Cockpit Shell

Here I’ll talk about the cockpit base and shell for the simulator.

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

Cockpit Base

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. 

FDS Cockpit 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!