• Builder of Month - February 2010

    We are now ready to welcome another new Builder of Month. This month we bring to you another creator of an unique project as our builder of month Shawn Lund, someone who has chosen something different, since he is not exactly a home cockpit builder but I am sure we can draw a lot of inspiration from his approach.

    Click on "Read More" for full interview.

    This month's builder of the month is unique since he is not a regular home cockpit builder, I am sure you would have seen their project pictures and videos on our website.

    We are proud to present "Shawn Lund" as Builder of Month for February 2010 for their outstanding work and dedication to the simbuild.

    I had the pleasure of meeting Shawn Lund and learn more about their amazing project. Find appended below my interview with him.

    Can you please give us a brief background about yourself

    Hello, my name is Shawn Lund and I live in Kamloops British Columbia with my wife Marlo. I work for the British Columbia Forest Service, Wildfire Management Branch as an Air Attack Officer. In December of 2004, I bought my first computer and a copy of FS9 and I've have been hooked on flight simulation ever since. Aircraft and scenery design is where I have spent most of my simming time over the years. I rarely fly more than 10-15 minutes at a time and usually it's just to test out a new aircraft or scenery that I have been working on. I was an avid climber and skier for many years before giving up on both sports because (insert long list of lame excuses here). Recently I started climbing and skiing again and can’t remember for the life of me why I ever stopped in the first place.

    Can you please give us a Brief Overview of your Project

    The Provincial Air Tanker Program (PATC) started utilizing a flight simulator owned by the US Forest Service in the spring of 2006 to assist in training new Air Attack Officers (AAO’s) in standard operating procedures prior to commencing level 3 training. Level 3 is the final level of AAO training and requires the AAO trainee to fly live fire missions in the front seat of the birddog aircraft with an instructor in the back seat. On average, two fire seasons were typically required for the trainee to gain sufficient experience and exposure to complete level 3 and pass his/her check ride. It was hoped that using a flight simulator as part of level 2 training would reduce the total number of live fire missions required to achieve certification without reducing the standard of training the candidate received. So far we have seen an approximate 50% reduction in total flight time required before the certification check ride. The three AAO certified since 2006 have all completed their level 3 training and passed the checkride in a single fire season.

    I was accepted into the Air Tanker Program in February, 2007. In March I travelled to Sacramento California for two days of simulator training. The USFS simulators were simple but extremely effective training tools. They consisted of multiple monitors for the outside visuals and gauges, PFC flight controls and a full set of radio modules. The various stations were connected over a LAN to allow multiple tankers to fly with the birddog aircraft. With my previous exposure to FS9 and knowing what the home cockpit building community had accomplished I was confident that we could build our own training simulator in BC. A year later we received the funding and I was given the go ahead to build a very basic setup to demonstrate the technology. The initial simulator was built in my carport and basement over the course of about 4 weeks. Win Muff, (birddog/tanker pilot) was instrumental in building both the initial demonstrator and the final training simulator. Win was in charge of building the cockpit structure while I concentrated on the software/hardware interfacing side of things.

    When we completed the initial build we invited a number of senior PATC staff to a demonstration of the training capabilities of the simulator. An online friend of mine, Bill (aka Flatiron) flew a Tanker (P-3 Orion) during the demonstration. Over the course of a few weeks I had spent a few hours flying online with Bill teaching him some firebombing tactics and terminology. On the day of the demonstrations Bill did a fantastic job of flying a simulated firebombing mission from initial dispatch to landing back at base. I’m still not sure what they were more impressed with, Bill’s convincing radio chatter or the fact that Bill was sitting in his spare bedroom down in Ft Rucker, Alabama flying and talking with us via an internet connection.

    Here are a few photos of the “technology demonstrator” that we built in my basement. My neighbour recognized it as an aircraft cockpit so we were happy enough...

    A Saitek yoke, throttle and pedals and a GoFlight landing gear panel completed this very basic setup.

    Jean-Charles (Co-Pilot, L188 Electra) flying the simulator with Win looking on, we were using a borrowed beamer for the outside visuals at this point.

    A few months after building the “demonstrator” we started building the final version of the simulator; this was done in the spring of 2009 in Win's workshop. No more working outside in my carport with basic hand tools...

    How much time did you take to complete the project?

    With the 2009 fire season just around the corner we were on a tight schedule to get the final version of the simulator built. We managed to build the simulator over a period of 6 weeks by working 10-12 hours a day and most weekends.

    May be the stages of project are best exbhited through a few photographs

    Heavy duty drawer slides were used to allow some seat adjustment.

    We eventually scrapped the plywood glare shield you see in this photo in favour of a heat formed sheet of PVC board.

    The PFC flight controls didn’t arrive until we were 4 weeks into the project, luckily everything fit together without a problem. Building a simulator around part/parts you don’t have can be tricky.

    It’s starting to take shape, (a square is a shape!)

    Waiting for the primer to dry

    What was the Biggest Challenge?

    The biggest challenge was probably the time frame we had to work under. We started the first day in Win's workshop with not much more than an idea of what we wanted to accomplish. I think I spent the entire first week just shopping for bits and pieces. Wiring up the panel switches and lights to the BU0836X and Phidgets board wasn’t difficult in hindsight but when you haven’t done it before and your working under a timeline it certainly adds some pressure. Watching the over speed warning light work for the first time in conjunction with a simulated aircraft was one of the many highlights of the project for me. When I showed Marlo how the light went on and off as the aircraft reached certain airspeeds, she just nodded and smiled. She doesn’t fully understand the fascination with this stuff but she’s supportive.

    Your Shell looks nice? How did you build your shell??

    Win is a talented wood worker so he was primarily responsible for building the shell. We would have liked to build something that looked a bit more like an aircraft but we also wanted something that could be easily reproduced. The shell is built out of plywood and was designed to be taken apart easily; we used furniture connectors to assemble all the pieces. Two people can dismantle the simulator and set it back up again in a couple of hours. The plywood was sanded, primed, sanded again, and then painted, sanded and painted a final time to get the smooth finish we were looking for.

    Once the majority of the construction and painting was completed we moved everything inside Win’s house and starting installing the electronics.

    This is the first multiplayer flight we took in the Sim; I am flying the C-130 on my laptop connected to the simulator over a LAN.

    I don’t think your every really finished but this is close.

    Can you share with us what kind of effects you have achieved on FSX

    I have been working with the effect files in FSX trying to develop some more realistic looking forest fires.

    A Hovercontrol.com member who goes by JD_Edmond developed a long term retardant effect for us that stay’s visible on the ground for about an hour after the drop

    My background in 3D modelling and scenery development has allowed me to populate the simulated world with a few tanker bases, here’s a picture of the Prince George tanker base in real life and in the simulator.

    You can just make out the retardant on the ground around the fire. Multiplayer flying over a forest fire while actually dropping retardant makes for a very convincing simulation.

    Tell us more on the software you use for communicating between the hardware and FS

    We are using FS2Phidgets to communicate with the Phidgets LED 64 board. FSUIPC is being used to assign all of our flight control axis as well as the toggle and rotary switch functions which are connected to Leo Bodnars, BU0836X board. A MatroxTriplehead2Go is being used to display the forward visual. Note: The wiring in this photo eventually got cleaned up and organized.

    We have just finished wiring up a TFM 138 and a PTA-12 sat phone head to an inverter, so they can be installed into the centre console along with the dual mixer boxes. This will allow the trainee to learn all the programming features and functions of both units in the simulator.

    What are the various sources for your research?

    My sole source of research was the forums at Mycockpit.org. The help I received from the forums, tutorials and members of Mycockit was amazing. On the rare occasion I couldn’t find the answer myself I would simply post a question and wait for the concise, knowledgeable response that would follow.

    According to you what are most important skills for a cockpit builder?

    A willingness to learn.

    I think anyone who has a willingness to learn and an abundance of patience and determination would be able to build a home cockpit. If you take a look at all of the skills required in this hobby ( woodworking, electronics, computer hardware/software, engineering, programming, CNC, CAD......) anyone of these could be a profession or hobby within themselves. There are very few people who will bring all those skills to the table. For me personally, learning these new skills has been 90% of the fun and 100% of the frustration.

    Do you actually fly on your cockpit? How much time?

    cockpit was finished just prior to the 2009 fire season so we never had the opportunity to use it as a training tool. Last fall we started working on a training curriculum and that did involve testing out a few of the scenarios in the simulator. So far the total flight time in the simulator wouldn’t be more than 20-25 hours. As strange as it sounds the flying part of flight simulation has never been my primary interest. A long flight for me would be 1-2 hours, these are always multiplayer flights with a friend or two and usually involve beer and high speed, low level canyon runs in completely unsuitable aircraft.

    Shawn thank you from the entire Mycockpit.org community for this fascinating interview.