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Your Personal Flight Simulator

Take some off the shelf parts, some miscellaneous materials, and a couple of dead laptops and make a flight simulator

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Some time ago, I led a team that put together a flight sim running X-Plane made from the fuselage of an airplane I had been building. That fuselage spent some time outdoors and the tubing corroded on the inside. So, I cut it up and turned it into a flight sim. I had help. A lot of help. My friends from Nova Labs in Herndon, VA to be exact. The simulator had a canopy that replaced the windows with monitors and at the Mini Maker Faire 2 years ago, it was a huge hit. This project recreates this effort with a few refinements so that anyone could put one together without requiring a team, or an airplane's fuselage.. What you see in these pictures is my rig that uses a SAITEK instrument panel and components. What I have done is build the computer, get FSX and XPlane 10 running on it but now I am building a full cockpit you can sit in, which you can, when done, set it up against the wall. Check out its predecessor in the gallery as well.

In this project, I am taking my very workable Saitek instrument panel and putting it into a frame you can sit in, with monitors in place of 'windows'. You can fly your mission and if desired make it completely enclosed for the full experience. I have built and flown the simulator already to confirm functionality, but it takes some doing to get the electronics working (PC, USB bugs, screens, software), but once that is done, you can focus your attention entirely on the simulator itself.

  • 1 × Suitable PC You will have to buy or build this PC. I built mine. I chose an Intel i7 based motherboard with multiple monitor outputs already on it.
  • 3 × Monitors I am using an old TV for now, but I also have been repurposing LCDs from dead laptops
  • 3 × USB Hubs You need these and they need to be powered. Unpowered ones will do nothing for you
  • 1 × Software. XPlane 10/11 or FSX (standalone or STEAM version) I fly both
  • 1 × Saitek Instrument cluster Buy these on Amazon, or just get a yoke and install monitor as your instrument panel. Yeah, add 1 to the number of monitors needed

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  • Created a Standalone Station for the Sim

    samern10/05/2017 at 13:54 0 comments

    I've created a standalone station for the sim just to see how the parts will lay out and what works for seating.  I find this is ok, but unless your chair is cranked up pretty high, the panel's top needs to be around shoulder height, otherwise you are constantly looking up at the screen.

    As I am rebuilding my GoKart Tank, I will likely recycle that chassis for the sim.

  • Let's go all metal

    samern04/25/2017 at 12:30 0 comments

    I thought some more about it and I figured I'd re-use some of my old server rack rails. After I virtualized most of my servers, and brought all the hardware home from the CoLo I ended up with a ton of very reliable physical servers and even more rack hardware, not the least of which is some 12 sets of sliding rails, which, if you ask me, are screaming to be used. I thought I could make my simulator rig 'foldable' which will please the family because it can be folded up and stood on its side out of the way. I would use 2 to 4 rails (1 to 2 pairs) of the lockable sliding rails. Here's a sketch, tell me what you think:


  • Rough Drawing of the Flight Sim Frame

    samern04/12/2017 at 12:58 0 comments

    Here's my thinking for the frame. The obvious bit in the middle is where the panel would go. I haven't depicted mounts for the side monitors here, but that's easily done with vertical risers on each side.

  • I have a 'Back of the Napkin' Simulator Frame Design

    samern04/12/2017 at 01:55 0 comments

    I've put together a platform, but I need to go visit Home Depot to see what they have in stock (I don't like waiting) and gather the parts I need based on my drawings. Stay tuned....

  • Getting the LCDs together

    samern04/12/2017 at 01:54 0 comments

    I have been recovering LCDs from old or dead laptops for some time. Here is one of them. I have built 4 of these so far of different sizes. I 3D Print these very light enclosures that I also support with acrylic sheet. 3 or 4 of these can be mounted on my simulator frame to make for a very lightweight display platform. I plan to use an enclosure that abuts each LCD to its neighbor to make it look like the view out of the windshield.

    Here is the front of the 'monitor':

  • The rig works and I flew all sorts of missions

    samern04/12/2017 at 01:48 0 comments

    I configured this beast with everything I had and kept tweaking it until I had a working system. And of course, it works and works well. But it's mounted to my desk....

    As you can see I have yolk, pedals, single engine throttle quadrant, a 6-pack, radio, transponder, annunciator, all the goodies. You can also see the computer at bottom left. Can you see how it has hijacked my desk? This thing is also running off my old TV using a DVI input. What you don't see are the 3 powered USB hubs behind the panel. Next step, get the monitors together....

  • I went flying, and it was not fun

    samern04/12/2017 at 01:44 0 comments

    One day, I took a plane up to practice some approaches. I knew I was rusty and I had an instructor on board. Even though I am an instructor myself, I knew I needed the practice to be proficient. That day was an especially bad day. I could not conduct any approach as well as I liked and while it is easy to chalk it up to rust, it really bothered me. I went home and promptly brought back to life a project I had been slowly working on...

    I had a few computers left over from other projects. I immediately proceeded to cannibalize them for parts and in the end assembled a monster with enough power to run both FSX and XPlane reliably.

  • It started out as an airplane

    samern04/12/2017 at 01:41 0 comments

    I started this project as a simulator based on the fuselage of my homebuilt airplane. After that was done, I showcased it the NoVA Mini Maker Faire and it was a hit. I then ran into a space issue and ended up dismantling it. I donated the computer I had built for it and also gave the fuselage to a friend of mine for his project. I did keep the idea alive though....

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