Building a Cessna 172 Simulator


As anyone who has downloaded Microsoft Flight Simulator X or X-Plane knows, piloting an aircraft using a keyboard and mouse just doesn’t work. If you’re going to get in to the world of flight simulators, it’s best to go all-in. [Stevenarango] knows this and built a great Cessna 172 cockpit for his personal use.

All the gauges, instrument panels, and controls are from Saitek, one of the best manufacturers of home/hobbyist flight controls. The instruments were mounted on a 5mm piece of PVC, which is mounted on a C172 cockpit-sized wooden frame. All the instruments, from the throttle, pedals, yoke, trim wheel, individual LCD steam gauges, and multi panel are driven by USB.

As for the actual simulation, [Steven] is using a fairly powerful computer running Flight Simulator X with dual monitors – one for the glass cockpit and another for the windscreen. It’s not quite the same scale as building a 737 in your garage, but it’s more than sufficient for an awesome flight simulator experience at home.

Stewart Platform reinvents the wheel so you don’t have to


[Dan Royer] has noticed that most university projects involving a Stewart platform spend more time building a platform than on the project itself. He hopes to build a standard platform universities can use as the basis for other projects.

Stewart platforms are six degree of freedom platforms often seen hefting flight simulators or telescopes. The layout of the actuators allows movements in X,Y,and Z as well as pitch, roll and yaw. While large platforms often use hydraulic systems to accelerate heavy loads quickly. [Dan] is looking at a smaller scale system. His platform is built of laser cut wood and uses six steppers to control motion.

One of the harder parts in designing a platform such as this is creating a mechanical system that is strong, precise, and smooth. With so many linkages, it’s easy to see how binding joints could bring the entire thing to a grinding halt. [Dan] is currently using RC helicopter ball joints, but he’s on the lookout for something even smoother.

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Turning Kerbal Space Program into a proper space simulator


Kerbal Space Program – the game of freakin’ space Lego and incompetent little green men – has seen a lot of popularity since it was on the Steam Summer sale. Now, in a bid to out do the flight sim aficionados who build 737 cockpits in their garage, a few enterprising Kerbalnauts are building custom controllers for this wonderful introduction to [Tsiolkovsky], [Goddard], and [Evel Kinevel].

[vladoportos] thought KSP could use custom gaming controllers to provide switches for staging, attitude hold, and reaction control system commands. In the game, these are toggled by keyboard input, but this unfortunately destroys the immersion of being a rocket-powered angel of death for your Kerbal volunteers. He rigged up an Arduino Leonardo to send USB HID commands to his computer whenever he pressed one of the buttons connected to his breadboard controller. It’s a work in progress, but [vladoportos] has some big plans that include a physical nav ball to show his ship’s orientation in space.

USB input is one thing, but that’s only half the problem. If you want to build a real Kerbal ship simulator, you’ll need to get data out of the game, and into your glass or analog displays. [voneiden] over on the KSP subreddit has the solution for you. He’s been working on a ‘mission control’ app that runs in Python, connects to a Kerbal Space Program plugin over TCP, and displays flight information such as speed, altitude, longitude, latitude, apoapsis, and periapsis.  The code is up on his git, ready for some individual to bring this over to a Raspi and a character LCD display.

Viper flight simulator (a la Battlestar Galactica) finished

Here’s a story about some guys who set out to build a flight simulator for the Viper from Battlestar Galactica. The goal is to bring a grand project to the Maker Faire. This is a recurring challenge for the group, which has participated over the last several years. But this year they decided to go big and mounted a successful Kickstarter campaign to help with the cost.

The best place to get the build details is their progress updates page. Each week the cadre of teenagers tried to post some info about their progress, and we’ve got a big grin on our faces after reading through them. The simulator aims to provide you with as much of a space flight experience possible given the restraints which gravity imposes. The cockpit can roll and pitch a full 360 degrees in each direction. Of course safety is a concern and they were careful with their frame design and pilot restraint system. But so much more goes into this than just the physical build. There’s sound, lighting, and the virtual simulator, all of which have been complete at an impressive quality level. There’s a ton of video posted and we’ve embedded one short clip after the break showing off the cockpit’s dashboard.

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A flight simulator made out of a real 737 cockpit

[Trent] sent in an awesome story about a single man who bought the nose of a 737, put it in his garage, and built a flight simulator inside the cockpit. His name is [James Price], and right now the only thing we’re wondering is when we can have a visit.

The cockpit came from an aircraft boneyard in Oklahoma. After [James] plunked down $1500 for the shell of a cockpit, he moved his new toy to a Livermore, California aircraft hangar and eventually into his garage. While the plane is meant to be a simulator, [James] is a tinkerer at heart: he says the best part of building his 737 is building the systems, programming the computers, and making everything work together. We’ve got to admire that.

Of course this isn’t the first cockpit-in-a-garage build we’ve seen. Years ago we featured an Avro Lancaster, and just a few months ago we saw a strikingly similar replica 737 flight deck (it’s made out of wood, and not a real 737). [James]’ build is one of the very few home-built simulators made out of a real airplane. Someone get this guy an F15 cockpit stat.

Collimated displays wrap around that home cockpit

We don’t recall having heard the term ‘collimated display’ before, but we’ve seem them in action. These are mirrored projection display that give the viewer a true peripheral vision experience thanks to well-designed optics. Here is a project that [Rob] and [Wayne] have put a ton of time into. It’s their own version of a DIY collimated display that uses a shop vac and Arduino to form the screen shape.

The frame above is the structure that will support the screen. A sheet of mylar was later attached to the edges of that frame. That is pulled into place by the suction of the vacuum. But it needs to be stretched just the right amount or the projected image will be distorted. They’ve got something of a PID controller to manage this. A valve box was built to vary the amount of vacuum suction inside the screen’s frame. A switch positioned behind the mylar sheet gives feedback to the Arduino when the screen reaches the appropriate position and a servo closes off the suction box. If you lost us somewhere in there the description in the clip after the jump will help to clear things up.

Here’s an unrelated project that implements the same concept on a smaller scale.

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Improving your flight sim experience with Hall effect sensors


[Gene Buckle] built himself a nice custom cockpit for playing Flight Simulator, but during use he found that the gimbal he constructed for the pitch and roll controls was nearly unusable. He narrowed the problem down to the potentiometers he used to read the angle of the controls, so he set off to find a suitable and more stable replacement.

He figured that Hall effect sensors would be perfect for the job, so he picked up a pair of Allegro 1302 sensors and began fabricating his new control inputs. He mounted a small section of a pen into a bearing to use as an input shaft, attaching a small neodymium magnet to either side. Since he wanted to use these as a drop-in replacement for the pots, he had to fabricate a set of control arms to fit on the pen segments before installing them into his cockpit.

Once everything was set, he fired up his computer and started the Windows joystick calibration tool. His potentiometer-based controls used to show a constant jitter of +/- 200-400 at center, but now the utility displays a steady “0”. We consider that a pretty good result!

[Thanks, Keith]