Before getting started on your own simulator
cockpit there are quite a few questions you have to ask yourself. Like:
do I mind the fact that my partner will hate me for the next couple of
years, and friends and family will seriously question my sanity? But there's
also a less serious (?) list of questions you need to check before you
get started on your "neverending project" ;-)
- What kind of cockpit will I build (fighter jet, airliner,
Formula1 car, Mechwarrior)?
- Do I have enough room to build my cockpit?
- What kind of money am I willing to spend?
- Will I use "real" parts or will I build everything myself?
- What kind of materials will I use?
- What kind of tools will I need (to buy..)?
And these are just some basic questions.
Digging deeper into the matter you may start to ask yourself:
- Do I want a "virtual" cockpit with everything in HOTAS
style, or do I want a full suite of working buttons/switches in my cockpit?
- How will I make the buttons work, or how will I interface
the buttons/switches with my PC? Will I use an EPIC card or other
keyboard encoder? Will I be able to program it myself? Am I willing to
spend the time and money this will cost me?
- Will there be other problems interfacing the cockpit with
the PC. Do I want working gauges and warning lights? Will I settle for
a "glass cockpit"?
- Will it be a one- or two-person cockpit ? If two, will
it be built so that it CAN be operated by ONE person
so that you can enjoy it without having a friend (or wife?? haha) over
all the time?
- Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.....
WHAT TYPE TO BUILD?
On deciding which type to build, a good thing
to consider is the availability of information and parts, both real and
replica. F-16 info and a lot of Boeing stuff is readily available right
now. There are also companies making F-16 components and lots of Boeing
stuff can be found. If you switch to making something like a Canadian Regional
Jet, it would be much harder to find parts and dimensions and such.
Another important thing to keep in mind is what
software is available to run the sim. A Boeing 737 sim is a great thing
to build because so many of its components are available right now through
Microsoft, the PFD Team and others. But good software for a MechWarrior
sim, that allows data in and out of the sim, may be hard to find. The type
you want to build may also be decided by your favorite (software-)
sim at the time. Keep in mind that your favorite sim may change a lot through
the years, so you might also choose to go for a more 'generic' sim cockpit.
One of the most important (according to some
THE most important) aspects of your simulated experience, are the visuals.
Which route do you want to go? Stick with the single monitor? Go for a
multiple-monitors setup? Ask yourself: does my software support multiple
monitors? Do I have enough knowledge to realise/implement this in
MY pit? How much processor-power/networks/graphics-cards etc. will
I need? If you go for a multiple-monitors setup, you will need to
take that into account in the design of your cockpit. Maybe you want to
go for the head-mounted display. Ask yourself again: Can I pay for this?
Does my software support this? A head-mounted display does mean that you
don't have to enclose your cockpit and still get the total immersion.Have
you won the lottery? You could go for a LCD projector. Project stuff life-size
and get totally immersed. You don't have to pull many tricks to make it
work and you don't have to enclose the entire cockpit, without being distracted
by things around you in the room. You do need a big wallet though! ;-)
PLAN BEFORE YOU BUILD
After you answered all these questions, and all
other questions you can think of yourself, you're already starting to form
a "battle plan" for your upcoming project. And that's the most important
thing: "plan before you build!" Precise planning and probing
will save you tons of time and money on your project. If you're going to
build a replica of "the real thing", try to gather as much info on it as
you can. Measurements, angles, colors, versions, anything you can get your
hands on, because in the end it will never be enough! If you go for the
'fantasy' approach, be sure you will be able to fit yourself in the pit
comfortably and that you'll be able to reach all the buttons and controls.
Think ergonomy! Any which way, think your
project through, and then... think it through again!
It wouldn't hurt to get acqainted with a good
3D CAD program either. This will help you filter out design flaws in an
early stage. Nothing is more frustrating then to build a whole part of
your pit, to find out that it doesn't quite fit or meet up to your expectations.
By designing your pit in 3D first, you will also know the quantity of materials
you will need before you start building the actual pit. In the direction
of construction, another piece of advise: measure twice before you cut
Another good idea is prototyping. Before you
build a part of your pit, build it from cheap material first. This way
you can see if it fits and works as planned, before you spend all your
money on expensive materials. Wanna make a 'glare-shield' for your F16
cockpit? Make it out of cardboard first, see if it fits. If needed make
some adjustments, and then use the cardboard as a mask for the 'real thing'.
PLAN BEFORE YOU BUILD
Unplanned building has cost me alot of time and
money on my first pit. It cost me a lot of blood sweat and tears, to build
and rebuild all parts, and in the end I still wasn't satisfied. Something
can seem as a great soluition in your head, but fall terribly short in
reality. If you make a new part, think of the consequences it will have
on your design.
The conclusion should now be clear: the success of your
"pit project" stands or falls with the amount of time you spend building
it in your head and on paper, BEFORE you build it for real !!!