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!