Building your first Sim....
You don't have to be a millionaire to enjoy this hobby! I created this website to share my own experience of building on a limited budget. Of course, having more money would help, but it's not necessary. On this website, I've connected with a variety of people. Some demand perfection and have no financial limits, while others, like myself, are just starting and want to add a touch of realism to their simulations or enjoy DIY projects to test their skills. This site is primarily geared towards the latter group.
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 all 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 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 captain's 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 forefront, but not excessively. I still wanted a budget sim, but actual the correct full size. 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 the plans, designs and guides of which you can now see on this website.
Is Sim 3 cheap?
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 number 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 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 YouTube 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, it's 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 and I think 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.
For Sim 3, I ditched going for the ultra-realistic external look of Sim 1. It's just not practicable. If you need to add a wire or component, having a full external skin makes the job just as hard as in the real aircraft. This new design ensures the internal cockpit is as close as possible to the real thing while the external of the cockpit is created for ease of construction and maintenance.
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!
One of my better 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, everything 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!
Software is probably the most expensive part, I started out with P3D and 737 PMDG. 737 PMDG was brilliant! It's 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 you are after complete functionality, with absolute every algorithm and logic switch, Prosim is your way ahead, but it's expensive! It's the ability to accept the integration of any kind of hardware which is exceptional! It has the ability to easily replicate any display or panel on any computer over a network.
There are other programs out there, but I have not used them. Any forum search will reveal their 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!
You are going to need several software programs:
The Flight Simulator & Environment: Prepar3d/X-plane/MSFS 2020
The aircraft model: PMDG 737/Promsim737
The interface Software: FSUIPC/Mobiflight/Simvim/Prosim
Networking Software: FSWIDE
Note: You don't need all the programmes on the lines above, they depend on your flight sim
You can also get lost in a world of sim addon, such as better scenery, more aircraft. All these cost additional funds.
Software aside, the panel came next and the way you are 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. A lot of people are now 3D printing my panel designs. The results are quite amazing.
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 you are starting out and on a budget like myself, here's where you start out!) For around 200 pounds for a pedestal, MIP or overhead, you can't 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! It's up to you to build the panels and connect all the wires, provide switches and lights etc!
I also recommend buying the electrical component sets at the same time. This way you get all the parts to build your cockpit.
There are also lots more companies out there which I recommend:
This is mostly down to
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.
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 the 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.