked like in Spring of 2016. Now, over a year later, the evidence is undeniable. We are entering a new renaissance of home flight simulation. Watch the Frooglesim News each week and it’s obvious. The future we’ve waited for is here now, and it’s time to go flying!
1. Flight Sim Software
One of the most significant signals that things have changed is this: we have real choices now. Not just choices, but difficult choices. How are you going to decide between X-plane 11 and Prepar3D v4? Both are outstanding flight sim platforms and you have many things to consider when you choose. What will Dovetail’s new Flight Sim World bring to the table? Time will tell.
One subject you won’t see much of on Frooglesim News is hardware. Today’s flight sim pilot has many choices in flight controls, switch panels, displays, touch screens, graphics cards, and more. Take displays, for example. You can buy an excellent 32” HDTV for less than $200. Most quality graphics cards can now power three displays, so why not buy three 32” TVs and stretch out the view to over 6 feet wide! Add some PVC pipes, lumber, and elbow-grease and you have an impressive, affordable, home cockpit.
Let’s not forget the advances made by non-ESP based flight sim platforms like DSC World and Aerofly FS2. These are considered by some to be “FS lite” because they don’t have native global scenery and all the weather and ATC options we’re used to. Nonetheless, these sims sport smooth frame rates (much higher than even P3D and X-Plane) and excellent detail for the limited geography they offer. DCS World and Aerofly FS2 also have beautifully rendered aircraft. You’ll find the higher fidelity aircraft in DCS World as compared to FS2.
3. Virtual Reality?
What will Virtual Reality bring to the table? As of yet, no one knows. VR headsets demand performance that is difficult to achieve with flight simulator programs. For successful VR, you must have high frame rates, over 90 frames per second. Furthermore, flight sim software has exponentially more scenery rendering than any game software. Plus, once you put on a VR headset, you can no longer see your controls, checklists, switch panels, or anything that is not in the virtual world. For now, nobody knows how much VR will impact the flight sim genre.
4. Watch Frooglesim News
In conclusion, why is it the Golden Age of Flight Sims? Well, Froogle says so too! Take a look at this episode of Frooglesim News at 27:11.
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!
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
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.
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
This project combines two of my favorite things: a cozy fireplace and my flight simulator. Why not simulate a nice cozy fireplace inside a flight simulator?!
This DIY flight sim is ready for winter! I combined the warm atmosphere of a crackling fireplace with the fun of flying my simulator. It’s just the thing for those freezing winter months. You can do this too, it’s easy to set up.
Create a Fireplace Inside a Flight Simulator
My flight simulator has two displays connected to the graphics card. The large display is a 40″ HDTV and the smaller display is a 19″ VGA computer monitor. Typically, I display the flight simulator outside view on the large screen and the flight instruments on the smaller screen. For today’s project, I’m only running FSX on the large screen. Start FSX and start a flight. Select Windowed Mode from the View Menu and resize the window so it fits on one screen (the large screen in my example).
Next start a web browser on the second monitor and find a fireplace video on YouTube. Play the video and select full screen. This is how I my smaller display shows a cozy, crackling fireplace.
All we need now is a nice hot apple cider. I recently discovered sugar free apple cider from Alpine. It doesn’t need any sugar because of what we add next: cinnamon flavored bourbon. Apple and cinnamon… oh it’s so, so good! Leave the ice and snow outside, you’re flying in comfort. Happy Landings!
People around the world are building home flight simulators this winter. These guys find inexpensive materials at home improvement stores and build their own airplane cockpit at home.
January is BUILD MONTH
Why is January a great time to build a DIY (Do It Yourself) flight sim project? First of all, many people get new flight simulator software and computer equipment for Christmas and are ready to upgrade their home cockpit. Also, the holidays are over and now people are returning to their hobbies. Flight simulation is a great way to learn about aviation during the cold winter months. Consequently, I typically see an increase in DIY Flight Sim business and website traffic starting in January.
You don’t necessarily need a workshop for building home flight simulators, so many people build their project in an apartment or even a dorm room. You don’t need outside ventilation because no harsh chemicals, paints, or adhesives are used with these projects so you can build indoors. Let it snow!
Inexpensive Components and Materials
Is your home flight simulator nothing more than a desk with a few monitors and a joystick? You can make a more realistic airplane cockpit with inexpensive materials from a home improvement store. These guys build home flight sims with PVC pipes, lumber, and Styrofoam insulation panels. Notice they also painted their projects because painting is also inexpensive, easy, and gives the project a truly finished appearance.
We are fortunate to live in a time when we have so many affordable choices for computer equipment and flight controls. For example, it is now possible to use multiple high-definition HDTVs as displays for a flight simulator. In addition, computers and graphics cards are more powerful than ever. We have more choices than ever for flight sim control yokes, rudder pedals, throttle quadrants, switch panels, and more. Finally, the flight sim software of today is better than ever. Lockheed Prepar3D, X-Plane 11, FSX Steam, and Aerofly FS2 all boast improved performance and functionality.
Combine inexpensive building materials with affordable computer equipment and you can have a powerful and realistic flight simulator for your home.
The most difficult part of any building project is just getting started, so get going now. You may make some mistakes along the way, but they will be inconsequential because you’re using inexpensive materials. Get building and get done, so you can get flying!
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.
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!”
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.