Easy panels  by  Roy Coates
Easy Panels

Faced with the task of building a Simpit with little time and even less money, I found that the one thing which could easily eat more time and money than anything else would be the various switch panels. 

Thinking that this was to be a generic cockpit and would be (ab)used by many students, I figured that whatever I used had to clean up easily and be fairly robust. The solution was to use those scraps of perspex I had lying around the workshop. 

With a bandsaw and a fairly fine toothed blade, cutting perspex and similar materials is quite easy but cut fairly slowly to avoid cracking. A jigsaw fitted with a fine toothed metal cutting blade also does a good job, but again cut slowly and make sure the work is firmly supported along the cutting edge to avoid cracking. Also watch for the perspex melting and 'gumming up' the blade. 

With the perspex idea now decided upon, how to mark the panels? The most inexpensive option also proved to be the easiest. Laser printed paper panels which would sit behind the perspex safe from grubby fingers. Using a colour inkjet printer also gave me a very inexpensive way to create coloured panels. 

1. Having calculated the panel size, use your favourite graphics program (Corel Draw in my case) to create the paper backing sheet as in Figure 1. Note that the centres for any holes are marked. This first sheet is a sacrificial one used as a template for drilling the perspex.

Fig 1. Paper Backing Sheet.
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2. Having cut the perspex to the correct shape and size, attach the sacrificial sheet to the front of the perspex panel using something like masking tape as shown in Figure 2. 

Fig 2. Ready for Drilling. 
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3. Using the paper sheet as a guide, carefully drill the required holes through the paper and perspex sandwich. To drill through perspex (and indeed most plastics) I've found that wood drills (Brad Point) seem to work best but remember to drill at a fairly slow speed with not too much pressure. If you can - a drill press is an invaluable tool for this kind of work, smaller bench top versions can be purchased in the UK for as little as 40 UKP and are a very useful addition to any workshop. 

With the necessary holes drilled, its time to prepare our final backing sheet. I found the best tool to cut out the holes is (not surprisingly) a hole punch, again - these can be purchased for very little money and are another valuble addition to the workshop. For slots or other irregular shaped holes, avery sharp utility knife or a scalpel can be used - a metal straight edge will help ensure accurate cuts. 

Fig 3. Hole Punches and Switches at the Ready. 
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4. With all the holes now drilled, the switchgear can be mounted as shown in Figure 4. Note the addition of the aluminium bracket which I'll use to anchor the wiring to. This will prevent wires from being pulled off the switch connections should someone (me) inadvertently yank the cable. 

Fig 4. Switches and Cable Tie Mounted. 
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5. Now that the switches are all in place, the wiring can be connected as shown below. Note the (excessive) zip-ties anchoring the cable. 

Fig 5. Wiring Complete. 
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6. Now the panel is complete. Unfortunately, reflections in the bright lights of the workshop don't show this panel as it really is. 

Fig 6. Finished Panel. 
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7. This panel can now join its comrades and prepare for some serious abuse. 

Fig 7. Right-Hand Cockpit Console. 
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Footnote:- The panel shown in these examples is indeed wrong. The Ailerons should of course be trimmed left/right and not up/down but hey, this was only a demo - sue me. For more info about this cockpit and its assembly, please visit www.flightlab.liv.ac.uk/cockpit or www.x-plane.info

Copyright ©Roy Coates - Jan 2002