• Designing Realistic Control Panels

    MyCockpit ® Presents "Mikes Tips" by Mike Powell

    Designing Realistic Control Panels

    Part of the process of building a realistic flight simulator is determining dimensions and how pieces fit together. The main instrument panel and controls grab a lot of the builder’s attention, but secondary control panels are major contributors to the overall look and feel of a sim as well.

    This is particularly true in military sims where side consoles are full of weapons, comm, refueling, and environmental control heads. The dimensions, structures, colors, and fonts of these panels may look like great unknowns, but they’re not. The design of the flight-rated gear is guided by military standards, many of which are in the public domain.

    To design control panels, start with pictures. They don’t necessarily have to be from the aircraft you’re basing your sim on. Some control heads like communication gear and oxygen control are used in a variety of aircraft. Aviation photo sites, flight sim forums, and even Ebay are potential sources of pictures. Drawings may be useful, too. The user’s guide for the simulation application you plan to use in your sim should have illustrations of the cockpit interior with drawings of the various panels. While there’s no guarantee that the drawings are correctly proportioned, the better sim app developers do try to be accurate.

    The pictures and, perhaps to a lesser extent, the drawings provide the proportions of the panel. According to MS25212C (Control Panel, Console Type, Aircraft Equipment, Basic Dimensions), the standard width of these panels is 5.75”, and the length is a multiple of .375”. Scaling the picture image and using a calculator will give you the overall dimensions of the panel. This standard also provides the rules for determining the locations of the panel fasteners.

    These control panels generally have light plates on them. While you may not want to invest in the expense of functional light plates, consider at least adding a non-lighted plastic panel with the proper lettering. This will boost the realism of your project by mimicking the visual texture of the real aircraft. Details of light plates are covered in MIL-P-7788F (Panels, Information, Integrally Illuminated).

    Your pictures and drawings will show what labels and markings should be on the panels. If you’re looking for specifics of font type and color, you’ll find good information in MIL-M-18012 (Markings for Aircrew Display, Design and Configuration of).

    The knobs are standardized as well. They are expensive. Consider buying surplus gear for switches and knobs. It’s also possible to make them using casting resin. You can find dimensioned drawings of military and commercial aviation knobs in the catalogs of the manufacturers, two of which are Korry Esterline (www.korry.com) and Electronic Hardware Corporation (www.ehcknobs.com).

    MIL-C-81774A (Control Panel, Aircraft, General Requirements for) is an overview document which may also be of interest. While it repeats much of the information in the above standards, it also provides information about shape coding of switches.

    MS25213 (Control Panel, Aircraft Equipment, Typical Installation) covers the basic dimensions of the console racks which support the individual control panels.

    Many standards and specifications are hosted on sites like www.assistdocs.com, www.everyspec.com
    and www.liberatedmanuals.com. You might also locate these documents by a web search, or by posting a query on a flight sim forum.

    Mike Powell, author of

    Building Recreational Flight Simulators

    Building Simulated Aircraft Instrumentation
    , and

    Building Simulator Display Systems
    . (A work in progress)