IFSBI Featured Builder
Darren Sugden Airbus A320

IFSBI: Would you care to first give us a brief introduction about Darren Sugden?

Darren: I am 38 years of age and live in Hull which is a large city on the east coast of England. I live with my partner, Michelle, and have no children (enables more funds for the cockpit). I am a teacher of business studies in a large comprehensive school (ages 11-16). Before that I was a lecturer in Economics at Lincoln University for 10 years.

Funnily enough I cannot remember exactly when and where my interest in aircraft started. I suppose it took off (pardon the pun) in my early teenage years when I visited my local model shop and bought a control line aircraft. It wasn't a successful venture; the plane was poorly made and only made a couple of circuits before crashing unceremoniously into the ground. At the same time I also became interested in computers. My father bought me a Sinclair ZX81 and believe it or not, a flight simulator was made available for it which I spent many hours on. The two interests have now merged into one - my A320 cockpit!

Whilst at University I joined the University Air Squadron (part of the RAF) and flew Scottish Aviation Bulldogs. (I have included a photo of me sitting in the Bulldog taken c. 1989) I did apply to become a pilot with British Airways but failed the aptitude test. From there on I knew the only way I could sit in a pilot's seat was in front of a 19 inch monitor!

IFSBI: Where is your sim located, town, country, wife's spare bedroom?

Darren: The cockpit is located in the back bedroom of approximately 4m x 2m. That gives sufficient space to work in as well as fly it. It provides sanctuary from the rest of the house - in fact Michelle tries to usher me up there every night so she can have piece and quiet downstairs to watch the TV!

IFSBI: What made you choose this airframe?

Darren: I thought long and hard before deciding on the A320. The main reason for choosing it is because of its simplicity. There is no yoke to think about and no analogue displays (apart from the standby instruments). It's all glass cockpit with no elaborate (visible) avionics. Also at the time of staring the project, Flight Deck Solutions had more or less everything to complete the cockpit. I must admit, I do prefer the look of the Boeing cockpits, especially the 767 but I had to think simple!

IFSBI: When did you first start your project?

Darren: The cockpit was started around Christmas 2003. I remember it vividly. I made a trip to the local DIY store and bought MDF for the frame and pedestal. On the way back I was ordered to buy a Christmas tree from 'she who must be obeyed'. I wanted to start the project straight away but was ordered to help put up the Christmas decorations.

IFSBI: What parts are you using for your panels? Are they purchased, made yourself, or real aircraft parts?

Darren: Unfortunately I do not have the skill to make the parts myself. All the parts are purchased from Flight Deck Solutions. There are no real aircraft parts. To be honest if they were offered to me I do not think I would want them. I would suspect that they would detract from the look and feel of the cockpit - a scenario were an observer may suggest that 3% of the sim looks real but the remaining 97% looks not quite real!

IFSBI: Where there any special problems that you came across while building the cockpit?

Darren: I suppose the main problems have been the interface cards. Whilst the ones I have are great in their own right, they do not always do what I want them to do. It isn't necessarily because they couldn't but rather my ability to push the software to do what I wanted to do with them. The result is that I am using 3 different manufacturers of interface cards - each one doing a specific job for me!

IFSBI: Does your family support you in this project?

Darren: My father, who recently died, was a very big fan of my project. He would always come round and see how the cockpit was developing. On a number of occasions he even financed some of the parts…dads are great!

Michelle shows no interest. I have tried to sit her in front of the sim and describe the intricacies but she goes blurry eyed and hurries downstairs for a glass of wine. But she is well aware of my passion for the project and holds no grudges when money is spent on the cockpit. Deep down I know she is impressed by it all. Any visitors that arrive in the house, Michelle immediately ushers them upstairs to show them the sim and the complex wiring behind the FCU. It always ends up a good talking point!

IFSBI: Do you have a web site where you post your project?

Darren: I do have a website: www.sugden.karoo.net Unfortunately I haven't updated it for a year now. The main reason is that I have forgotten how to create a web page!! That is the truth! It's on my 'to do list' for the summer.

IFSBI: Are there any other Hobbies or interest that you are also involved in?

Darren: In the winter I play football (soccer) for a local team but next year will probably be my last. I am getting too old for it now. The bones are starting to creak. In the summer I play cricket and enjoy walking. I am also an avid Formula 1 fan and will be going, as always, to the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in June.

IFSBI: Is there anything, during the build, you can recommend to prepare our readers for when building a project?

Darren: Firstly I would recommend that you start with the Main Instrument Panel (MIP). I have seen posts in forums were builders start with the pedestal. You need to get the MIP completed first because this will provide the dimensions necessary for the rest of the build. Secondly, make it modular. I have taken the cockpit apart already because of moving house. Even if you do not intend to move house, there will be some point were you want to take a part out to improve. Do small bits at a time such that you are always able to fly it. Being able to use the cockpit, no matter how incomplete it is, is important in spurring you on to the next part of the project. Finally, use LCD screen as opposed to CRT monitors. When I started the build, LCD monitors were too expensive to consider. I am currently using 3 19 inch CRT monitors in the MIP but they are extremely heavy, very difficult to work round and give off a lot of heat. Do not be tempted to buy CRT monitors that are going cheap.

IFSBI: The FCU rotary encoder used in these pictures a purchased product or something you created yourself?

Darren: The rotary encoders are from Flight Deck Solutions. Anybody who is thinking of building an Airbus will quickly realize that this poses the biggest problem. Not only do they have to rotate but also have the ability to be pushed and pulled to command the aircraft into Managed Mode or Selected Mode. They are a fine piece of engineering but alas not from my own hands!

IFSBI: Darren thanks for taking time to answer our questions and providing the pictures.

Best Regards
Darren Sugden