Member’s Projects: Bret’s Flight Simulator

This post is to describe a particularly epic piece of work by one of our members,  Bret. He’s built a full-sized flight simulator cockpit in his house! Here’s his description:

The simulator was inspired by a visit to a facility in the north of Sydney which maintains and operates some impressive aircraft (but it would be improper to disclose who that would be :-) )

During a flight in one of their sims, I began to abort a landing since it just wasn’t quite right, and the instructor gently told me that I’d make it in. Only afterwards did I consider what had happened. It was so realistic that my natural piloting sense told me I was at risk, and to get out of the situation as I had learnt (namely to make the engines make a lot more noise, and go around to have another go). My later realisation was that I felt so immersed in the experience that I was as good as flying a real one! So, what other response than to decide to build my own (albeit not quite so complex or expensive)?

The sim is reasonably closely based on a Boeing 777, partly because the www delivered me some sort of ok dimensioned drawings which I was able to work from. Also, the 777 is all glass cockpit, making the instrumentation easier to manage. Finally, the appearance of a 777 is quite close to a 747-400 so I can always make a change in the future if I need to! Boeing or Airbus? Well. knowing a good few Qantas engineering types, they tell me “if it’s not Boeing, I’m not going!”. Decision made!

Technically, the sim is MS FS2004 (FSv9) on one pretty grunty quad core machine, running the flight model and front window view, and the IO and displays for the various parts of the cockpit are shared between 3 other win PCs. Video is the limiting factor for a sim I have found, as long as the main flight computer can handle the “visual experience”. Various freeware applications interface the systems and the aim is to provide a close to authentic experience without ever needing to “touch” a PC, only via the normal aircraft interfaces.

The project started just after Christmas 2008, and progresses in fits and starts depending on how busy life is and what I need to buy next. It is intended to always have it flyable, so that I can’t lose interest!

Recent flights have been Sydney to London and return (flying at the same time as some friends going on holiday) and the weather that is “provided” is very realistic. I landed in thick fog in London (simland) and my mate told me a day later that the real aircraft had diverted to Rome because they wouldn’t be able to get into the real London. That made sense, because I pretty well found the sim runway by braille!