Steve Becker Boeing 777
IFSBI: Would you care to first give us a brief introduction about Steve Becker?
Steve: I'm 45 years old, and have a wife and 3 boys; two of my sons are in college and one is finishing his last year in high school. I live in Southern California, USA. My daytime job is running Technical and Customer Training for a large US-based medical device company. My three passions, flying, computers and training, seem to come together nicely in the hobby (or obsession) of flight simulation.
I started in Flight Simulation with SubLogic Flight Simulator on an Apple IIe, and have been hooked ever since. I remember how cool a few blue dots were, and how "realistic" it felt to taxi around Meigs Field at night. Since those early days, I've purchased every edition of Microsoft Flight Simulator since FS4, plus I occasionally fire up my copy of Fly II and the PMDG 777. I purchased X-Plane 8 and use it intermittently as well.
As for real flying, I do have a few hours in my logbook, and went as far as finishing ground school, but constraints on money and time proved the possibility of getting my PPL unlikely. So I concentrated on the next best thing, the simulation of flying.
IFSBI: Where is your sim located, town, country, wife's spare bedroom?
Steve: As I said, I live in Southern California, in the city of San Diego. My 777 sim is in my garage. Since I have a 3-car garage, I dedicated one of the bays to the sim and my workshop.
IFSBI: What made you choose this airframe?
Steve: I absolutely love the Boeing 777 and it seems like I have just about every document, video, and picture ever produced on the 777. I got the chance to visit the Boeing 777 factory in Everett, Washington in 1999 and saw the 777 in production. What a sight to see! I also was able to visit the United Airlines Modification Center in Oakland, CA (KOAK) and spend time with a 777 up close and personal in for its first major overhaul.
The 777 first drew me in because it is an all-glass flight deck, and the LCD displays are simply gorgeous. There were so many firsts on this aircraft, I feel it is simply the best airplane Boeing has ever produced. Only my opinion, of course.
IFSBI: When did you first start your project?
Steve: Some years back, I lived near James Price who in my opinion is the "grand master" of all sim builders, with his 737 sim in his spare bedroom made from real Boeing 737 parts! Later as he acquired a real 737 flight deck, I got to help him restore some old parts and that just made the urge to build that much stronger. James also gave me a real 777 MCP panel and that put the idea in my head that maybe I could build a 777. He truly is an inspiration to an entire industry.
I planned and planned for months, and debated whether I should even undertake such a project given the incredible amounts of time and money others were putting into their projects. Honestly, I also never thought I had enough skills in electronics, mechanical things or carpentry to take it on. But, I spent countless hours researching every dimension on the 777 to the last millimeter.
Finally, in August 2004 I took the plunge and ordered my MIP from Flightdeck Solutions. Once the MIP arrived, I spent 3 days straight just building the basic platform to hold the MIP. My strategy was to build a flight deck that would be as close as possible to the real thing, but didn't cost too much- but no one has defined "too much", have they?
IFSBI: What parts are you using for your panels? Are they purchased, made yourself, or real aircraft parts?
Steve:As I said, my MIP is from Flightdeck Solution, as are all the panels on it. I use three 15" LCD panels stripped to the metal for my PFD, ND and EICAS displays. At this point, I've not implemented the FO side.
The glareshield is my own design, with dimensions and shape from real Boeing Operations Manuals drawings. I fabricated it from MDF, green floral foam (from the local craft store) and automotive filler. My EFIS and DSP panels are also from FDS, but the MCP is a real 777 as I mentioned. However, all the pushbuttons and switches in the MCP are from FDS.
The control stand houses a 15" LCD for the lower MFD, an FDS Signature 777 CDU using a Sony PSOne with the holder. The bezel on the lower MFD is my own fabrication and is actual size. My thrust levers and the panels are FDS but the Speed Brake, Flaps handle and gate, fuel cutoff switches and ALTN Pitch/Trim are all my work. They are connected to a CH Products Throttle Quadrant. I don't have moving autothrottles, but that's one of my compromises. I built two CCDs (Cursor Control Devices) with touch-pads just like the real thing to control the ProMFD checklists out of plastic. I'm working on the Parking Brake lever mechanism now, and some of the various switches and indicators are "dummies" but look pretty.
The rear of the control stand is empty now, but soon it will house my radio stack, which for now is a Go-flight GF-166. I made a cabin interphone from a $5 Radio Shack phone and made the phone label myself using the real one as inspiration. The pedestal panels will be a future purchase.
Most of the structure is MDF and the whole deck sits on a carpet-covered platform that rests on 4" heavy-duty casters to make the deck portable. I built my own seat out of plywood from plans on the web, and sewed the fake sheepskin seat myself, much to my wife's horror!
The visuals are three identical 19" LCD screens using the Matrox TripleHead2Go on an NVIDIA 6600 card. I have projectors, but for now the Matrox solution is workable. I plan on tackling the overhead panel next, and am in the planning stages now and hope to use DakenSkys for those panels.
All interfacing is currently Photon, and while it works adequately, I think my wiring is not clean enough. Since that product line is no longer available nor supported, I plan to move to Flightdeck Technology for the overhead interfacing.
For cockpit displays, I run Project Magenta Boeing Glass Cockpit, CDU, MCP and pmSystems software. There are a total of 7 computers in the sim, all connected with a 16-port 100Mbps Ethernet switch.
IFSBI: Where there any special problems that you came across while building the
Steve: There are so many "special problems" in a project like this- it really is one special problem after another. One problem I had to overcome was the throttle quadrant- I must have spent a total of 6 months on that piece alone, but I'm very happy with the results.
One problem I never thought about before I started was where all the wiring would go so it wouldn't be a mess. If I ever tear this thing apart and start over, which I keep threatening to do, I would re-do the wiring knowing what I know now.
IFSBI: Does your family support you in this project?
Steve: My wife has been terrific and extremely supportive of this project. She sees it as one of those strange "guy things" and I can't get her to fly it, but her support is clearly evident. My boys don't seem all that interested in it, either.
IFSBI: Your two CCD (Cursor Control Device) units look unique - and pretty real. We haven't seen many 777 builders who have them. Where did you get those?
Steve: The idea for them came from the extremely helpful 777 Workbook from Hans Schuetz at www.project777.com. He included dimensions and a rough shape in the workbook, so I thought it might be possible to make one out of plastic. I suppose with enough patience, one could make it out of wood.
I asked a mechanical engineer friend if they could model the shape in SolidWorks, a 3D CAD program. I didn't need the three buttons- LWR CTR, INBD and SIDE to work, so we just modeled them as raised areas. I also wanted some replica DZUS fasteners, so they modeled those, too. Once the model looked about right on screen, my friend made a couple of 3D parts out of ABS plastic on a prototyping machine.
After some sanding and filling (the Captain's side is actually blue plastic and the First Officer side is actually yellow plastic, but they've been painted Boeing brown), the shells looked pretty real. But since I wanted to use the Captain's side CCD as 777 pilots do, I needed a touchpad surface that would fit in that space. I couldn't take apart my laptop, but I did find a product called the Cirque Easy Cat®. It is basically the same touchpad you find in your laptop, but it attaches to your serial or USB port on a desktop. I cut the excess plastic away leaving just enough to mount the Easy Cat under the CCD with Super Glue. I use the CCD for navigating through the electronic checklist by moving and tapping to select an item. The First Officer side is just filled with a piece of MDF and is a dummy.
The LWR CTR, INBD and SIDE labels are simply paper prints of the button labels I made in Photoshop and then glued to the plastic "buttons". The font is Futura Medium, just as on real 777.
IFSBI: Do you have a web site where you post your project?
Steve: No, I don't. Maybe some day I might try it.
IFSBI: Are there any other Hobbies or interest that you are also involved in?
Steve: I love playing tennis, biking and multimedia production.
IFSBI: Is there anything, during the build, you can recommend to prepare our readers for when building a project?
Steve: Decide what level of realism you NEED to have, and what compromises you're willing to make. Really decide how much time, money and effort you are willing to put into a project like this. The main thing is to plan, plan and plan. The right tools make all the difference- borrow or buy the right tool for the job. They'll come in handy around the house-eventually.
I used to see cockpit building as a very personal, private hobby- it isn't yet a mainstream hobby, and the neighbors raise their eyebrows at your "project". Since I went to the AVSIM conference in San Diego last September and the IFC Conference in Denver last month, I see there really are a great bunch of fellow builders out there, and we're not weird! Most of us love to share our triumphs and failures so others can learn.
It truly is a labor of love, and most other people won't see the value or purpose to what you're building- just know yourself. It may be a hobby, but don't let it take over your life!
IFSBI: Steve thanks for taking time to answer our questions and providing the pictures.
Be sure to check out his video from inside the Level-D 777 at IFC-Denver convention. It's posted at Joe Cygan's site. http://www.my737sim.com