Hello MyCockpit.org and welcome to the final Builder of the Month award for 2010. Last month we told you it would be special and here is it: An extra long interview with Mike Black who has made considerable progress on his flight simulator.
I've asked Mike some questions relating to his build which i'm sure you will find interesting and inspiring.
1. How long have you been building?
I started this project over one year ago. I've been diligent, making it a habit to add something material daily, be it large or small. My thoughts are consistently active on this process. Perhaps I may be working out how to build a part or studying images on the internet. I'm happy to have found " My Cockpit", not only to reference technical issues, but also to gather inspiration from the incredible examples from the many talented participants.
Funny how things take form. No matter how slow my progress at times, being consistent over the stream of time has allowed for much progress. The great thing is I don't have a timeline which is fine, because I am really enjoying this process.
2. Which aircraft are you building the sim based on and why?
I chose the 767 based on the fact that I had " Level D" 767 software for MS FSX and liked it very much. Given what I know about parts availability, perhaps the 737 or 747 may have been a better choice. That said, I am glad to have continued as I have been able to use some creativity to modify parts from other models to fit the 767. An example of this is the Weber seats from an old 737 that I purchased over Ebay.
I was really looking for some Ipecos, in Boeing brown; however, I found that despite much effort I they were none to be found. That was good, as I enjoyed making the Webers look like Ipecos, but also learned something that I would have missed if I just bought the Ipecos.
3. How did you go about planning and construction such as fantastic shell?
Thanks. Perhaps I'm inclined to be inspired by images. Given the 100s , if not 1000s of images one can find online, figuring out form becomes quite doable.
As far as the outside shell, the only measurements I had were the cockpit windows. In fact, there is a site I found with 777 window dimensions. The 767 has the same architecture(not inside the cockpit) forward of the cockpit bulkhead.
From this as well as the plethora of images I downloaded, I was able to deduce the basic shape. I did re do a few times. As I would find, I would construct some crude first edition, I think more or less to learn what I needed to do and not to do. The second time through, I would have a better sense of intuition and go about getting it closer to being correct.
The materials are cheap, basically, the shell is 1/8 inch MDF screwed onto a basic frame made from pine 2 by 4s. The frame idea came from numerous examples shown on " My Cockpit" and elsewhere. Paint is high gloss latex house paint.
I never did have plans per se. As with this project generally, I have taken an ad hoc approach. Perhaps blueprints and steps set to a timeline might be more efficient, but I have found, and I believe it's my nature to act from a place of spontaneity. If planning is required, e.g. cutting pieces to size, it would be for very specific tasks.
4. I noticed you seem to be mixing simparts and real aircraft parts, are you interfacing some with flight sim?
I enjoy frequenting Ebay looking for decommissioned aircraft parts for this project. It's very easy to spend too much money though.
I recall an instance considering ways to build a throttle quadrant. There were many great examples I found on " My Cockpit" and elsewhere, for example using modified Satiek throttles and building around it. When making such a consideration I first think about the practicality, what I understand I can do and finally doing an exhaustive search for parts and materials that are most suitable.
I found that a 767 Throttle quadrant became available on Ebay, so for me it was a great buy. It was all there, throttles, flaps, spoilers, fuel valves, etc. that could be retrofit with whatever it took to make it work with FSX. I was trying to figure out this process, when I realized it would be a lot easier to hire someone to do it. I found out about " Northern Flight Sim". Someone mentioned that this guy Art did 737 mods, with good results. I was happy I did as "Northern Flight Sim" did a great job getting all the mechanisms to work. He also modified an old 747 landing gear to work and to fit within the context of the 767.
5. What, in your opinion, would you feel is the most important part of your sim?
What is going to be most important in terms of having a sim that does a good job representing reality is the visual system in my opinion. I love building the sim to look as real as I can make it. It's enjoyable to use parts, real or improvised . While I enjoy this process and I believe it does help give the feel of the real aircraft, ultimately a good visual system will be most important.
6. How many computers is it run from, and are you on FS9 or FSX?
I currently have 3 very fast computers, networked with WideView for FSX. Prior to getting into the cockpit building, I was much more active flying the software. I had done so on 4 large 42 inch monitors. It has been a while and I may consider other options as I go forward and as I learn more.
7. Give us a brief diary of how you started compared to where your sim is today. Steps of what you built first, next etc.
8. Do you prefer building your own parts or buying plug and play?
Depends. You'll see that I have 2 Ace Yokes, a CP Flight autopilot, Open Cockpit Radios installed as well as the aircraft parts wired for service. These manufacturers are very good at what they do and the quality is hard to repeat. I am quite intrigued with building my own parts and I love to improvise, using regular old automotive and household items. In fact, the captains tiller assembly is just some old router parts.
Works out well that I have a woodworking shop and that I am an experienced furniture builder. This gives me access to great tools and the ability to make many modifications.
What it comes down to is how much time I can allocate for certain items. While I don't really have a timeline, I would like to fly at some point, so it comes down to how interested am I in working on the particular item vs the effort, energy and research it requires to get the job done.
9. What are your plans for the future of the sim?
The thing that has my immediate attention is building a great visual system. While I've been working away on the cockpit I have been looking very close at my options for the visuals. I have been keen, thinking, studying and even started to build some parts for a collimated visual display device. I'm glad to know that it is in fact do able by recent evidence of Wayne and Gene's successful proto type. Those guys did a great job and I'm sure that project will continue to inspire my efforts.
After that, well flying and I owe Shivaun my wife big time for all her consideration. I promised her I'd teach her how to fly which she is quite enthusiastic about.
I will continue to build and fly with the goal of continuously improving the quality of flight sim experience.
10. Do you have any flying qualifications in real life?
It used to be my career. After graduating college I had a career that spanned roughly 8 years.
My first airline job was flying the Shorts 360 with Aer Lingus on a contract basis. I moved from the Eugene Oregon in the Pacific Northwest to Dublin Ireland. That was a great experience in many ways. Besides having a go at a real passenger aircraft, I was able to get in some great practical flying experience.
I was used to IFR, rain, ice that was typical of the Pacific Northwest, but considering the geography of Ireland and the UK flying with gail force wind routinely took some getting used to.
Living overseas has a great many benefits that I feel quite fortunate to have had. Other than the flying experience, learning to live in a different culture was a great way to expand my thinking generally, besides, I happen to love Guinness.
11. Are you planning on adding an instructor station or motion to the sim?
I don't think I ever considered either. I don't believe that motion adds that much to the experience. Based on my experiences flying commercial jet and turbo prop flight simulators, I never was that wowed when the motion came on. In fact I had access to the Aer Lingus 737 that I would fly regularly after I got home from a trip. I think I never turned the motion on even though I had that option.
12. What software is your aircraft run from?
Currently, FSX with Level D.
13. What are you planning to use for visuals?
As I had previously mentioned, I am intrigued by collimated visual display system. I hope that my room will have enough width to get it done. There is plenty of height, and length now that I moved our bed into our walk in closet. It's actually cozy and so long as Shivaun is happy, I'm laughing.
Still currently working out the details of the mylar mirror. I hope to have at least 180 degrees with a 7 foot radius curve. I'm still considering my options and will build small prototypes that will give me an idea of the feasibility of this.
I'd like to thank Mike for participating in the award interview and give pleasure in awarding him with the last trophy of 2010. I'm sure many of you enjoyed reading, and all that's left for me to say to you all is have a fantastic Christmas and new year and i'll see you back here January for the next award winner. Remember keep flying and logging your progress with pictures to share with us!