Building your first Sim....
Lets start! You don't need a budget like a millionaire to get into this hobby! The whole reason I started this website was to share my build on a limited budget. But, money really does help!
I have met lots of people on this website. There are those that accept nothing but perfection and seem to have an unlimited budget, and those that are starting out on a budget and want a bit more realism in their sim or enjoy a personal DIY project to see what they can achieve. This site is mainly aimed at the later.
Can you build a sim on a small budget?
Yes! Check out my first sim 1! You don't need a full Boeing 737 cockpit to start with. Begin with small projects like the 737 MCP or radios. (The throttle assembly is a pretty massive undertaking but an exceptional build project!). Add the realism as it matters and where you need it. If you decide this is your hobby, continue to expand with the various systems. Unless you are sure and have a little money aside, do not jump straight in with building a full size cockpit. That's going to be expensive at any level and very much time consuming.
Sim 1 is how it all started for me. The wood/timber and the monitors were free which was a great starting point. I also started out with PMDG . Which is the cheaper, but less comprehensive software package for the 737 simulation systems. This is a great budget option. This sim only cost $600. This was mainly spent on Arduinos, electrical components and a CNC! I actually started out building the Boeing 737 MCP (Mode Control Panel-Autopilot). Once I saw that I could control a single LED from PMDG, my mind exploded with the possibilities. This was only made easier with MobiFlight software. This is an interface program that communicates the digital inputs and outputs of electronic components to the the flight sim software.
This sim, I fondly now call the "baby sim". It was made smaller than the real thing to fit in our old house. The captains side was full size, but the F/O side was non existent. This single fact ultimately ended in its demise. It was a fantastic project and I really wish I had not destroyed it, but I needed the parts for sim 2!
The problem came when I had friends around to have a go/flight in the sim. I would load a scenario up where the 737, was at 2000m in altitude and ready to land. What I soon learned was that people lost interest very quickly when they kept crashing. To be able to have a full dual control cockpit would be pretty cool!
Sim 2 started to get more serious, realism came to the fore front, but not excessively. I still wanted a budget sim, but actual size. So I got together with a few friends that work on Boeing 737's. They were able to get me every photo and dimension I wanted. This led to plans and how I created my new sim all of which you can now see on the this website.
Is Sim 3 cheap?
Hmm, that's a matter of opinion. I have now been at this hobby for 5 years. Lets put things in perspective. Sim 3 is now over $4000 in costs. If you were to tell my wife Helen this, I would be hung, drawn and quartered (This even now, seems an astronomical amount of money to me!)
At the time of writing this, I nearly have a full Boeing 737 Sim. It's by far not perfect (you would not believe the amount of people that state my measurements are out by 5mm over a 2400mm length). That will come when I get my next job at Boeing and I can actually see what I have to build in real life!
So why is this sim so much more expensive than sim 1? It's actually not only the sim that costs the money. For example, the sim uses 23 Arduino's costing $6.99 each, ($161 total). This was not a single mass purchase, but a gradual increase as I needed them.
The main costs went into a filming camera, software and CNC upgrades. Other major costs came in prototyping. You may have seen already that I went from sim 2 to sim 3 overnight and sim 2 was a pretty epic failure despite looking gorgeous! I had built the sim 2 cockpit near to completion as can be seen on my You Tube Channel. It was at this horrible point when I went to assemble all the parts together. Nothing fitted! So much time and money wasted.
Step in Fusion 360 and 6 months of learning. This program really changed my life! CAD/CAM came to the forefront and I realised there was no point building anything until the sim was fully designed in CAD. If it doesn't fit in CAD, its not going to fit in real life. The glare shield and side window meeting points perplexed me for weeks. I really felt like I was going to give up, but the next morning I would awake and start over.
Now we have sim 3, it's a proven design. Can I say it looks gorgeous? And it works! It is easier to build compared to building the trim around the base window structure. The windows are always the most complex part of the build.
One of my glory moments (an epiphany in the night) of the sim build, is the unique way that the design allows people to build the windows, a bit like a 3D printer would, constructing the design in layers, complete with the trim included.
Back to the question at hand, "Is sim 3 Cheap?" Looking over my shoulder at three years work on sim 3 and seeing the sim come to life right now -YES! Stepping through the cockpit door into the 737 cockpit is an amazing feeling. This is the cheapest option compared to some of the top guys in the hobby right now. They will only accept OEM parts, every thing must be exact and they will have probably purchased an actual 737 cockpit as the shell. This is no mean feat. If you were to take their route, you're looking at a minimum of $40,000 for a working sim!
My sim costing a fraction of the price and looking almost as good as the real thing. Ultimately, it's all a matter of personal circumstance and perspective.
This is an amazing hobby for aviation enthusiasts and pilots alike. The graphics and software are advancing in realism and capability year by year.
My words of wisdom: Start small, aim BIG! Unfortunately you will probably catch the sim bug and end up just like me engrossed in everything aviation!
If you need a guide on what components to buy, how to program Prosim and MobiFlight and how to connect the Ardunio Ardunio Mega, download here:
Software is probably the most expensive part, I started with P3D and 737 PMDG. 737 PMDG was brilliant! Its going to get you that effect of making a good sim! (but not every aspect will work- but if your starting out, and on a budget, trust me, this is good enough!) Now if your after complete functionality, with absolute every algorithm and logic switch, Prosim is your way. But its expensive! But its integration of any kind of hardware is exceptional! Do you need it? No not really, not unless your going for ultimate realism.
Now there are other programs out there, but I have not used them. Any forum search will reveal there flaws and good points! X-plane is out there and with the ZIBO mod supported by ANDRE Els, your onto a winner! But I have never personally used it! but the community is massive!
Software aside, comes the panels and the way your going to interface your sim. I started by making my own panels. Buying a4 size white opaque Perspex from ebay at $5 per sheet. The results varied and you need a CNC machine or laser to get good results. If your after making your own panels, my designs are available in the downloads section.
Now this is a bold statement to make, but if you want professional looking panels at a cheap price , visit :
( I am in no way sponsored, linked to this website, but if your starting out and on a budget like myself, here's where you start out! There are also lots more companies out there.)
For around 200 pounds for a pedestal, MIP or overhead, you cant make it cheaper! I've tried. They take time (due to there growing popularity), but the quality stands out. You will have a professional looking cockpit out of the box! Of course its up to you to connect all the wires, provide switches and lights etc!
I have used Arduino Mega's (lots of them at around £4 each from eBay. 52 combined input or outputs. Used with Mobiflight, interfacing is super easy. For Controls, a Leo Bodnar BUX card is recommended.
UPDATE 2019: After looking through Ebay, (JAN 19) Ardunio prices have doubled from when they first came out.
I will publish all prices for my sim soon!
THE SHELL/INTERNAL FRAMEWORK
I have designed the shell/framework complete and have pretty much proven it all. If you fancy building it yourself for that extra realism feel, head over to the downloads section or shop. The plans are free or you can purchase more detailed plans, with guide, cost, parts list etc. The plans in the shop are to help support the build and keep the website running for everyone to download.