• Builder of the Month - August 2010

    This Months award for the builder who we feel has outstood to us most is Sean Nixon. We would like to present the award to Sean, as he has got off to to an excellent start, providing help and diving well into programming and wiring terratory. Sean has been an inspiration and is often recognised for an excellent visual system he has running. We caught up with him to hear more about the build.

    I am 42 year old, have been married for 18 years and have two daughters aged 16 and 10. I've held a PPL for 16 years and in that time have had part shares in a PA28 and a C152. It was hoped that the private flying would lead to an airline career, but I never held out too much hope as I have pretty bad eyesight, and as suspected, I can only hold a Class 2 medical, falling short of the Class 1 requirements for commercial flying. I am self-employed and work in the construction industry.

    1. How long have you been building?

    First a little history. About 10 years ago, a friend pointed out an article to me on the internet. "Kev's Cockpit" on Flightsim.com was an article by Kevin Saker entitled "How to build your own cockpit".


    I was fascinated. By this time I knew I was never going to fly commercially, so the thought of a full size working replica cockpit in the spare bedroom was really exciting. The trouble was, we didn't have a spare room in that house, not even half a spare room! So for the next few years the idea lay pretty dormant, and every now and then I'd think about building again. During my research periods I'd see the birth of the A320Project (http://www.avsim.com/hangar/flight/a...t/concept.html), a home cockpit built by the one and only Peter Cos, and gradually the formation of Flight Deck Solutions. I remember in those early days meeting Matt Olieman online and having frequent discussions with him on ICQ about his A340 project (my cousin had recently left the RAF and landed a job flying A340's for Virgin). Matt would ask me the occasional question and if I wouldn't mind asking my cousin.

    Then we decided we needed a bigger house. My only request?... a double garage! Suddenly, I had a large room all to myself and finally I could start to think about building. The researching became more intense; what to build? Half a cockpit? A full cockpit? Desktop or enclosed?

    That's when I discovered Ian Sissons website. Furthermore, a big banner at the top of the homepage asked "Wanna Fly The Sim"? A few weeks later, there I was flying the next best thing to a commercial flight simulator. My mind was made up!

    Within a few days of that I'd purchased FS9 and the PMDG737. The 737 suited me down to the ground. It was the aircraft I'd travelled on most, was the most frequent type at my local airport and did the sort of routes I was most interested in, short and meduim haul domestic and European flights. As a bonus, it turned out to be the most popular aircraft among sim-builders and was well covered by commercial offerings. I narrowed the research down to 737NG's and collected as much data as I could find. I was going to build a full size, dual seat, enclosed 737 cockpit.

    Getting back to the original question, the 'building' truly began with that purchase of FS9/PMDG in the summer of 2008.

    2. Can you split the build timeline down into phases, or sections?

    The building to date has been the aquisition of various hardware and software items and bench testing it all. Being a new user of MSFS, I also had to learn about that (and still learning)! The garage had to be turned into a habitable room. I knocked a door through into the house for direct access and plasterboarded the walls to make it more homely. I only started construction of the cockpit structure very recently, within the last few weeks.

    3. What would you say was the hardest or most complex part of your build so far?

    Having no previous experience at woodwork, for me the most difficult part to date is building the structure to an acceptable standard.

    4. What is the setup of your flight sim (inc. addons)? What makes it tick?

    At the moment my sim comprises of the following:-

    FS9. The main FS computer is an ageing Pentium 4. Although I have FSX I wouldn't dare install it on that. I plan to do most of the build and testing with FS9 before making the switch to FSX.

    Project Magenta. I've had many a sleepless night over avionics software. Until recently, Project Magenta seemed the only serious option for cockpit builders. Then came along the likes of Sim-Avionics and Flight Deck Software, amongst others. Ian Sissons insisted PMDG was all I needed! Within the last few weeks, I took the plunge and bought Project Magenta. It has certainly added a new dimension to the sim. I have the PFD/ND on one PC, the EICAS on another, the MCP and CDU are currently connected to the main FS computer, and I have the PMSystems demo running on another.

    FSUIPC and WideFS should not be underestimated in the home cockpit environment, and Im using the excellent Sol7/Nthusim to provide visuals to the curved screen.

    Hardware wise, I decided to run as much as possible with the Engravity/CPFlight combination. I have the CPFlight MCP, EFISx2, COM, NAVx2, ADF, ATC & MIP737. I also have the Engravity Captains and centre desktop panels, landing gear lever and CDU.

    Controls wise, I'm using 2 x CH Products yokes and 2 x Saitek Pro Rudder Pedals.

    The PCs are ageing Pentium 4s, but they do the job for now. I plan to upgrade the PCs when I move over to FSX. I have 3 XVGA short throw projectors providing the visuals to a 5 metre diameter curved screen.

    5. What would be your favourite peice of hardware and software associated with the sim?

    That's a tough one to call. Each plays an equally important part, without which the sim wouldn't be what it is.

    6. What is your next goal to get the sim closer to completion.

    I want to get the MIP working as fully as possible and am in the process of re-building it and integrating it into the main structure. It was being used as a desktop device until now. I'm building a MIP frame to support the MIP more securely, then I plan to add the First Officers panel and then add the sixpacks/master cautions/etc. before wiring that all up to the MIP737 interface.

    I'd also like to develop the enclosure a bit more to increase the immersion factor.

    7. What would be your one piece of advice to give to new builders starting in the hobby?

    It would be to make a start as soon as you're sure that you want to build a sim. You can spend too long researching without actually getting anywhere. It may start with cardboard cutouts over your monitor, but it's a start. It's not until you actually get started that the snowball starts rolling and you gain momentum. I spent too long researching and getting nowhere. But be prepared to change your outlook as the build progresses.

    8. Has there been anyone that's inspired you, to get your sim completed and to be like theirs?

    As well as those mentioned earlier, Kevin Saker, Peter Cos, Matt Olieman and Ian Sissons, I have been greatly influenced by the cockpits of ChrisKLAS and Ivar Hestnes. It was Chris's videos on YouTube that convinced me that I should build a 180 degree curved screen, and Ivar's attention to detail and workmanship is unbelievable. They are two builders I've never met or spoken too, but their cockpits have really created an impression on me.

    9. Do you use FS2004, or FSX and what are your reasons behind your choice?

    Although I have both these versions of FS, the sim is currently running on FS9. I also have the PMDG737, but am using the FS default 737 whilst getting to grips with Project Magenta. I'm not using any 3rd party scenery at the moment. When the time comes, the main FS computer will be replaced with a more up to date PC and that's when I'll migrate to FSX and start adding a better environment. As I mentioned earlier, my trusty P4 would probably keel over and die if I forced FSX upon it!

    10. Where would you like your sim to be (other than landed in a sunny place) in a years time from now?

    It's funny you should mention sunny places! The majority of flights from my local regional airport are the bucket and spade charters, which I aim to fly a lot of. As a typical Brit, I like nothing better than a fortnight in some nice, warm, sunny Southern European location.

    In a year from now, I'd hope the overhead was in place and a throttle quadrant, but I'm currently thinking dual linked yokes, working with the autopilot would be nice! I gather a certain French company is developing such a product. I'd better start saving!

    I'd like to thank Sean very much for his time in providing me with his answers. Hopefully many of you will find the interview interesting reading!

    That's all until next month.