We’ve always been keen to give the community more insight into the development world and we’re pleased to say this is the start of us delivering on that. Dave Britzius is a brand new developer, but in a different way than most would expect. Dave created this incredible e-book to help people create their first Flight Simulator Cockpit Shell.
I’m going to leave the talking down to Dave below. If it’s something you’d be interested in, then you can buy it from SimMarket for 55.00 Euros.
It was a dark and dreary day when Dave Britzius threw up his hands in frustration. “There has to be a better way!” he bellowed.
The scene: A small room containing many computers and monitors.
The problem: Despite lots of hardware and monitors, it just didn’t feel like being in a real cockpit.
That was the day that Dave started building life-sized cockpit shells. Dave’s business was supplying and setting up simple desk-top flight simulator systems, so the first attempts were made for some of his long-suffering customers. One day, a customer ordered a fully built sim-pit, which was to be a turnkey system. A turnkey system is a simulator that is supplied to the customer fully built, configured and ready to go. The customer was generally happy, but after using the sim-pit for a while, wanted some changes. The cockpit had been built using all sorts of materials and was very difficult to change, but eventually the customer got what he wanted.
This was three years ago.
It was then that Dave decided to create a generic blueprint for a cockpit that resembled an aircraft on the outside, but was easily customizable on the inside. But how to make it small enough to fit into a normal household room, but still be life-sized? The solution was to choose a small compact well-known aircraft (a Cessna 172) and just build a part of it. Just enough to make it look realistic.
The end result was this:
Dave realized that if this e-book blueprint was to be used by others as a basis to create their cockpits, it had to be relatively easy to build and it had to have zero errors in the hundreds of parts that would need to be created. The most expensive single item (apart from the computer equipment) would be a pair of car seats in good condition obtained from a scrap-yard.
He chose wood as the easiest and cheapest material to work with and decided to create the book in a fail-safe but very inefficient way. All the hundreds of wooden parts making up the cockpit would be designed in a 3D CAD program and then a dimensioned cutting drawing for each and every part would be produced. Each drawing was then taken to the workshop and quickly made to prove that all required dimensions were present on the drawing. Once a few parts were cut they were assembled to prove that everything fitted and that there were no assembly issues; and then the whole process began again for the next batch of parts.
First the overall shape was created in a CAD (Computer Aided Drafting) program using a real aircraft as a model for measurements and photographs.
Then a structure had to be designed to provide a framework to attach a bunch of wooden skin “tiles” to. As a child, Dave had built many balsawood aircraft models and immediately considered using the same framework principles. The idea didn’t work because a balsawood model has many fuselage cross-pieces, but the are all solid for structural stability. This method couldn’t be used because the inside if the cockpit needed to house computers, monitors and two fully-grown adult pilots. A strong hollow frame would have to be made. But that shape was seldom anywhere near an even oval, it was often oblong and in places quite straight. After much trial and error, the best way to construct a curved fuselage former turned out to be a circular or oval shape constructed with lots of small straight wood pieces. Those pieces were joined together with what is known in woodworking circles as Dovetail Pins and Tails.
But could an inexperienced woodworker be expected to create accurate (angled) dovetail joints? Of course not! So, Dave hit on the idea of using simple loosely-fitting dovetail joints which would be screwed together for stability but accuracy would be ensured by the length of each piece and the fact that each wooden arch was closed upon itself.
Once the form of the fuselage were in place the “outer skin” would be attached with flat wooden tiles, which would be sanded unto curves at the end.
Then came the problem of the windscreen – how on earth could a normal simulator-pilot be expected to create a surface resembling the weird shape of a Cessna 172’s windshield? Dave entertained many ideas on many troubled nights, each time discarding an idea as being too difficult. Eventually the solution came to him… Again, a distant memory came to mind of playing with a model railway as a child. He remembered that he used to create mountain scenery and tunnels using chicken wire and papier-mache. That’s it!
So, the windscreen was made by first creating a rough approximation of the screen using fine chicken-wire attached to the fuselage frame with a staple-gun.
Next, the actual shape was built up by adding hundreds of papier-mache strips.
However, when the papier-mache dries it forms a shell, but that shell is still very flexible. Not good. A visit to the local builder’s merchant provided a solution. There is a product that builders use called “Skim-Coat” which is like a building plaster, but is applied with a paintbrush. When it dries, it is rock-hard. A final layer of fine crack-filler provides a smooth surface after sanding.
So, once the prototype fuselage was fairly complete, Dave unscrewed it all apart again (destroying the windscreen in the process). He then worked out a step-by-step procedure for any cockpit builder with very little woodworking abilities to follow to easily create their own Sim-pit. Once everything was assembled, the services of a belt-sander wer called in to smooth out the flat edges of the skin tiles. Finally a coat of paint was applied – the type that simulates a glossy hammered finish.
The inside is customized to fit all the flight controls that the user might want to put in.
What is impossible to show here or in an e-book or even in a video is the amazing feeling of realness that you get in such a fully enclosed cockpit. Even the doors can have monitors built into them for side/downward looking views. The immersion effect is heightened to an incredible extent. Now you actually feel that you are really flying.