Overhead Overload!

Overhead Overload!

Back when I ordered my JetMax SKTQ cockpit, I included the JetMax-737OH1-STD Overhead Support Stand in preparation for a future overhead panel. However, I quickly learned that the process of selecting an overhead panel for my 737NG  simulator was not going to be a simple one.

The overhead market offers a vast range of different designs, configurations, complexities, features, and prices. From individual build-your-own frames, panels, and component kits, to completely finished products you simply plug-and-play. So, I wrote this article to hopefully give my readers some insight into my decision making process and share what I learned along the way.

I started out by setting guidelines based on my skills, my desires, my cockpit, and my budget.

My primary guidelines were:

  • Fully assembled and functionally ready-to-fly
  • Plug & Play configuration (no scripts or extra software)
  • Simple to troubleshoot and maintain
  • Built by a trusted manufacturer with great support
  • Supported by the ProSim737 Avionics Suite

My secondary guidelines were:

  • Affordable within my overall cockpit budget
  • Minimal assembly required

I considered VRInsightOpenCockpits, FlightDeck Solutions, CockpitSimParts, Poldragonet, and FlyEngravity, but I did not feel that they met all of my guidelines, leaving me with the JetMax, SimWorld, and CPFlight overhead panels.

Photos of the JetMax, SimWorld, and CPFlight plug-and-play Forward Overhead Panels.

I then looked into CPFlight and SimWorld online and via email and even flew up to Toronto to see the JetMax and FDS stuff in person. From this research, I then compiled the following feature list.

NOTE: Please understand that the following information is solely intended to document my own findings and in no way should be a declaration that any overhead panel product is any “better” than any other. Product offerings can and will change. It is always wise to weigh your budget, skill set, and current configuration, and then find a solution that suits your own needs. In short, do your homework!

FeaturesCPFlightSimWorld ProJetMax
Price in USD$7,310$7,000
$6,290 on sale
$4,199
Manufactured inItalyPolandCanada
Completely built, pre-wiredblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Single, preconfigured USB interfaceblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Solenoid Start Switchesblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
High quality switches and injection molded knobsblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Numeric electrical & pressurization displaysblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Metal frame & enclosure, powdercoatedblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Accurate color & sizeblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
Dimmable LED backlightingblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
CNC-milled light plates with accurate screw locationsblue-checkblue-checkblue-check
All Gauges Included and Operationalblue-checkblue-checkredx APU EGT and DUCT PRESS use LEDs
to show one or two static
readings. All other are dummies.
Beveled FLT ALT and LAND ALT windowsblue-checkblue-checkredx
Exterior lighting switches65*5*
Authentic Locking Switchesblue-checkblue-checkredx
Electromagnetic switches (Yaw Damper, WAI)blue-checkblue-checkredx
Push-to-turn Start Switchesblue-checkblue-checkredx
DZUS-type fastenersblue-checkblue-checkredx
AFT Overhead availableblue-checkblue-checkredx
Landing lights T-bar handlesblue-checkblue-checkredx
Lavatory SMOKE annunciatorblue-checkblue-checkredx
Voice recorder switchblue-checkblue-checkredx
Push-to-test Annunicatorsblue-checkredxredx
White caps on non-locking switchesredxblue-checkblue-check
STBY RUD ON annunciatorredxblue-checkblue-check
FMC switch on Navigation Panelredxblue-checkblue-check
* Strobe/Position lights combined into one three-way switch

As you can see, each overhead has its benefits and compromises. The next step for me was to dive deeper into each one and see how they could work for me.

JETMAX

The JetMax overhead panel is a high quality, affordable, and well-supported product, and the majority of cockpit builders would be extremely satisfied with it.  While it may not have as many features as the other two panels, the price is 40+% less expensive. For those looking for a good plug and play overhead on a limited budget, the JetMax is a very reasonable choice.

However, I knew at some point I was going to end up buying and installing all those missing features that are included in the SimWorld and CPFlight panels. And, since JetMax doesn’t offer an aft overhead panel, the aft panel would have to come from another manufacturer. These caveats let me further narrow the field down to two.

SIMWORLD

The SimWorld “Plug&Play Professional” overhead panel satisfied nearly all of my guidelines. And, it included the white caps on the non-locking switches, STBY RUN ON annunciator, and FMC switch missing from the CPFlight model. For their gauges, they use a proprietary CAN bus system for communications, use stepper motors for smoother gauge operation, and claim no one else has these two features. They also mentioned to me other unique SimWorld details such as realistic gauge bezels, accurate Engine Start switch travel, and a faux microphone grill on the CVR Panel. But, to be fair, I believe by “switch travel” they mean the Engine Start switches are push-in-to-turn like the ones CPFlight uses. And, you can also find a faux CVR microphone grill on the JetMax overhead.

I pay a lot of attention to genuine customer feedback before making purchases like this. But unfortunately, I was only able to find a single “review” of the SimWorld Plug&Play Professional overhead panel over at Dave Kubosch’s website. It is written in German, and Google won’t translate it, but he seemed extremely satisfied with his purchase. If you go check his page out, it is worth noting that Dave’s overhead is an older version and did not have SimWorld’s newer stepper motors for the gauges yet.

I wanted to see the inner workings of the SimWorld panel, so I emailed them asking for a picture of the back, and got this:

simworld_oh_back

Not exactly what I meant, but is still quite informational. You can see the USB, power, and AFT panel connections are mounted to the rear cover and there is a cooling fan grille at the bottom. I then asked for a picture of the guts behind the panel itself, and they said “no, it is confidential”. So, the best I could do was head back to Dave’s page as he had posted a partial photo of the SimWorld interior. Here is that picture alongside the CPFlight interior:

Plug&Play CPFlight and Simworld forward overhead panels behind the scenes.
Plug&Play CPFlight and Simworld forward overhead panels behind the scenes.

As you can see. the SimWorld panel is packed full with electronics, wiring, ribbon cables, support structures, stacked circuit boards (including at least one mounted inside the back cover), and more. While I am sure it runs fine, I couldn’t imagine having to troubleshoot or maintain so much complexity. This was ultimately the deciding factor for me. And what’s more, there was a build issue: that cooling fan grille on the rear cover that would have been blocked over by my JetMax overhead support stand.

CPFLIGHT

So, here we are. The CPFlight overhead panel finally won out in my little battle. With a nearly endless list of features (including the exclusive push-to-test annunicators that I love) and a heavy dose of simplicity, it met and exceeded all of my preset guidelines. It also didn’t hurt that I already owned other CPFlight products and had built a certain level of trust with them. Plus, it meant more things in my cockpit will match in design, colors, lighting, feel, and materials.

UPDATE: I have also posted my in-depth review of my CPFlight Forward Overhead Panel. It is chock full of pictures, information, experiences, and tips.

7 thoughts on “Overhead Overload!”

  1. Excellent analysis Todd!
    Why you did not consider Flight Deck Solutions B737NG PRO-M Series forward and aft overhead (not JetMax version)? I mean which of your criteria it did not pass.

    1. As I have the JetMax SKTQ already, the JetMax overhead was first to look at, followed up quickly by the FlightDeck Solutions Pro-M panel. However, it is a personal pet peave of mine to avoid products that say “email for price” or “add to cart to see special pricing” and the like. If the Pro-M has many options and build configurations, then they should say so and list their prices like others do. I feel companies should be upfront about it and don’t make me “chase” them to buy something.

      1. I consider weight a big issue here too. I have the CPFlight Fwd and Aft and was amazed when it arrived by just how little it weighed. I am not sure about the others but I think they would be heavier.

  2. Hi Todd!
    I love following your progress on your rig from my home here in Las Vegas! I have quite a lot invested in FSX and PMDG, as well as all the ORBX LC and AS addons…I was wondering if you get a chance could you give some details regarding how you manage your virtual memory? I keep playing around with texture resolutions, enable/disable scenery, etc to keep it working but I’d be interested on your perspective…

    1. Hello Jon! To be honest, its really dependent on the PC build and add-ons. Its part art, part science, and part luck. Heavy sceneries and complex aircraft eat up VAS, so I just do the same flight over and over (which by the way is from KPHX to KLAS!) and tweak settings with LOD, density, enabled sceneries, and visual quality until I am happy. And then, with any new add-on or scenery and I do it over again. It’s time consuming and never perfect, but it is the best we can do with these 32-bit flight sim programs.

  3. Hi Todd!
    Thanks for the quick response! I did go nuts and put together a pretty nice system a few months ago- Core i7 5930, 32GB DDR4 RAM, GTX980ti, 1GB SSD, and a 144MHz 27″ monitor. I also played around with P3D v2 and I have XPlane but haven’t got into that yet. I have so much addons for FSX I hate to think of having to do it all over again. I probably had most of the ORBX addons with the exception of a few airports- All of the LC stuff, Vector, REX, just got AS16, and of course flying the PMDG or any of the nice acft into ORBX SoCAL ends in OOM…So I am testing Sceneryconfieditor and turning off some of the big airports I have and see if that reduces the overhead. There ‘s also an Aerosoft item I bought that does the same thing and saves profiles depending on what and how you want to fly but that caused some major issues as well. I was flying out here in 2007 quite a bit for my PPL and never took my practical- I took the written and kind of stopped…Need to get back to that again. Thats cool that you fly the PHX-LAS route a lot. I think you mentioned you live in southern Arizona somewhere..My wife and I love Scottsdale and Sedona! We’ve been in LV for about 16 years now ourselves.

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