Last Updated: 11/JUL/2023
Building your first Sim....
Hi, my name is Karl. I am both an avionics and mechanical Licensed Aircraft Engineer (LAE). One night while exploring the endless rabbit hole of Youtube in Brunei, I stumbled upon the channel, Build A Boeing. The next day, I excitedly shared with my wife, Helen, that I had decided to embark on the ambitious project of building my very own B737 cockpit. And so, my journey began.
You don't need to be wealthy to indulge in this pastime! I established this website to share my journey of constructing on a tight budget. While having more funds would be beneficial, it's not a requirement. Through this platform, I've connected with a diverse range of individuals. Some strive for ultimate flawlessness and are financially unrestricted. In contrast, others, including myself, are beginners seeking to incorporate authenticity into their simulations or engage in DIY initiatives to enhance their abilities. This site primarily caters to the latter group.
Can you build a sim on a small budget?
Certainly! Let's take a trip down memory lane and discuss my first sim, Sim 1! You don't have to start with a complete Boeing 737 cockpit. Rather, begin with smaller projects such as 737 MCP or radios. While the throttle assembly is challenging, it's an excellent build project! Focus on realism where it matters and as needed. If you decide that this is your hobby, you can expand with various systems as you go. Unless you're confident and have saved money, avoid jumping straight into building a full-size cockpit. It can be expensive and very time-consuming at any level.
Initially, I started with the parking brake light and became fascinated with controlling hardware with software. The introduction of the MCP was a significant advancement, but I must acknowledge that it was also quite challenging. Unfortunately, the necessary resources were not readily available to facilitate the process. This was a huge leap forward for me! However, it took several months to get the initial design to work. If you plan on starting with the MCP, I recommend checking out the DIY MCP v7. It is specifically designed to be easy to build and wire. It comes with a dedicated build guide and youtube video.
Fortunately, I could obtain the wood/timber and monitors for Sim1 at no cost, which was a great starting point. I used my desktop computer to run PMDG, a cheaper but less comprehensive software package for the 737 simulation systems. It's a great budget option. My total cost for building Sim1 was only $600, but the quality reflected that it was a DIY homebuilt project. The majority of the expenses were for Arduinos and electrical components. Luckily, MobiFlight software by Sebastian made the build a million times easier. This software interfaces with the inputs and outputs of electronic hardware to the flight sim software.
I affectionately refer to Simulator 1 as the "baby sim". It was downsized to fit in our previous home, with the captain's side being full size while the F/O side was omitted. Unfortunately, this led to its eventual destruction despite being a remarkable project. I regret having to take it apart for parts to build sim 2.
I encountered an issue with Sim1 when I invited friends to try the simulator. I would set up a scenario where the 737 was at an altitude of 2000 meters and prepared to land, but my friends lost interest after a few attempts because they kept crashing. It would be awesome to have a dual-control cockpit to help guide them onto the runway.
As I progressed to Sim 2, I aimed for a more realistic experience without going over budget. Collaborating with friends who work on Boeing 737s, I acquired photos and dimensions necessary for the project. These resources became the foundation for the plans, designs, and guides available on this website today.
However, despite the stunning appearance of the Sim 2 cockpit, the project ended up as a failure when it came time to assemble the parts. Despite nearing completion, nothing seemed to fit, and I wasted significant time and money. Overnight, I transitioned to Sim 3.
SIM 3 - The Dual Seat Beast
I chuckle now at how sudden the decision to start over was. However, despite the quick decision, it took another eight months before Sim3 began construction.
Six months of my life were spent learning Fusion 360. At least 10 hours a day non-stop through weekends. I became obsessed with designing a whole CAD cockpit, from the smallest screw to the complete design. It completely transformed my approach to building anything! I've realised that CAD/CAM is an essential tool in the design process, as it allows me to perfect my simulations before even beginning the physical build.
I've learned that if it doesn't fit in CAD, it won't fit in real life. I faced a challenge with the glare shield and side window meeting points, which took weeks to resolve. There were moments when I felt like giving up, but I persisted and woke up each morning ready to tackle the problem again.
I'm proud to say that we have successfully built Sim 3, which boasts a beautiful and functional design. It was much easier to build than Sim 1 & 2 with the trim around the base window structure, which is always the most complex part of the process.
For Sim 3, I decided to prioritize practicality over ultra-realistic external features. This approach makes it much easier to add wires or components, as the internal cockpit closely resembles the real thing. At the same time, the exterior design is optimized for ease of construction and maintenance.
During the sim build, I had a great realization when I discovered a unique approach to window construction. The design allows for a layer-by-layer build, similar to a 3D printer, which includes the trim. It's a clever and efficient method.
Is Sim 3 cheap?
In my opinion, I have been pursuing this hobby for almost ten years now. However, in retrospect, the cost of Sim 3 has exceeded $4000, which would not be received well by my wife, Helen. I find this amount astronomical, and I never intended to spend this amount.
I ended up with a Boeing 737 Sim that is not yet perfect, but I am so happy with it. Some have pointed out that my measurements are 5mm off over 2400mm. Nevertheless, I plan to improve this flaw when I obtain my next job at Boeing and can build the sim in real life.
It is not solely the cost of the sim that has made it more expensive than Sim 1. In addition, the sim requires 23 Arduinos, each costing $6.99 (back in 2015, now they are around $20), which was purchased gradually as I needed them.
Regarding the question at hand, "Is Sim 3 affordable?" After reflecting on my five years of work on Sim 3 and witnessing it come to life, I can confidently say it is cheap! The sensation of stepping into the 737 cockpit is amazing. This option is much more cost-effective compared to other hobbyists who insist on using only OEM parts and require an actual 737 cockpit as the framework. To embark on their path, you would need to invest at least $40,000 to construct a functioning simulator - a hefty price tag.
Engaging in simulation aviation is a wonderful hobby for enthusiasts and pilots, as the graphics and software improve in realism and capability each year. While it depends on personal perspective and circumstance, it's worth noting that sims can offer a similar experience to the real thing at a fraction of the cost. My advice to anyone starting is, to begin with small steps and aim high.
Incorporating a 3D printer into your sim building toolkit is an excellent idea, as it allows you to create cockpit panels, parts, and customized components that cater to your specific requirements. Most beginners start by constructing their cockpits using a 3D printer and eventually progress to using top-notch parts as they gain more experience and their budget changes.
However, be warned that you may end up completely engrossed in aviation like me!