Cockpit Enclosure

Here I’ll talk about the cockpit enclosure which comprises the floor/base, the surrounding shell, and the interior appointments.

Cockpit Base:  Home Built
Cockpit Shell:  FlightDeck Solutions 737 Shell

Cockpit Base/Floor

The base was home-built, comprising of four sections, each 4 foot x 4 foot.  I kept things square to keep the build simple.  I thought about sizing the frame to the FlightDeck Solutions cockpit shell I was planning to put on it, but cutting angles would be time consuming and require more precision than I felt like dealing with.

Each section is made from a 2″ x 4″ box and a 1/2 ” pre-sanded plywood floor top (more expensive, but trust me, worth it!).   The frame pieces of each section were joined together by a Kregg pocket jig which makes joining wood corners quick and very strong.

One thing that is VERY important is finding straight wood.  Otherwise things will not align properly when it all comes together, so I found out.  I was already careful to select the best wood I could find at Home Depot, but even the best pieces often have a slight warp to them so be prepared for that and be very accurate when you join your pieces.

After I built the first section, I was able to learn from my mistakes and make the remaining sections much better.  So 3 of the 4 sections lined up almost perfectly.  The fourth, well, I can live with the minor variances.

I created blocks at the corners of each section bottom to support the 3″ locking castor wheels I put on so I could roll the sim around the garage without an issue.  On some sections I stuck the blocks out past the edges to create a lip for the other sections to rest on.  Thus, two sections had wheels all around, and the other two had wheels only on one side.  This created 9 wheels…one on each corner, one at the halfway point along each side, and one in the center.

Each wheel can hold up to 300 pounds so 2700 pounds of weight total.  More than enough.  Since this base isn’t going to be on a motion platform, I’m not worried about further strengthening.  Standing on the base, it is quite solid.

I joined the sections with screw plates.  One at each halfway point along the sides, and one in the floor center to keep all the pieces together.  That plate will be under the pedestal so not visible.  Along the sides, I screwed in “skirt” pieces of thin plywood to make the sides look cleaner and more finished.

What I’d do different

If I were to re-do the base in wood, I’d probably build it in two halves or just one piece versus in quarters.  I originally intended the base to be built in the garage and carried into a room in my house.  That didn’t pan out so quarters really wan’t necessary.  The advantage of a single or halved base is that it’s much stronger should it need to be lifted to transport (not that I’m planning on it any time soon).  I’d also put larger castor wheels to make it easier to roll around, even though it’s honestly not that bad now.  I might also build a thicker base to accommodate an below-floor yoke mechanism though that wasn’t my intent on this first go-around.

What’s next?

I am planning a version 2.0 base made out of square tube welded steel.  This base will be taller and have a structure designed to support real linked aircraft yokes with under-floor mechanisms.  I also plan to add control loading so there is force feedback on the controls and automatic movement of the yokes when auto-pilot is engaged, as in the real aircraft.

I have so far sourced a real 737 crossover tube to connect the two yokes under the floor along with stick shakers to indicate when the aircraft is entering a stall.  I am still working on sourcing the control columns and control wheels, at which point I can start building the new base and eventually transfer everything over to it.  Not a trivial operation.

Cockpit Shell

My cockpit shell is a kit purchased through Flightdeck Solutions in Canada.  It’s comprised of around 50 angular shaped flat pieces of aluminum that bolt together to form a “Darth Vader” style shell. 

While it doesn’t look exactly like a 737 nose section, it’s functional and that is the point.  Outward appearances only set up the proper placement of accurate interior pieces and really that’s all we really care about since we’re not flying the sim from the outside. 

Still, though, the shell is pretty cool and you have to admit having a cool looking shell does add a sense of wow factor to the sim.

The FDS shell is also pretty easy to assemble and disassemble with simple tools and is shipped in a large rectangular box on a single shipping pallet to keep shipping costs down.  There really is a lot of engineering that has gone into this shell.

Personally, I highly recommend this shell if you’re planning a true 737 build.  It makes a huge difference in the feeling of the simulator, and as my friend put it, it makes your project suddenly become “real”.  It’s not just a collection of parts, but now something you can sit in and become a part of.

Quick tip:  Make sure you get it powder coated from FDS.  Don’t make the mistake I did and purchase the bare aluminum version.  You may end up regretting it later, trust me!

Cockpit Enclosure Gallery

Pictures of my cockpit shell, interior liners, and home-made platform.

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    • Atle Bordal on July 13, 2021 at 1:08 pm
    • Reply

    I can’t see how you possibly can fit the 737 ceiling as it should be since it is arched in reality, not flat sides and left side is quite different from right side. I hope the height above floor of the rear end of the rear overhead panel and distance from MIP is Boeing specifications. The reason I speculate is I am considering buying one myself for a 737 max project.
    Your article is excellent and inspiring, thank you!

    1. Thanks for your kind words!

      Honestly I haven’t compared the real dimensions to my shell/interior. I trust FDS has spent the time to make sure it’s close and based on my little bit of experience in the real aircraft cockpit, it feels about right. Now, if I were to break out a ruler and measure every exact dimension against a real aircraft I’m sure I could find things that don’t match exactly one for one. I can live with that. The nice thing is it went together easily, it’s solid, and if I have to tear it down it’ll come apart easy and can be easily transported or sold. Something to be said about that.

      The interior is a very simple representation of the real thing and does curve where it’s supposed to. But not every exact curve, cutout and detail is modeled. The ceiling panels are basically flat sheet, bent to curve where it should, with some simple details but none of the complex moldings of the real overhead. Nor do the ceiling halves look different, as you mentioned. But how much time do you really spend looking at those things? Still, it would be nice to have them eventually, so I’m adding additional cockpit details in myself as time goes on (cup holders, map pockets, window handles, etc). That’ll have to do.

      Overall, I don’t regret my purchase. Do I wish there was more detail in the interior, yes. Has the lack of them reduced my enjoyment of my sim, hardly.

      Thanks again for your comments!

    • Atle Bordal on July 14, 2021 at 8:36 am
    • Reply

    And since it’s my own cockpit I am free to modify the aluminium sheet if I like. I agree with your viewpoints. I guess I won’t need to buy interior moldings from FDS either but build them myself. I’m that of a handyman 🙂

    • Minkyu Koo on September 27, 2021 at 9:55 pm
    • Reply

    How did you drill the yokes into the platform? Dimensions of the hole size?

    1. Hello, these are surface mount ACE yokes. No holes had to be drilled so I don’t have an answer for you, I’m afraid.

      I am in the process of sourcing real yokes, at which point I will have to figure out how to mount them underneath the base and size the holes accordingly. I’m sure I’ll post about that in a later article.

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