Build Gaming Flight Simulator Using Acrylic

30 Aug


Building The Pit

I’ve had so many emails from people about building cockpits and how I did X,Y or Z in my own cockpit that I’ve finally gotten around to putting together some better pictures. I hope they’re of some use to you and if you still have any questions – please feel free to email me at

1. This shot shows the 3/4″ plywood base and the runners to which the 1/2″ plywood ribs are attached. The nose section and the two side ‘walls’ are seperate sections which can be removed for ease of transportation. Having determined the overall sizes, the shape of the ribs was drawn freehand, then cleaned up a little using a form of french curve.

2. This shot shows the top runner to which the ribs of the main cockpit area are attached and also how the ribs for the main cockpit also provide support for the side ‘shelf’ areas. The ribs are set into simple splots in the runners and attached with wood glue and a few brads. While it looks fairly flimsy, you could stand on the upper runners with no flexing at all.

3. Additional 1″x1″ stringers were added between the ribs to provide additional strength and more importantly – additional glue area for the hardboard skin.

4. This shot shows the removable section behind the pilots head – this just drops onto two pins located in the upper runners. Also seen here is the first 4mm hardboard skin section applied. This is a simple curve so nothing more than glue and clamps was required to attach the skin. Tip: Leave the hardboard draped over something overnight and it will form a natural curve making fitting so very much easier!

5. A peek inside the cockpit shows the simple pedestal on which the instrument display will sit, the gaps through to the rudder pedals, how the ribs help form the side ‘shelves’ into which the Saitek joystick and throttle are recessed and the sloping left hand switch panel. The shelf on which the joystick would normally sit can be seen – note the slight angle so that the stick leans toward the pilot.

6. This shot shows how the canopy frame (3/4″ Plywood) sits on top of the upper runner. This shot also shows the relationship between the runners, ribs and stringers. Note the two silver pins on top of the upper runners right at the rear of the shell. These pins attach the sides to the centre assembly.

7. This shot shows how the sides are removed from the centre assembly. The lower runner of the side simply drops onto the two pins which can be seen poking up through the base. Two upper pins are then used front and rear to lock the sides to the centre assembly – making a ‘flat pack’ pit isn’t too hard! Also note the cable channel cut out of the lower portion of the ribs. This makes cabling the switches/joysticks etc very very easy. The seat came from a car rally parts supplier.

8. with the skin applied, a door was added the the front of the nose, an access hatch in the side of the nose and a platform on which the main display would sit. You can also see the cooling fan outlets above the nosecone side access hatch – with two PC’s and the instrument display living in the nose section – two fans either side were fitted to provide some cooling. Also note that you can now see the 2″x4″ stiffeners applied under the 3/4″ plywood base (covered in black/yellow hazard tape).

9. This view is from the back (pilots side) of the nose section and shows the shelf on which the network hub and video splitter will live, plus a power distributor (upper right) and power supply for the fans, cockpit LED’s etc. On the left can be seen a grey box in which the excellent hagstrom keyboard controller is installed. There is plenty of space left for the two PC’s which will be used to drive the simulator and the instruments display.

10. A better shot of a side panel showing how the ribs and side ‘shelves’ fit together, how the Saitek joystick is mounted, the rear speaker mounting and the cabling channel. The areas still showing in primer are covered by other parts of the cockpit and won’t be seen. The pin seen sticking up from the top runner is used to mount the canopy assembly.

11. A shot of the centre section with the sides and nose removed. This clearly shows the instrument pedestal which is attached to the base. The white flange seen to the upper right of the pedestal, and the pins seen sticking up from the sides of the base are used to locate the side panels.

12. The whole deal showing the centre section and both side panels seperated. The top of the nose can just be seen at the bottom of the picture. The cockpit is in five main sections. Centre (base), two side panels, nose and upper rear section (seen at back left of picture on its side).

13. Life inside the nose section started to get a little ‘busy’ as all the wiring came together.

14. I decided to make getting in and out a little easier, and cut this door into the side. The door section now drops in on two pins when needed.

15. When you’re cockpit building, you don’t have time to be tidy! This also shows quite clearly how little room I had to work. If I can do it, so can you!

16. With carpet and vinyl applied, even dusty it begins to look cosy.

17. Wiring begins – it may look a little daunting to a newcomer but it really is very easy. Tip: use screened cable for all switches, monitors are known to introduce a lot of electrical noise into circuits.

18. The canopy – A nightmare! The main frame is made from 3/4″ plywood and rakes forward/backward 5′ front and back. Clear acrylic is easy to work with provided you cut it slowly and drill it with brad-pointed drill-bits. The canopy is simply hinged on the rop runner of one side panel.

19. The front canopy – A bigger nightmare! This has a 3/4″ plywood base and the hoop is also 3/4″ cabinet grade plywood raked forward 5′ to match the main canopy. It took some figuring out how to cut the angles on these pieces but it was worth the effort. The front canopy just drops onto two pins and is held in place with two wing-nuts.

20. The cockpit at work. From left to right you can see the data capture/management PC, the slaved keyboard, mouse and monitor for the simulator, the main ‘view’ display on top of the nose and finally the instrument display inside the cockpit. The slave station was achieved using a video splitter for the monitor and a USB keyboard and mouse. You can also see the platform on top of the rear section on which a video projector can be installed in place of the nose-monitor. We’ve tried this and its simply marvellous! The canopy has a removable (velcro) black cover and the feeling of immersion is much greater with the projector.

21. A final shot inside the cockpit showing all the pretty lights, the instrument display (X-Panel) and you can just see the home-made rudder bars.
Other notes:

  1. The simulator PC has a dual-output sound card. The seat base contains two bass speakers so you can ‘feel’ the rumbles and other low frequency sounds, and one channel is also taken to the two mid-range speakers mounted either side of the seat.
  2. This cockpit had to be very generic and easy to use. I don’t think I’d ever build a replica cockpit simply because its too restricting though I know for sure it would be a lot more challenging – and fun.
  3. Mistakes… I learned a lot as I built this but overall it turned out pretty much as I wanted it to. I didn’t work from drawings, it just ‘happened’.
  4. My advice? Go Build One – NOW!

Handy links are the home for all cockpit builders and for x-plane related info plus other pictures and information about my own cockpit.

All pictures I have of the pit build are in one 14Mb zip file. If you really want them, you can get them by clicking here.

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Posted by on August 30, 2007 in Acrylic, DIY, Fabrication, Recreation


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