Wednesday, December 9, 2009

What will the new cockpit look like?

Phase 1 will concentrate on the MIP - Main Instrument Panel. I'm handy with woodworking tools and still have all of my fingers. I could build my own MIP from medium density fiberboard, fill, prime and paint it. Looking at other's efforts and once again reading about Vidar's attempts to build an overhead panel, I decided to go high end: Fly Engravity. It will save me a lot of time and will provide the level of realism I'm looking for.

Now I live in the US. Most flight sim vendors are in Europe. I'm sure most of us Americans have some trepidation about buying this stuff on line, especially at the prices they're asking and with the dollar exchange rate as it is. I think you can learn a lot about a vendor's commitment to their customers by checking out their support forums and by reading other enthusiast's accounts of service. My dealings with Engravity have been nothing short of 100% positive. You have no need to worry about them.

I opted for the desktop MIP, captain's side and center console. Also purchased from Engravity the CP Flight MCP (autopilot controller) and EFIS. These units are of exceptional quality, look and feel. Sorry Go Flight, but when I compared the operation of my new units with theirs, it's a quantum leap in quality, realism, and operation. It even has an electronically operated auto throttle disconnect. All tests so far have been flawless.

As for the software, yes I went with Project Magenta. So pleased I did although again not a purchase to be made lightly. So what else is out there that comes close? I did purchase some software from Ellie Avionics. It comes close to Project Magenta but has some pros and cons for you to consider:

  • Similar to Project Magenta, it utilizes FSUIPC to network multiple computers together. Why is this important? FSX puts tremendous stress on your computer's processing power. If you can off load some of the demands (for example, the cockpit instrument panel display) to another computer, you can greatly increase performance of the external visuals in FSX. Ellie Avionics provides this capability - you can use a secondary computer for the primary flight display and the navigation display
  • They will eventually ship (although it seems like they've been in beta forever) an EICAS display. This provides status on engines, hydraulics etc.
  • Flight planning. It doesn't recognize the flight plan within FSX so you need to build your own. This requires separate software that you need to buy and I found it to be a pain. Plus there is no obvious way to share this flight plan across networked computers, unlike Project Magenta...
  • Limited (really I should say no apparent) support from hardware vendors
  • Did I mention their EICAS display is in Beta? I signed up for an offer they had, buy the standby gauges and get the EICAS free when available. I'm still waiting and there is no indication of when or if it will be released. Their web site says "fall 2009" but the pictures posted are from February. So with only 12 days of fall left - I'm not holding my breath
All pilots spend a lot of time sitting on their backsides looking at the instruments. Why should I be any different? I've seen some great efforts at home built captain's chairs. I don't have the time and in the interests of "keeping it real" opted for a used Weber seat from our friend Nick Louis. I'll post a photo once I can be bothered to take one.

We did have a couple of little slip ups with the seat and I'll spare Nick by not sharing the details. He did though thoroughly understand my situation and kindly made it up to me by shipping some replacement parts at no charge. Thanks Nick, you are indeed a gentleman of the first order.

The seat is in good condition and came with the inertial reel shoulder harnesses and 4 point release (you can imagine that got a laugh out of the wife when I tried it on for the first time). For weeks later I obsessed about how I would attach the seat to the base of the sim. In a real 737 the seat is mounted on J-rails to move it back and to the side. I have a plan for fabricating a set (Nick couldn't provide them and thinks I'm possibly nuts for trying to make some), details of their development will appear in a future post.

How obsessed on the J-rails? I can't find drawings or dimensions for them anywhere. A friend of mine's brother flies for Southwest. I left a rambling voicemail on the poor captain's cell phone, asking if he could take a tape measure to the cockpit seat and rails. He did leave a message for me - I'm just too embarrassed to call back...

Finally, I need a base for the MIP to stand on. It's semi finished in the workshop beneath my feet. Drawn up partly from plans I stole from our man in Belgium. Photos in due course - I've got to stop blogging and actually build something...

Next up - construction of the MIP


  1. Hi there. Your set up looks good. Have you found a solution for your J rails? If not, you may want to check out this site.

    Scroll to the bottom of the page. These people have J rails for $490.

  2. Gianluca,

    Sorry, just found your comment today! Link is interesting, although I think the price tag is too high and for home use and the rails possibly over engineered (oops, hope this isn't your website...). I will get around to the J-rails after I get the MIP fully functional and maybe put together some working prototypes for yoke and throttle. I will publish my approach to the j-rails, I already have a concept in mind, just need to get the dimensions down cold before I start cutting up material.

    Thanks for your interest and for the link to this site. There are other things there that look quite interesting.

  3. Hi Bill: How do you like the Weber from Nick? They are not cheap err "investments". Is it comfortable. Thinking of talking to Nick soon regarding this, Iain

  4. Iain,

    Apologies for delay - just got back from Europe last night. Is the seat comfortable? A damn sight more so than the middle economy seat I flew back on yesterday from Frankfurt!

    I thought about making my own seat. There are some good examples out there of people who have made their own. I may even do this for the co-pilot seat in due course. For me though I decided to buy the chair to save time and to have something that was truly from a 737.

    Nick is a super nice guy to work with. The chair arrived when he said it would and I'm happy to have it as part of my build. Would I like a set of sheepskin covers instead of the blue cotton ones that came with? Yes sir. Know where I can get a cheap set?