• Builder of Month - April 2009

    MyCockpit is pleased to announce Rodney Stagner as April 2009's Builder of the Month. I would like to thank Rodney for talking with me and allowing us to have a look into his 727 simulator build.

    Click on "Read More" for full interview.

    How far back does your simulator experience go?

    All the way back to FS2 in 1986. I was stationed in Misawa Japan and saw it on a friends Commodore 64. It was close to Christmas and my wife OK'd the start of my insanity. And I've kept her for 32 years this month. So I’ve flown every version since then in a desktop setup and always wanted a more realistic setup.

    How long have you been involved in the building aspect of simulator flying?
    Since 1999. Doesn't seem that long ago when the flight sim community heard about Kev Saker and his homebuilt 757-200 cockpit. Well it definitely hooked me. It really started growing it seems after that (early 2000). I was one of the first PM software purchasers and even had a chance to meet Enirico in Denver on summer day. I watched PCos in anticipation of him selling products and actually started by buying a 777 MIP from him. There has been more than one builder start their own simulator panel/module/software business, and the sim-builder community is better off today because of that.

    What made you decide to build a full size simulator?

    I really dislike using a mouse. So in order to get it out of the flight simulation experience it seemed like the right path to follow. Then there was a deal I couldn't pass up. I was scanning the local “Craig’s List” and looked in the Material section. There was an ad for an aircraft cockpit for scrap or playhouse. I gave him a fair price for it. It was sitting in his lot for some years. He had no interest at all in it. There is a lot of personal history now with this pit. These are shots at the previous owners place. It was most fortunate that his neighbor had a tow truck. He moved it for $75USD. We tipped it on its end and fabricated and welded some 8 inch wheels under it. Went on the truck with no problems at all.

    Knowing that the 727 is an unsupported aircraft, why did you chose to base your build on this airliner?

    This was a tough decision for me. I could of gone 737-? or stuck with what I had. Believe me I mulled that over for some time. I was already well on my way to building an 737ng with FDS parts, Project Magenta, and some GoFlight radio’s. but the thrill of flying non-automated everything and the availability of some items it seemed the better choice. After sitting in that dirty old shell and enjoying a few cups of coffee I couldn’t convince myself to modify the throttle to have it look like anything better than a 727-200. Oh, and the fact that you and Joe Maldonado are blazing the trail, Why Not?

    I know you were working on a real 727-100 glass cockpit in the past. Why did you switch over to an analog panel when glass is all the rage within the community?

    That was the plan until I abruptly found out a big difference between the -100 & -200 MIP. The “Glass” -100 MIP is about 2 inches taller than the -200. It comes in 4 pieces with landing gear panel and the -200 is 10 with the landing gear panel. Still may do that in Phase II. I had the opportunity to get my hands on a -200 panel and thought to keep the cockpit in the same series.

    Since you've been working on the analog panel, what are some problems you've encountered?

    That is in my next task list. The first obstacle will be monitor placement without excluding existing switches and annunciators. So far I have stripped most of the panels extraneous wiring and most switches with annunciators to go. Then I will modify to better fit monitors then sand and paint. I will use FS Panel Studio to handle the MIP. Too bad my PM won't work.

    How did you go about the solution(s)?

    As I have seen at another 727 drivers web site, some knobs may have to be simulated. Without really being in the middle of this portion of my build I can't really say what will be involved but it may come down to simulating a switch or two. I would do that over loosing a gauge. The switches are not as important on a MIP as the gauge is to me. But it all depends on what is modeled and can be configured from FS9 and the aircraft.

    Aside from the MIP, what other actual 727 parts are you using, or will be using?

    I was fortunate enough to get a year end bonus and used some of that money wisely. I was in need of seats, and overhead, a Main Instrument Panel, and some other small parts. With the newest innovations for input cards interfacing is getting easier.

    From where do you source your parts?

    Everywhere. Internet is a smorgasbord of varying items. Builders selling, e-bay auctions, word-of-mouth, local pilots, family and friends. I just did a big order through APHS and could not be happier on the service I got from Nick. He even has a source to redo yokes.

    Have you decided upon any aftermarket support for any aircraft parts?

    I don't think I will need any. Everything that I make functional will be just that. I was an aircraft mechanic (crew chief) in the USAF so I'm very good at taking things apart and figuring out mechanics and I am getting better on the wiring side. When you have a chance to get a cockpit like I did almost everything is there. The challenge is how to incorporate it to do the function you want. Everything else will get supported from the vendor providing I am using the product for its intended purpose.

    Like so many other unsupported builders, have you had to scratch-build any of your parts or components?

    I will have to construct L2, R2, Both R&L triangle panels and some window molding. I have rough sketches done and will finalize them when I get to that phase of construction. I have removed all panels from the inside to clean and clear out spiders. She sat in a field for almost 3 years uncovered. I also removed a couple of hundred pounds of wiring/tubing.

    What sort of structure if any, will you house this in?

    How about a shell for the shell? That is the one thing that should have stopped me from buying the cockpit, but it didn't. Asking the wife to only park her caddy in the driveway was not going to happen. I will start planning on building a garage for it very soon. I'm thinking 16'Wx16'LX9'H. The door should allow for it to be rolled in/out if ever the most unfortunate occurrence in the main house. I should be able to roll it to safety with a little help!

    That sounds like a big job.

    I'm going to tackle building this with some help of a brother-in-law. He is a very good framer and I need his direction. I can do the grunt work too. I'm going to try and 1/3 the cost of having someone do it. Even with the economy like it is prices in this area have not fallen. I hate to think that it will cost more than the cockpit itself.

    What sort of visual system will you be using?

    Tough to say, depends on what's best when I get her inside. I certainly plan on using a combination of projectors, TH2Go and maybe even a couple of monitors. There have been many great ideas already tested that it shouldn't create any problems. Fellow builders have already provided solutions like curved mirrors, screen design and covering, software and hardware. I'm pleasantly surprised in the advancement of this area.

    Have you decided which input and/or output cards to use for interfacing the 727?

    Phidgets and the BU0836 are the start. I was using a LED64 and a 0/8/8 in the 737ng so those will carry over into this cockpit just fine. I am using one BU0836X for the throttle and because the Sperry SP-150 fits in the pedestal I will add it to the card too. I remember when one of the only interfaces was Epic. I was dreading learning that programming. Still avoiding it. Don't take that wrong, Epic was and is a good interface. There are more choices today.

    What sort of computer hardware are you running the sim on now?

    I built a Q6600 @2.4Ghz with 4GB Ram and a 8800GT a couple of years ago for the sim. I will still add another video card and use the other computers for most likely side visuals later. I purchased WideView many years ago and plan on using it. Once I get her inside I plan on removing the area in front of the MIP (silver area on the first picture) to have better access to things behind it and use the space for computers. Structurally its not a good idea to do it now before the garage is built.

    There aren't a lot of 727 flight models available. Two payware and a couple of freeware models that are fairly decent. Which one will you be using for the sim?

    Although CS has come out with an FSX 727-200 model I haven't purchased it. There are things I like about the FS9 version from CS but I am going with DF 727-200. A quick study between the two revealed a couple of modeling (using an input card to interact with the sim via FSUIPC) differences in them that enhanced the decision. I’m also staying with FS9 for now.

    Have you tried all, or most of them for suitability?

    Not to any great depth. It's one of those things that keep me motivated to keep working on the build. The more I don't know I try to learn. And with MyCockpit.org there is a gathering of builders a lot more talented and smarter than me. Makes anything possible doesn’t it?.

    Since there is not a suitable HSI or ADI/FD available within the sim supply community will you be using monitors to display your MIP?

    Even with the frustrations I may encounter with using monitors I think it will be by far less expensive. Converting all the instruments in the 727-200 would be a lengthy task so the best option for me is using monitors. I do have both flaps gauges. I don’t know yet what I am going to do with them but if it doesn’t work out in the end I’ll do something different. It just might be possible to squeeze a monitor in there.

    How about flight controls? What will you be doing in this area for stick and rudder?

    The linkage is intact for the control columns and the rudder pedals. I will have to decide where and what to mount for potentiometers but I predict easy success. When you look at how it all worked when it was flying then adding pots should not be much of an issue. Some difficulty might be on how to add some feel to them using gas struts. While it sounds easy and straight forward it may prove a bit daunting to get it right. But I have got time. Ideas abound from other builders.

    Where do you see your 727 five years down the road?

    Perhaps on a motion platform. The immersion factor without a fully functioning cockpit right now is awe inspiring to me. That would be the topping on the cake so to speak. But realistically, well worn from use is what I hope.

    Do you enjoy any other hobbies or activities when not concentrating on the simulator?

    What do you mean when not concentration on the simulator?

    I know what you mean. Mine has nearly consumed me too.

    Life has to take a side step. I have a couple of grandson's that pop in quite often and derail sim building, but that’s a given. I do build and maintain websites and have even had a hand in the early stages of IFSBI doing some web maintenance. I also enjoyed building my new 1969 air cooled VW Beetle. I did a body off, pan up restoration so I call her new. But my life and career have revolved around aircraft. To many of my colleges the natural progression was to build a home built aircraft so I'm on the less costly path. Thanks for the honor of the selection as the builder of the month.

    Also I would like to say that without the fellow builders whom I have great appreciation and respect for I would be one boring normal man. Thank You everyone!

    Rodney Stagner

    Hope you enjoyed this months presentation and interview. Stay tuned for May.

    Michael Carter
    BOM Editor