The Fuselage spent most of 2011 in my backyard. In early spring I made the final decision on where to cut the back half off and also mounted some doors and did some repairs that where needed as a result of the accident that put the aircraft out of commission. After it was cut down I put it under a small tent for several months while I did as much of the sheet metal work as I could think of. The idea was to do as little dirty work in the basement as possible. Later experienced showed this to be a valiant but futile effort... I did however get a great deal done during that time to include installing the rudder pedals and yokes, cutting and installing a rear bulkhead and hours upon hours of research and planning. I also started to accumulate eBay finds on many of the parts I would eventually need.
If I were to give 2015 a title it would be "The Year of the 3D Printer" In February I purchased my first 3D printer and after some initial experimentation it went into full production mode, I started designing bezel rings for LCD and rear projected instruments, face plates for the radios in the avionics stack, A gimbal mount for a pico projector to create the rear projected instruments for the main instrument panel, air ducts and butterfly valves for the cabin heat and air, and mounting brackets for a variety of different components.
The permanent Avionics stack was installed and the Pilot and Copilots Instrument panels were completed. I added a full set of speakers and a sub woofer. I also installed an actual headset intercom system and integrated it with the sound card of the PC that I setup to interface with VATSIM for online ATC. As compared to the year prior, when I went to FlightSimCon 2015 I could honestly say I had a fully functional cockpit build.
In 1988 I purchased an IBM PC Clone running an 8086 processor with a 4 Meg clock and 640k or RAM. It had a 38Meg Hard Disk Drive, a 3.5" and 5.25" Floppy Drives. Again, the big driver behind the purchase decision was Microsoft's Flight Simulator software now up to version 3. After seeing it running on another family members PC I was hooked and had to have a PC that would run it.
Since then I've upgraded as each release of MS Flight Sim came out and my PCs progressed through to the 386, 486, Pentium and eventually Core series processors. And with that most of the Windows OS's as well. I also ventured into MS Combat Flight Sim and a few other variants but nothing caught my attention as much as the original Flight Sim did.
Shortly before Winter the fuselage was moved into the garage where I built an undercarriage for it to make it easier to move around until a permanent location could be established. If I failed at anything related to this project it was space planning! The fuselage spent the next two years in the garage while I worked on it. Complaints about getting through the garage were a frequent occurrence during that time.
I was also in hot water for continuing to dominate the family PC and
computer desk where I did a great deal of the software and hardware
prototyping for the sim and built many of the early wire harnesses that
went into the Instrument panel. At one point I had a plywood mock up
of the instrument panel on the kitchen table for several weeks while I
laid out about 250 feet of wire for the switch harness that connected the
lower instrument panel. The fuselage spent the next two years in the garage. I loaded a copy of MS FSX on my laptop and would frequently take it into the garage to test the various assemblies as I built them. Before those two years were up I had the yokes, rudder pedals, the throttle quadrant and, all the lower instrument panel switches in and working. I also purchased and installed a new windshield. That windshield has so far been one of only two new purchases for the sim, the other being a new headliner for the interior. All the other Cessna parts I've used have been used parts found on eBay or at aircraft salvage yards across the US.
2016 saw some of the most visible changes to the sim. The Fuselage got a new paint job. My wife taught herself how to sew and took on reupholstering the interior. I expanded the undercarriage to mount more equipment under the engine cowl and moved the three PCs into a rack cabinet. I also started the slow migration over to hardware based gauges in the Pilots side, added Mode C and Ident integration to my transponder for VATSIM, upgraded the Wet Compass and, finally got the airspeed sensitive ventilation working. While 2015's FlightSimCon saw full functionality sim, the 2016 FlightSimCon saw a much more finished build.
As the year winds down I am working on Force Feedback for the flight controls and other significant upgrades. I am also designing a replacement undercarriage to make moving the sim much easier, looking into ambient lighting solutions for the interior and, butt kickers options to improve tactile feedback. It looks like there will be a great deal of work queued up for 2017...
In 2014 I was asked if I would put the sim on display at FlightSimCon Hartford CT. Even though it wasn't much more than a crude sheet metal box with a handful of switches and axis connected I agreed. Having brought it back each year for the past three and with plans to do so again in 2017 it has been interesting to see peoples reaction to the progress made each year. And, it has been something of a motivator for me to make sure I have new things to show people each year. After bringing it back home in 2014 I decided with the help of my wife that it was time to end the garage chaos and build out a permanent home for the sim.
To create a dedicated space for the sim we did some room shuffling and cleared a space. We gutted and renovated the room adding all the features we'd need to accommodate the sim to include making one wall removable to allow for bringing the sim in and out as needed. We added data jacks and outlets. We relocated some plumbing and put in new lighting. The we blacked out the walls floor and ceiling. We also added doors and a new data rack for the home and sim room network.
The full renovations of the room weren't actually done until early 2015 but in the interim I kept working on extensive upgrades and additions to the sim. Among these were a temporary avionics stack, my first attempt at a wet compass, repairing and reinstalling the original interior panels, and starting on the design for the instrument panel. We added an overhead projector and screen for the forward view as well. The current projector will not be the permanent solution but will hold us over until we save up the funds for the permanent solution.
In February of 2011 after a great deal of research on how to enhance my desktop sim I realized that I could not continue to take over the family PC. My kids were using the yoke as a book stand in order to do their homework and having to use a clip board to hold school papers because I had mounted a control panel across the desk. It was at that point that I tripped on a 172 fuselage for sale on eBay that was actually within my budget. I promised my wife that if I purchased it she and the kids would get the family PC back and that is how this project began. The picture on the left shows the fuselage on the trailer after we picked it up about 2 hours south of home. I managed to score some additional parts for it from the same seller at some real good prices to include the yokes, rudder pedals and one seat. The balance of the Cessna parts came from several years of very patient eBay hunting.
By 2010 I had exhausted just about everything I could imagine to do with my now full blown desktop sim. I had flown almost every mission that interested me. Taken all the stock Flight Lessons and flown in and out of all the challenging airfields I could find. My appetite for aviation was not dwindling but my sims was failing to feed it.
That's when I discovered online aviation. Not the informal groups where everybody did their own thing. What I found was structured FAA grade ATC and a level of realism that I never knew existed for home flight simulation. I became a member of what was then Boston Virtual ATC (BVA). I have been flying with them since then and in 2015 they merged with VATSIM becoming Boston Virtual ARTCC. I would encourage anyone who hasn't already done so to find an online ATC community like Boston Virtual ARTCC or any of the other VATSIM groups and become a member. The added realism is hard to beat.
In 1982 I purchased my first personal computer. I chose the Commodore 64 because, as hard as this is to relate to now, it had the most advanced graphics capability of any computer on the market. The other factor that lead me to select the C64 was that Sub Logic's Flight Simulator version 2 was available for the C64. That C64 saw me through my last three years in the military and, a 4 year degree in Electrical Engineering. It would eventually get put into storage when I replaced it with a 8086 PC clone. But, it came back out of storage back in 2014 so I could demo my original Simulator side by side with my current cockpit build at FlightSimCon 2014 in Hartford CT USA.