• Builder Of The Month January 2009

    It is with great pleasure that I announce Eric Tomlin as our first Builder of the Month for 2009.

    A great simulator and a great interview. Congratulations Eric.

    Click on "Read More" for full interview.

    Hi Eric, thanks for taking the time for this interview. I know with your new family you must be quite busy, especially with the holidays just finishing up.

    Eric: Hi Michael and first off, thanks very much to you and those responsible for choosing me as the MyCockpit.org Builder of the Month, Iím very honored to say the least!

    How far back does your FS experience go? Which version did you start with?

    Well, my very first exposure to Flight Simulator was either FS2 or 3- Iím not quite sure which version it was. It was installed on a friendís computer in high school and he and I would spend hours upon hours trying to fly and land the Cessna and Learjet all around Meigs Field in Chicago. I then purchased Chuck Yeagerís Air Combat simulation for my friendís computer since I didnít have one, and thatís when he and I discussed about how cool it would be to have some sort of motion or controls that were more like sitting in the cockpit. This was back in 1992. Then in the summer of 1998 I walked into an EB Games store one day on my lunch break and I laid my eyes on FS98. I couldnít believe how the software was still being made and in fact, looked much better on the box than what I remembered from several years earlier. All afternoon I kept thinking about the new FS98. Once I got off of work I went back down to the EB store, quickly paid for it, and hurried home to install in on my auntís PC. That Christmas I got my first PC and from there I really took off in the FS world. My interest in FS naturally caused additional interest in real world aviation and I changed my major in college from Audio Engineering to Aviation Operations. It was about this same time that I ran across the 757 project by Michael and David Lehkamp and that sealed the deal- I decided that I would one day have my own full size home flight sim!

    When you found out you were 'hooked', which simulator did you first build? Why?

    Just like most of us here, I was actually Ďhookedí long before I ever put Ďhand to toolí and built anything. Just seeing all the photos and video of folkís projects made me all the more determined to build my own cockpit, but my first attempt was the 737NG. I started by purchasing some real rudder pedal parts along with trying to build some PVC control columns. After spending a considerable amount of money on research and development to put the pedals into a working assembly and making homemade control yokes, I decided that it was time to just purchase some CH products to get me flying with something other than the joystick and keyboard. I then started trying to save up the money to purchase laser engraved panels and other components for the 737NG project and as time wore on, I became obsessed with building the perfect 737NG simulator. It didnít help that not only did I get to sit in a real 737NG on the base a few times where I worked in Jacksonville, but I also got to fly the P8 ASW sim (737NG) built by FDS for the US Navy. As my expectations for my project soared, my ability to get the funding for the project, along with my spirits began to stall. I finally sold the pedal parts to Maurice and thatís what got me moving in the right direction. That money enabled me to purchase my first interface card- a SYS3 board that I am still using.

    What influenced you to change over to the Learjet 45?

    Well, thatís an interesting story actually. As stated previously, I set some near unachievable expectations for the 737NG sim and I kind of took a break, sat back, and rethought all that I wanted out of a sim. One week while attending some work related training in Tallahassee, FL. I spent 3 different nights out on the bench of the GA Ramp at KTLH. Corporate aircraft were coming in and out of the place like crazy and I had a spark relight the flame within me, except this time I had decided that since I would never be able to build a 737 to my high standards, I would just build a generic jet/turbo prop sim to satisfy my simming needs. Needless to say, the detail freak in me didnít allow that train of thought stay very long. I started trying to find small corporate aircraft that were simple in their design and that would be easy to interface, build on my own, and most of all is fun, yet affordable. Thatís when I thought about building a Cessna Citation CJ1. I approached a popular panel maker about the type and he suggested that instead I consider the LJ45. At first I didnít like the suggestion, as I had always had disdain for the aircraft since it was so touchy and hard to fly. Then when I started looking at how simple the cockpit is laid out in the LJ45 I realized that it would be a very easy build compared to other aircraft. I started learning to fly the LJ45 in FS9 and then I started learning how to tweak the files to make it fly better. As time went by, I started loving the aircraft and knew it was the project for me. Whatís not to love? Itís fast, sleek, way cool looking, and has brand recognition attached to it that is synonymous with the like of ĎCorvetteí and so on.

    Did you find the challenge of building an unsupported aircraft just a bit daunting?

    In the beginning, yes it was a quite a bit daunting. Folks really would try to be encouraging, but it was hard trying to figure out how I was going to get it all done. Eventually I realized that the panels were not going to be made available from the original maker as I previously thought, but I had come to like the idea enough that I was determined to make my own parts if I had to. Thatís when I learned how hard it is to make your own parts!
    On the interfacing side of the project, I sat down and thought about all the functions that could be interfaced, mapped them out, and got busy making them work with my interface cards. Although the list was fairly basic, it wasnít a big deal because it meant that the project would be fairly easy to interface on the whole.

    Support for the Learjet has increased dramatically over the last year or so. Why do you think this has happened?

    I can honestly, but humbly say that it is because I have really pushed the Lear hard and became a champion of the aircraft. I wasnít the first person to build a LJ45 sim but as far as I can tell I was the first person to really be visible out on any forums or website that had lots of traffic. Once I decided that the Learjet 45 was the aircraft for me, I got busy working to make it a viable platform and I wanted to share my enthusiasm for the project. I accomplished this by a variety of ways.
    First I made a brand-new personal website and posted lots of pictures on how I was progressing. Then I joined the great group of builders at MyCockpit.org and the help and advice there really pushed me forward. I started getting phone calls and emails from people that would read my posts at MyCockpit.org, go to my website, and see that there was someone out there building something other than the Airbuses and Boeings. People would ask how I got the dimensions for the panels, center and throttle pedestals and I simply told them that they were available from the manufacturers from different places on the web and would point them in the right direction. While this was going on I really wanted some professionally made LJ45 panels and none were available at the time. I decided to shoot in the dark and contact Joe Cygan to see if he would be interested and able to create me a set of panels if I supplied the info to him. He agreed to it and I started getting him the information he needed to make the panels. Around the same time I was contacted by a fellow LJ45 builder that had stayed off the sim builderís radar by the name of Ron Rollo from nearby Jacksonville. He and I realized we shared many of the same goals and got together on creating the entire components of the LJ45. Once Ron and I were working together and Joe and I were working together, it only made sense for the three of us to help each other out on the LJ45 project. By now some folks know that Ron and I partnered with Joe Cygan of Innovative FSP to have the panels and other components produced for those interested in the LJ45 as a sim. Doing this helped insure that we would all be creating the best possible panels and components in regard to accuracy and scale. Next I started asking different software producers to consider taking on the Primus 1000 style avionics software. Believe it or not, I actually got a response! Flight Deck Soft owner Jason Hite was interested in the idea and so heís started working toward creating a ĎP1000í software suite once we got him all the information he needed to know which pages were available in the aircraftís avionics. Just before Jason and I started talking, I was also bugging PM Owner Enrico S. about doing some more work on the PMRJ suite, and heís actually implemented some nice additions, but major work is slow coming due to the low demand.
    Lastly, Ron and I contacted all the known LJ45 builders and got them all on a mailing list, which is easy when thereís only about 8 or so builders. When this happened, the LJ45 sim builder community really Ďtook offí and has grown to now of a known group of about 11 or 12. In our group, weíve even got guys that are writing their own code and sharing it for many of the never before developed software components of the LJ45, and this has been an invaluable contribution to our work group.
    So, you see, partnering can really grow your aircraft type by leaps and bounds over a one year period! Although itís been a long road, Iím happy to say that the product line from Joe is just now coming available for the builders as well as many of the guys really getting in there and solving the issues that we have as builders of an Ďunsupportedí aircraft type. Because of all of our hard work and determination, I think itís now fair to say the type is quickly becoming a Ďsupportedí aircraft type! What Iím trying to drive home here is that although I may have publicly gotten the ball rolling on the LJ45 as a home sim, I definitely couldnít have done all the work the guys in our builders group have accomplished.

    What interface are you using for the hardware? Had you considered, or did you use something else prior?

    Right now I have 1 SYS3 card from FDS, 1 Goflight GF166, and 1 Goflight RP48 Remote Mount Kit. I also have a Phidgets rotary encoder for my 5th Flight Guidance Controller encoder but itís not in use at the moment. All of the above gets me 90% of the Learjet autopilot functions, and 100% of the autopilot functions that I actually have to have until I finish/re-interface once my new panels are delivered very soon. I actually have about 19 inputs left on my SYS3 card but they are not needed for the basic interfacing. With what I currently have, I can start the airplane up from cold and dark, control my avionics and autopilot, and operator all my control surfaces and altimeter settings. Some of this is using the additional buttons from the CH Yoke (I have two connected via FSUIPC). However, with this being said, I will soon order either some additional interfacing boards to complete the aircraft once all the panels are delivered. This will include interfacing the two CDUs, the RMUs, the DUs, and the EFIS panels. I will also interface the APU (for FSX only). The neat thing about the LJ45 is that you can start the aircraft on battery power alone, so the APU is not a real necessity!

    Are you using a networked computer system, (or will you) or a stand-alone do-it-all system?

    I have four PCs in my network. The newest machine runs the sim and does it quite well. For ages I have dreamt of having my sim run flawlessly and it runs FS9 very, very well. I had high hopes that it would run FSX well too, but thatís another story altogether. Maybe I should invest in the service that guarantees stellar performance! My next newest machine runs as an Instructor Station or for browsing the Internet when I step out of the cockpit for a few minutes. The other two machines run Project Magentaís PMRJ software and are just older PCs.

    What flight model are you using for the Lear? How accurate are the handling and performance qualities of this model?

    Iím currently using two different flight models. One model is one that I have tweaked myself using suggestions from other LJ builders and some personal experimentation. The other is from fellow builder Per Alm, who has uploaded his version to the MC.org Download library, and is quite good too. Itís got some tweaking left to do but on the whole I like it very much. The only reason I use my own still is I use the Friendly Panels LJ45 package for their CDU interface and I havenít quite figured out how to use their panel set with his airfile. Otherwise, itís superior as it gets rid of the nose high AoA during slow flight such as approach to landing.

    What graphics card are you currently using? Any plans to upgrade this in the future?

    I have just built the machine that Iím currently using, so I have no plans to upgrade anything in the machine until I really see a need to. The card is the Nvidia GeForce 9800GTX which has 512MB of RAM on it. Itís massive and requires lots of space! However, it has been well worth it and it runs FS9 like a dream and FSX decent.

    Speaking of graphic cards, can you explain how your visual system is (or will be) set up? How about the instrumentation displays?

    Currently I am only using one of three LCD projectors that I have. The reason for this is two-fold: Number one is that the other two projectors are quite a bit older and have lower resolution. Number two is that I have not yet purchased a TrippleHead2Go yet for expanding my visual system. Since I wonít have the funding needed for upgrading all three projectors and buying a TH2Go any time soon, I have decided to create a fully enclosed simulator environment by building the enclosure right on the base of the sim after the shell is completed and installed. The only things the occupants will see are the components inside the shell (panels, throttles, etc.), the forward visual screen, and the two side walls to the left and right. These will be black to focus the view on the forward visuals and to enhance the sensation of emersion.

    Most at this site know you are working on a shell for the simulator. How's that coming along? Is it far enough along that you have the MIP installed?

    The shell is coming along slowly but thanks to Ron Rollo, the designer of the shell, itís really moving along more quickly now. There have been a few times where folks looking at the photos of Ronís shell have thought it was mine. Boy do I wish it were! His is actually very near completion but mine is at the stage to where Iím about to do the final shaving of all the hard edges and paint it. Then I plan on covering the inside to look as real as my talent and budget will allow. Once thatís done, I will be focused on getting the dual connected yoke system built and ready to be installed on the base.

    I know that you and I have spoke frequently in the past about covering techniques for the outside of your shell. What did you finally decide to use and how did you do it?

    Actually I have not yet decided what I will use. Ron used fiberglass and it looks amazing, but I donít have the time or money to go that route. Plus, my thoughts on the skin are a bit different. When Ron works, he creates museum quality pieces that are suitable for critical display. However, I plan to fully enclose my sim for the first few years until I can afford a TH2Go Visual system. Since itís going to be fully enclosed and not seen, I doubt that I will cover the outside with any kind of permanent material, if at all. I do however plan to install the windscreen to enhance the over-all feeling of emersion.

    I'm curious about the windscreen and side glass. Do you plan on installing this, and if so will you be trying to purchase the actual aircraft glass or have this custom made? I know this isn't as easy as fitting glass to a Boeing shell with all of the flat sides used in a Boeing.

    I know itís hard to believe, but I donít need to purchase the real windscreen or have one made (unless Ron helping counts as custom made!). Believe it or not, the windscreen is going to be a simple, flat piece of Plexi/acrylic sheet. The only reason this works is because although the windscreen appears to be a compound curve it really isnít! The fact that the center posts are flat and the rear window frame is flat (look at photos of the aircraft at the back of the glass and you will notice the fuselage flattens out just where the glass meets the aluminum) allows us to take a flat piece of material, cut it to fit, and simply attach it to the shell. Itís a very elegant solution and works flawlessly! (see photo).

    Just for fun, what paint scheme will you eventually use on the exterior?

    If I do wind up covering the exterior of the shell, it will either be painted black or a nice Matterhorn white like most of the LJs out there. Many folks have commented that painting the shell a bright color will give annoying reflections back onto the visual screen but Ivar has made it clear that with his beautiful white shell, he has no issues with that at all.

    What was the largest aircraft hardware obstacle you faced when deciding to go ahead with the build? Current production aircraft parts are hugely expensive, and not many Learjets get scrapped.

    Youíre right, if memory serves me well there are only about 2 aircraft that have been destroyed according to the records we have so thereís not been any attempt to get access to any scrapped parts. So far the hardest hardware obstacle has been figuring out the best way to build up the interior of the shell, if that counts. Luckily, we have 1:1 a drawing of the TQ levers, pedestal, and that has helped tremendously. There are occasionally yokes from older Learjets floating around on eBay and other parts as well, and they are constantly being watched by our group and we generally let each other know that they are available so someone can snap them up.

    Are you using, or will you use any real parts in your simulator?

    I, along with several other builders, are using or will be using real throttle levers that have been deemed not flight worthy. This is indeed a rare find but not impossible from time to time. I also plan to replace my two soon to be interconnected CH yokes with real LJ yokes or replicas as soon as I find a set.

    What sort of primary control system are you currently using? Any plans to upgrade this down the road?

    Right now Iím using two CH yokes mounted to some nice stationary columns and they both are capable of flying the plane by way of FSUIPC and one set of rudder pedals. However, as mentioned previously I plant to interconnect my two CH yokes in the near future and when I see some LJ yokes come along I will replace the CH ones with the real ones like Don Jones has done. The CH rudder pedals will also be eventually paired with either another set or replaced all together with some interconnected pedals once we all figure out a design that works.

    How about seats? I know those are probably non-existent from a Learjet without a second mortgage. Any plans to build your own?

    Really and truly, Ron Rollo should be the ĎBuilder of the Monthí here, as I defer to him quite a bit! However, thereís a reason for that. Ron has tons of time when heís not at work and he has a knack for figuring out things that others have a hard time with. That being said, Ron is not too far away from designing the seats from the photos that we have. However, some may remember that I am currently using Porsche seats in the sim and they are very comfortable and just about the right size. Iím tempted to keep them! But, knowing Ron as I do, he will make seats that look very much the part and I will eventually get a set of those from him for my sim!

    What sort of flying do you enjoy most? Long haul, short regional hops, sightseeing, etc? Where do you like to do most of your flying? Do you use either of the two on-line networks?

    The LJ45 has a nice range- about 2000 miles or so depending on if you are flying a standard LJ45 or LJ45XR. Anyhow, life dictates that I keep most of my flights to around 1 hour but I will occasionally get a 2 hour flight in if itís a really long trip like from Nassau to St. Maarten. Iím the type of simmer that prefers to fly out of the last location I flew into. Many times though I have to forego that and just pick a new place to fly out of and into that is determined by the amount of time I have that day and what nice scenery I have installed too. I usually spend most of my flying from/to at least one highly detailed scenery package from one of the Payware scenery developers and I tend to buy packages that are on the East Coast of the USA such as Charlotte, Atlanta, the North East and Florida. I also own the super nice Portland package but itís not that often that I fly up that way because I prefer to fly from the East Coast in small trips all the way to the Pacific North West, but again, time is an issue! One thing that I have really taken interest in is to fly into obscure airports all over the US using Tile Proxy. When using Tile Proxy, every airport is much better looking because itís absolutely 100% real. However, having no AutoGen is a bit of a letdown, so I donít use it too often.

    How do you split up your free time between building and flying? How many hours a week for each activity?

    I spend way more time flying than I do building right now, but that will be changing very soon when my new LJ45 panels arrive from Innovative FSP. I will have all sorts of building chores to complete then because I will essentially be dismantling the entire sim to build a new MIP stand and other components for the new panels. Right now I spend about one or two hours a week piddling with software tweaks, shell work and other issues and probably two to four hours a week flying when able. I expect to spend much more time building than flying for a few months as I transition the sim to a much higher level of completion and realism just as soon as the panels arrive.

    Besides taking care of your family, what other hobbies or activities do you enjoy?

    My family and I are very involved in our church and I run the television service live each Sunday morning along with playing guitar in a praise band. I also play several other instruments and have a huge interest in Traditional Irish and Blue grass music as well. Me and my two boys (both Border Collies) spend lots of time playing Frisbee and they are a big responsibility besides my new baby girl, Hannah, that just arrived. Other than that I am the Senior Team Leader for our Airsoft Club, the SWAMP Brigade, which is a Military Simulation group that hosts modern combat scenarios with other teams from the region.

    Thanks for your time Eric and for giving us some insight on how 'the other half' builds. You have a project that you can be very proud of.

    Happy New Year from all of your friends here at My Cockpit.