Category Archives: SIMMING

Fellow Sim Pilot: Gordon

I just returned from a vacation up to Washington state. While I was there, I had a unique opportunity to visit a fellow Sim Pilot, Gordon.

Gordon also owns a Boeing 737 home cockpit, found me via the website and even based his build on much of the information he found here. It is flattering that I am able to help others in this way! He is a licensed private pilot, retired a few years ago, and lives on 5 acres out in the beautiful rural countryside. I truly love the scenic Pacific Northwest and views like this explain why I go up there so much.

A view of the Washington countryside.
A view of the Washington countryside.

Gordon has been an avid HAM radio operator for decades and it is quite obvious he takes it very seriously by the look of his setup. I was blown away by the wall of transceivers, computers, monitors, and specialized equipment he uses to communicate with people around the world.

He has dedicated a portion of it to real aviation such as multiple ATC and airline company radio scanners along with visual flight monitoring from FlightAware and FlightRadar24. He even has his own ADS-B monitoring station to track airborne aircraft transponders within about 80 miles of his home. It is a fantastic work of love!

Gordon's home communication headquarters.
Gordon’s home communication headquarters.

Sharing the same room opposite the radio wall, is his cockpit. Built on a similar platform to mine, he has the JetMax SKTQ with the new JetMax MX Series MCP/EFIS, JetMax Forward Overhead, and a real 737 avionics pedestal holding the JetMax MultiComm radio and JetMax transponder.

Gordon's JetMax 737 setup.
Gordon’s JetMax 737 setup.

His yoke and pedals are from Precision Flight Controls (PFC) while the chair is a real 737 first officer’s seat. The beamer is an Optima projector and he uses a monitor on the side for things such as the Sim-Avionics (Sim-A) avionics suite interface, Navigraph Charts, and more. Running it all is two dedicated PCs, one for P3D v3 and flight control inputs, and the other for the avionics, displays, etc.

Another shot of Gordon's home 737 cockpit setup.
Another shot of Gordon’s home 737 cockpit setup.

Gordon was curious about my thoughts on his sim’s operation, so I sat down and we set up a short flight from KSEA (Seattle) to Portland (KPDX). However, we couldn’t get any bleed air pressure from the APU to get the engines started. He was having to start the engines using the Ctrl+E keyboard shortcut, which ruins the fun.

Turns out, there is a “Force Systems On” option in Sim-A that had mistakenly been enabled by a recent software upgrade. This is only supposed to be enabled if you do not have a hardware overhead panel. After disabling the option, the engines and JetMax overhead operated normally.

Right off the bat, I really enjoyed the PFC Yoke. It feels very smooth with great switches and static feedback resistance, although the center pivot point is in the wrong place. The PFC pedals have very good toe brakes, but the rudder travel is somewhat limited. This would take some getting used to as it was quite easy for me to over-correct (you would have enjoyed watching my landing when I rolled it over trying to side-slip down to the runway).

Interestingly, Gordon’s JetMax SKTQ was a little different than mine; he was missing the Yaw Damper gauge. Apparently, JetMax decided to stop including it as Boeing also stopped putting it in newer 737s. This also slightly changed the layout of the AFDS and nearby switches/annunciators.

I did feel that his JetMax thrust levers had little resistance to movement. You could flick them and they would easily move a couple inches. In comparison, my own JetMax thrust levers are quite firm and do not move without meaningful effort, as in the real plane. This may just be a loosened fastener within the throttle quadrant and may be readily fixed.

In the short time I spent with it, I did notice a few subtle differences between the ProSim737 and Sim-Avionics avionics suites. Sim-Avionics puts tiny clocks at the bottom of the PFD and displays the airspeed tape indicators in a different way. The airspeed also jumps around quite a bit, especially on takeoff. Sim-A does support a fully coupled passive-operational autoland, but the LAND 3 indication was removed since it is reportedly no longer displayed on the real airplane.

I also saw that the ISFD in Sim-A looks a little different, along with the lower DEU display readouts for trim settings. Lastly, I saw that there were no indicators for N1 “thrust lever position” (which is handy for those of us without motorized throttles), but this is a user-configurable option in ProSim737 and may also exist in Sim-A somewhere. None of these are terribly bad things, just things I noticed while using Sim-A.

I then described my ProSim737 Instructor Station and what it can do and asked if he had the same feature in Sim-A. He was not aware of it, however, there is a Dispatch function within Sim-A that allows you to prepare the aircraft before a flight.

Overall, Gordon’s home cockpit is excellent and pretty much all you need to get the most of the 737 flight sim experience. It felt good in the air and was easy to feel right at home. However, with all the issues he has had with Sim-A and their support, I suggested he try the 30-day free trial of ProSim737 and see if it works better for his needs. Unfortunately, both suites are very expensive and I would hate to think he has lost his investment in Sim-A.

Gordon at the controls of his 737 sim.
Gordon at the controls of his 737 sim.

In the end, I want to extend a gracious thank you to Gordon for letting us into his home and even feeding us! It was an honor to have one of my visitors reach out and extend such an offer. If all flight simulation enthusiasts are this friendly, we really do have a great community and I am proud to be part of it!

Disclaimer: The content written here is purely my own observations and opinions and in no way is a representation of Gordon or his own views.

A Visit to Toronto – Flight Deck Solutions

When I decided to use Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) for some core components of my home simulator, I chose to take some time to visit them in person to see the operation and what I would get for the money. I took a few days in late September 2014 and flew up to Toronto, Canada to check it out.

NOTE: I apologize for the minimal photos here, but it should be known that FDS does notjust build for enthusiasts and the wealthy. They also have many government/commercial contracts that they provide flight simulation products for. Therefore, I was understandably prohibited from taking pictures beyond the lobby. You can find those lobby images at the end of this post.

FDS is located in Newmarket, Ontario just north of Toronto. Quick tip: Toronto traffic is bad 24 hours a day, but the views on the drive north to FDS were spectacular.

Prior to my visit, I had exchanged a few emails with the owner of FDS, Peter Cos, and set up an appointment. They are an extremely busy bunch, but they carved out an afternoon where I could poke around and meet Peter and his brother, Steve.

When I arrived at FDS, I was greeted by Steve and Peter both. To me, if Peter is the brains of FDS, Steve is the heart. Peter runs the business side, and Steve is who you talk to for support. After some quick introductions and backgrounds, I joined them on a tour of the business. For one thing, it is astounding how much production they pack into such a relatively small space. It appeared that there were people working in every nook and cranny, yet each space is cleanly laid out for the specific purpose required such as construction/deconstruction, painting, finishing, wiring, programming, testing, shipping, and more.

I was immediately drawn to the nearly complete Airbus cockpit on my left. All the systems appeared to be ready, with only minor details left to perform. Beyond that was a JetMax 737 up and running and nearly ready to ship. Further down was the entire nose of a real full-size 737. FDS recently acquired it and will gut it, clean it, and prep it for some lucky customer.

On the right was a team of guys working on, among other things, Throttle Quadrants. This included a real TQ from a 737 that was being refurbished and wired for flight simulation purposes. It still surprises me how much of a real TQ is hidden under the cockpit floor.

Up the stairs we went to see another Airbus MIP being wired and tested, and some new MCP/EFIS products. Behind that was a crew working on wiring overhead panels and other bits. It was difficult to keep my hands to myself. Seeing it all being created in front of your eyes is a special reward. And just like that, we were done.

So much to take in, but I loved what I saw. They let me sit and fly around a bit in their Jetmax 737 setup in the lobby. Steve then did some testing of a Jetmax 737 overhead panel on the floor, with a little help from me. It was nice to feel the switches and see the starter cutout solenoids in action.

I got excited enough that I felt I needed to take something home with me right then. I asked if they had any 737 CDUs laying around I could purchase. They found one and I was ready to pull out my wallet when something very important happened.

Peter asked me, “Why?” I stumbled for a second. I had never had a company ask me if I should buy something from them.

Peter, Steve, and I then proceeded to have a lengthy discussion about home flight sims, purpose, and realistic expectations. Not even a year ago, I was happily flying around in FSX with just an old joystick, and now here I was hell bent on building the entire cockpit. We talked about true cost, as in the $100,000 range for a fully enclosed dual-seater. We talked about the need and limitations of building a single aircraft you will be stuck flying forever. And, how long the flight simulation euphoria lasts for most people. It was shocking for sure, but also enlightening and welcome.

I told them of my current Student Pilot training in the real world and they recommended I forget a simulator and finish my Private license. I respect that about them. And I put my wallet away.

I left the CDU behind, but left with a new understanding of what I want out of my own flight simulation experience. I went back to flight school, and the simulator is taking a back seat. Not forgotten, just a bit less encompassing of my time and money for a while. Now that I’m flying a real plane, I know what limits the simulator will have and where my priorities will lie in the future of this build.

I want to really thank Peter and Steve for their honesty and generosity during my visit to FDS. They showed me the pros and cons of building a home cockpit, including what makes FDS different from other companies. For example, when I saw their MCP/EFIS on the Jetmax, I realized that either theirs were bigger or my CPFlight was smaller. Turns out the CPFlight devices are smaller. FDS has it right all along.

If you want the closest thing to real, you cant beat FDS. They work closely with the aircraft manufacturers and are constantly striving to put out the best products they can. In return, they are not inexpensive. You do get what you pay for.

The full Jetmax 737 SKTQ with IPECO seat and ACES Yoke.
The full Jetmax 737 SKTQ with IPECO seat and ACES Yoke, NAV-COMM, and transponder.

 

Another closer view of the Jetmax-737SKTQ.
Another closer view of the Jetmax-737SKTQ.

 

The Jetmax-737OH1 overhead panel set up for testing.
The Jetmax-737OH1 overhead panel set up for testing.

 

New for FDS, the Jetmax-777SKTQ.
New for FDS, the Jetmax-777SKTQ.

 

Visit Flight Deck Solutions online at http://www.flightdecksolutions.com

Visit Jetmax online at http://www.jetmax.ca

UPDATE – APRIL 2015: I stopped attending flight school after I sat down to do the math. It was going to cost me about $15,000 to get my Private Pilot License, then cost me around $140/hour to rent a C172 G1000 plane after that. A simple weekend trip to Las Vegas and back would cost me almost $2000 in rental, fuel, and parking fees. And that was before hotel, food, and entertainment! I did enjoy it, and was very good at it, but I needed to be realistic.

I have now turned my focus back on the cockpit simulator and ordered the JetMax SKTQ, CPFlight Complete Pedestal and Forward Overhead Panel, and more. In my own 737-800 simulator, I can fly faster, higher, and farther and do it anywhere in the world with no rental costs, FAA rules to break, or nagging passengers! And it has resale value if I ever change my mind down the road.

A Visit to Toronto – uFly Simulator

When I decided to use Flight Deck Solutions (FDS) for some core components of my home simulator, I chose to take some time to visit them in person to see the operation and what I would get for the money. I took a few days in late September 2014 and flew up to Toronto, Canada to check it out.

Peter Cos, owner of FDS, recommended I also make a pit stop at uFly Simulator to see their 777 full cockpit sim that was built by FDS. This post is about my uFly experience.

uFly Simulations is located very close to the Pearson Toronto International Airport. If you ever saw the 777 cockpit used by CNN during the MH370 tragedy, you were watching the uFly simulator in action.

Prior to my visit, I had exchanged a few emails with the owner of uFly, Claudio Teixeira, and set up an appointment. Since I did not want to interrupt their daily business too greatly, I mentioned that I did not need to fly the simulator. I just wanted to examine it for the details, quality, and durability of an FDS product from a customer standpoint.

The uFly lobby with plenty of eye candy and comfortable seating.
The uFly lobby with plenty of eye candy and comfortable seating.

When I arrived, Claudio was unfortunately not available. However, I was quickly greeted by a lobby member, Ana, who already knew I would be coming. Ana was extremely friendly and informed me that a 777 pilot was currently in the simulator and running a bit long. I didn’t mind waiting at all, and we had a great conversation about flight simulation, uFly’s history, and their desire to acquire additional simulators such as another Boeing and an Airbus.

When the simulator was freed up, I was introduced to Luigi. He is one of the uFly instructors who explains the simulator and acts as FO if desired. We stepped through the door into the back area. I was greeted by an amazing custom raised platform with a bit of fuselage tacked on behind the cockpit. This extra piece was not FDS work, but was beautiful in design, even including a curved swinging entry door.

The outside of the uFly 777 cockpit with custom fuselage, door, and instructor/viewing station.
The outside of the uFly 777 cockpit with custom fuselage, door, and instructor/viewing station.

I explained to Luigi my intentions of getting an impression of the simulator build and setup, so I asked to look behind it first. He gladly walked me around the nose of the cockpit and showed me the massive twin PC towers, and a crazy amount of cabling, USB hubs, and more.

The dual PC towers that power the uFly 777 cockpit simulator.
The dual PC towers that power the uFly 777 cockpit simulator.

 

Some of the wiring behind the uFly 777 FDS MIP. Clean yet abundant.
Some of the wiring behind the uFly 777 FDS MIP. Clean yet abundant.

uFly utilizes a triple projector setup to display over 200 degrees field of view on a large curved screen. I did notice they block off a bit of the lower rear cockpit windows as the images projected beyond are not visible due to the cockpit shell.  uFly built their own projector mounting/cooling system and used some cardboard to block extra light from bleeding through the overhead panels.

Custom uFly projector mount and overhead "light shield"
Custom uFly projector mount and overhead “light shield”

Once inside the cockpit itself, the view out the windows is fantastic! The bleed/overlap between projectors is minimal and the wide field of vision really makes a difference. If you lean forward, you can see the top and bottoms of the screens, but from the Captain’s seat, the view fills every window.

Sitting in the seat and looking around a full-size cockpit was such a thrill for me. Even though my intention is to build a 737NG, the impressiveness of being surrounded on all sides by a 777 flight deck cannot be understated. It was such a magical treat.

As to not waste their valuable time, I kept Luigi busy with an endless list of questions, such as where do the weak and wear spots develop, time frames to get new parts and replacements, and overall operation. uFly has experienced some loose knobs/rotaries, broken switches/levers, and some failed LEDs. Some have been resolved by FDS, some have not, as of this writing.  I know that the uFly simulator gets its share of abuse from overzealous customers and it must be said this is not a multi-million dollar aircraft. It is still an elaborate, yet expensive, cockpit simulator. It will get a fair amount of expected failures.

As for the FDS quality and construction I experienced, it appeared top notch. From the subtle green 777 backlighting to the shape and feel of the controls, buttons, and panels, everything just feels right. I enjoyed understanding the relationship of the yoke to the MIP and the clarity of the ND/PFD displays (I have always wondered how easy they would be to read from the seat). uFly uses Buttkickers under the seats and a full surround sound system to add to the immersion. Overall, I was more than impressed with the cockpit and how uFly built it in, including the rear instructor/viewing area.

The uFly 777 interior with cockpit lighting only.
The uFly 777 interior with cockpit lighting only.

I do want to say that Luigi was incredibly knowledgeable about the 777 cockpit and its operation. He even setup a simple takeoff and approach into Toronto and let me fly the aircraft manually for a bit. As I pilot the 737 mostly, I called out what I needed, and Luigi dutifully took care of FO actions such as flaps, gear, and overhead work. Thank you for that. I landed the plane alright, if a little short of threshold, as the 777 cockpit sits a lot higher than my 737 I am used to and I touched down early. Sight picture matters!

My happy mug after flying the uFly 777 simulator a bit.
My happy mug after flying the uFly 777 simulator a bit.

I do want to extend a huge compliment to uFly and their staff for the warm welcome and use of their time. The visit didn’t cost me anything and they went above and beyond what I ever expected. If any of you get a chance to try their simulator, you should.

Visit uFly Simulator online at http://www.uflysimulator.ca