+49 171 1959 725

“…Got Nothing Better To Do With Your Time?”

Comments (93) News

Every flight simulation enthusiast has been asked this rather annoying question at some point – usually by people who do not really care to understand the fascination this hobby holds for us.

I have piloted virtual planes since the early days of PC-based flight simulators. Back then, no amount of goodwill would convince people around me that the crude graphics on the screen of my computer had any similarity with real flight. But I saw things differently. Since my very first encounter with flight simulation I have embraced the possibility of flying whenever I want, and wherever I want – and to walk away from every landing!

Ten years ago, I decided to make a clear case of addiction even worse by starting the construction of a home cockpit. In today’s world, there are hundreds, maybe thousands of people out there who have decided to do the same thing. There are now dedicated forums on the internet, specialized companies providing plug-and play solutions, and even sim builders’ congresses. But back in the mid-nineties, home built flight simulators were very, very rare. Their creators were either admired as brave pioneers of leading edge technology, or sneered at for wasting their time on an impossible task.

This is the story of how I started with this hobby. It describes some of the highlights, but also the problems I encountered during the long building process. I may also explain how a project, started a decade ago, still is the source of great satisfaction today.

The Idea

It happened one day in December of 1995. I was scanning magazines at a newspaper stand. Looking through an American PC Games Magazine, I saw an ad for a home cockpit kit, 3-dimensional and with real panels and buttons. “Fly like the real pilots do!” the title screamed.

I had – for some time already – been toying with the idea of having switches and buttons arranged around my monitor to enhance the feeling of being there when taking off into the virtual skies. But this looked even better: Sitting inside a cockpit, joystick and throttles mounted left and right, and a monitor in front of me. I was infected.

The attempt to contact the makers of that cockpit kit was unsuccessful. It seemed they had gone out of business before even starting it: My faxes and phone calls remained unanswered. So I had to take things into my own hands. I estimated that it would take me roughly one year to plan, design and build my own cockpit simulator. Had I known how wrong I was…

It took months of painfully slow research in the fledging flight sim forums at CompuServe to get first answers. I was told to talk to two persons: Ralph Robinson from R&R Electronics and to a guy whose name I don’t remember at Thrustmaster. Ralph is the mastermind behind the programmable Input/Output card EPIC and Thrustmaster at that time produced the MDF components and fiberglass outer shell of a F-16 cockpit. The trouble was to get all this stuff to Alma Ata, Kazakhstan, where I lived in those years. But there are no hurdles too high and no rivers too wide for the dedicated cockpit builder – I already mentioned the infection, didn’t I?

I solved the transport problem and soon enough I was happily joining MFD plates. Within a few days my apartment had one usable room less, but now it contained a construction (my friends called it a contraption) you could sit in and feel, … well … “like the real pilots do”? Not quite – but it was a beginning. I soon realized that the Thrustmaster cockpit concept did not fully suit my needs. The panels were large, flat planes that – even when covered with switches and buttons – would still look rather flat and uninspiring. So I started to extensively rework the whole structure to make it look more like real cockpit interiors. I integrated joystick, throttle and rudder pedals, made space for additional monitors and – anticipating the ever increasing weight of the setup – reinforced all joints.

The Design Process

Next I sat down and started to plan what all those empty spaces inside the cockpit should contain. A glass cockpit was no option – years would pass before Project Magenta became available. So I simply looked at all the flight sim programs I used at that time (MS-FS4, ATP, Falcon3, Flanker and Tornado) and drew up a list of the commands I used most frequently in all of them. I decided to build a generic cockpit that I could use to fly a Cessna, a Tornado or any other plane. As a result, my panels would have a weapons control unit and a King autopilot sitting peacefully next to each other – everything crammed into the replica of an F-16 cockpit.

The panel design process was a flight of fancy. Using Corel Draw I invented what I thought I needed, trying to combine form and function. Since I had no real airplane nearby as a reference, I used photos. But above all, I used my imagination. The result looked like a cockpit, no doubt. But it was the only one of its kind. When I had visitors, I told them: “If I were an aircraft engineer, building my own plane – this is how its cockpit would look like!”

Today, a decade later and after two major upgrades my cockpit is much less generic; many of it’s panels are now quite similar to their real world counterparts. But as a whole, my creation still has little resemblance with any real cockpit out there. And I still tell my visitors the same thing. But let me take you back to those early days…


So far, things had been relatively simple; mainly pleasant carpentry and PC based design work. Progress was fast and the results were visible almost immediately. That changed when a DHL parcel arrived, containing the electronics I would use as an interface between the cockpit and my PC: the EPIC card and modules. While scanning the manual I got the distinct feeling that this was way over my head: diodes, data leads and modrows, binary encoded rotaries, a C-like programming language – to me it all sounded like Chinese.

But people on the net, among them Ralph Robinson, told me it would work and that others before me had mastered the skills needed to tame the EPIC beast. I read the manual from cover to cover, re-read it and than re-read it again. Slowly I started to understand the concept. But now I wanted hard evidence that EPIC really works: I soldered a pushbutton to a data lead and a modrow cable and wrote my first lines of epl code. And yes, it did work! Each press of that button produced the letter “g” in notepad, and only moments later – after firing up Flight Simulator – the same buttonpress raised my landing gear.

Sounds like no big deal, but all who have gone through this – or a similar process – will agree: Success in making these first steps with a new and almost alien technology creates a feeling of euphoria and achievement that is hard to describe – and even harder to relay to others: Imagine that freshly soldered button hanging in the air over my workspace, suspended from its two wires. And me, with a sparkle of elation in my eyes (and looking more than ever like the mad scientist), pointing happily at a simple letter on the screen.

But now I had my proof: the buttons worked, and after some more soldering, so did the LEDs and the 7-segment displays. It was time to get serious…

Hard Labor

By now, more parcels had arrived, containing different flavors of pushbuttons, toggle switches, rotaries, displays, diodes and of course wire, lots of wire. I just had to put it all together.

What followed was hard labor. Making all these panels I had dreamt up kept me soldering for months, many months (remember, only 12 of these make a year!). It often left me cross-eyed, tired and sometimes wondering if it all was worth the effort. Progress was small, often imperceptible. I think it is at this stage where so many cockpit projects fail. No matter how big the enthusiasm in the projecting phase, it is during the panel building when builders have to muster all their determination and patience to keep going on and to finish the job.

It became clear that my original one year estimate for completing the simulator was obsolete. 18 months had passed and I was nowhere near the end.
In those days, there was clear and present danger for my project. But I was determined not to end up with a room full of useless scrap. To ensure long term motivation I started to take long, planned breaks. During these, I dedicated all my time to other activities and cleared those panels from my mind and the soldering vapors from my lungs.

And once I finished a panel, I connected and used it. I drew fresh energy from flight testing each new component. It really helped to renew my determination when I felt the new buttons click under your fingertips and something happened in my cockpit that – only weeks before – had required keyboard interaction.

The Code

Unfortunately, wires and switches are only one part of the story. In order to make them perform their function within the simulator, programming is needed. I had never written a single line of coding before. For all I knew, Basic, C or FORTRAN could as well have been the names of Saturn’s moons. So I was off to a rather difficult start.

I already knew that the EPIC stuff worked in principle; now it was time to go deeper. Using the cryptic EPIC manual and more than a little help from friends on the net, I made my first attempts to write real code. And the old saying proved itself again: “You can do it, if you put your mind to it!”

Weeks later, after many sleepless nights and countless moments of total frustration, I began to see the slow but steady development of my programming skills. Suddenly, the press of a button could do more than just produce a character on the screen. After discovering variables, flags and “If – Then” functions (and the fact that they can be nested), there was no stopping me. I happily programmed the nights away and my code became so intricate that I was usually unable to understand the next day what I had written just one night before. But I started to program my own logic into my panels, and I found that to be a very enjoyable creative process.

The convenient thing about programming is that it can be done everywhere, as long as there is a computer around. I found myself writing code for my cockpit on airplanes or sitting in my hotel room in the lonely evenings of business trips.

The Never-Ending Story

It took me 3 years to finish the cockpit – the first stage of the building process, to be precise. There it was in my workroom, with an imposing footprint of six by six feet. I had built all those switches and displays into their panels. I had three monitors in front of me, displaying a synchronized view of the outside world. 4000 lines of EPIC code (no pun intended) made it all work. The stage was set for happy flying…

But it did not take me long to realize that I was not done yet. I wanted a full enclosure. When flying at FL35, few things are more distracting than turning your head and looking at your neighbor mowing his lawn. I decided to construct a jetfighter-like canopy and to enclose the three monitors, using plywood. Again, I underestimated the time this would take, but one year later it was done.

Then Project Magenta with its true to life glass cockpit instruments came along and I knew that another upgrade was about to happen: More PC’s, more monitors, and a completely reworked cockpit interior. Throw in a new EPIC card (USB now) and the rewriting of my EPL code, and the inclined reader will understand how another 2 years came to pass.

In 2004 I moved to a new location, so the simulator had to be disassembled. After arriving at the new place I was about to put it all back together again – but then I hesitated… With everything taken apart – wasn’t this the perfect occasion for some long due upgrades?

Only 12 months later it was done. New instruments and panels grace a cockpit that looks more sophisticated than ever. It was during this year when I noticed with a mixture of shock and nostalgia that none of the first generation panels had survived the various upgrades of the last decade. But aviation is changing, and so is the technology behind homebuilt cockpits. The temptation to make yet another modification is always present.

But for the next couple of years I plan to spend my time using this amazing piece of equipment sitting in my workroom. No more upgrades. Or maybe just some very, very small ones.

Here I will end the account of my cockpit building endeavor, and it is a good moment to make a point: For those who get into this hobby, it is not only about enhancing the flight sim experience – it is also about the creative act of building something unique . . . and to find out how far you can get.

So, are there better ways to spend my time? Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as using my time…


May 2005

93 Responses to “…Got Nothing Better To Do With Your Time?”

  1. Knorr says:

    Alles für Umreifung.
    Umreifungsband, Verpackungsband.
    Klemmen, Hülsen, Spanner…….
    Umreifungszange, Umreifungsschweisser.

    Hochwertige Waren vom Produzent. Fabrikverkauf.
    Versand am gleichen Tag aus Frankfurt. Bis 95 % günstiger als auf dem Markt.

    Müllsäcke und Vieles mehr.

    Info auf:
    Mit freundlichen Grüßen

  2. Cryptocurrency is presented in electronic digital wallets.

  3. Hochwertige Waren vom Produzent. Fabrikverkauf. Versand am gleichen Tag. Bis 95 % günstiger als auf dem Markt.

    Müllsäcke Alle, Sandsäcke, Raschelsäcke, Spänesäcke,

    Kartonage, Luftpolstertaschen, Maxibrief,

    Abdeckplane, Abdeckfolie, Baufolie,

    Alufolie – Frischhaltefolie, Alu Klebeband – Aluband,

    Abklebeband, Malerkrepp, Klebeband mit Folie, Malerkrepp mit Folie,

    Antirutsch Streifen, Klebebänder Alle, Gewebeband, Papierklebeband,

    Ddoppelseitiges Klebeband, Schaumklebeband, Reflektorband, Absperrband,

    Kantenschutz, Kantenschutzprofil, Abdeckhaube, Palettenhaube,

    Reifentüten, Umzugsdecken, Möbeldecken,

    Alles für Umreifung, Umreifungsband, Haspelspanner, Klemmen,

    Stretchfolie, Handstretchfolie, Maschinenstretchfolie

    Unkrautvlies, Malervlies, Renoviervlies,

    Luftpolsterfolie, Alu Luftpolsterfolie, Schaumfolie, Alu Schaumfolie,

    Sichtschutz, Sonnenschutz, Windschutz,

    Glasschutzfolie, Fensterschutzfolie,

    Katzenstreu alle Sorten, Arbeitshandschuhe und Vieles mehr


  4. I am regular visitor, how are you everybody? This paragraph
    posted at this web site is in fact pleasant.

    my homepage; Airdrop Treasure and NFTs token value

  5. Heya i’m for the first time here. I found this board and I
    find It really useful & it helped me out a lot.
    I hope to give something back and help others like
    you helped me.

  6. Appreciating the time and effort you put into
    your website and detailed information you provide.
    It’s nice to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t
    the same old rehashed information. Excellent read! I’ve bookmarked your site and I’m adding
    your RSS feeds to my Google account.

  7. For the reason that the admin of this site is working, no uncertainty very quickly it will be renowned, due to its quality contents.

  8. In the case of recycled-object crafting, compact discs have too much going for them.
    As a consumer, you still have to choose wisely and spend rigorously, but the end result
    of Android’s recognition is a brand new vary of products and a lot more selections.
    Americans made essentially the most of it by watching even more broadcast television; solely
    25 percent of recordings have been of cable channels.
    You can even make these festive CDs for St.
    Patrick’s Day or Easter. Cover the back with felt, drill a hole in the highest, loop a
    string or ribbon through the hole and there you have got it —
    an prompt Mother’s Day reward. Use a dremel to clean the edges and punch
    a gap in the highest for string. Hair dryers use the motor-driven fan and
    the heating component to remodel electric power into convective heat.
    The airflow generated by the fan is forced via the heating element by
    the shape of the hair dryer casing.

    Visit my webpage; ยิงปลาฟรี

  9. I cherish the sources you’ve linked in the post.
    It shows the depth of your research study and includes credibility to your message.

    Stop by my web-site … Cheap car insurance

  10. The historical circumstance you offered provided a
    new size to the topic. It was an illuminating read.

    Feel free to visit my blog Insurance agency in Dallas

  11. I found out that cheap Car insurance Chicago IL insurance may possess fantastic add-ons.
    Try to find plans that deliver bonus like mishap mercy.

  12. When it pertains to car Auto insurance coverage, much cheaper isn’t consistently much better.

    Make certain your policy deals with all your requirements.

  13. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here. The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish. nonetheless, you command get bought an nervousness over that you wish be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more formerly again as exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield this hike.

  14. After a collision, I valued having cheap Car insurance Palos Hills Illinois
    insurance that really did not stint insurance coverage.

    Consistently check the coverage details just before making
    a decision.

  15. This is the sort of information that deserves to go viral.
    Thank you for sharing your skills.

    my site; Ron Spinabella

  16. tlovertonet says:

    I have been checking out a few of your stories and it’s nice stuff. I will definitely bookmark your blog.

  17. Auto Van insurance policy
    is actually certainly not merely about your auto. It is actually
    regarding your safety which of others while driving.

  18. Your message tested a number of my presumptions. Thank you for providing a clean point of view.

    Here is my web-site … Cheapest SR22 insurance

  19. Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thank you for providing this info.

    Feel free to visit my homepage – Public Relations Firm in Los Angeles

  20. Just before acquiring cheap car insurance policy, I
    was actually paying for technique way too much. It pays for
    to review your Insurance agent Chicago needs to have occasionally.

  21. Car Insurance agents Chicago is
    everything about harmonizing cost with protection. Locate a plan that strikes the right balance
    for you.

  22. Your way of telling the whole thing in this post is truly fastidious,
    all be able to effortlessly understand it, Thanks a lot.

    My web page :: Gutter Cleaning Sacramento

  23. Car Auto insurance coverage is actually
    an important part of having a car. Be sure you recognize your policy.

  24. Auto Car insurance Las Vegas coverage have lots
    of variables. Know what affects your costs to acquire the best offer.

  25. I advise cheap Car insurance Whitfield County GA
    insurance coverage to any individual who would like to conserve
    funds. It is actually all regarding balancing cost as well as insurance
    coverage requirements.

  26. SR22 says:

    SR22 insurance may be a problem, yet it is actually important for legal driving.
    It’s a form that proves you’re carrying the required insurance coverage.

    SR22 insurance is usually required after serious web traffic offenses.
    Constantly keep your SR22 insurance up-to-date to keep up
    to date with state rules.

  27. Its like you read my mind! You appear to know a lot about this, like
    you wrote the book in it or something. I think that you could
    do with some pics to drive the message home a bit, but instead of that, this is great blog.
    A great read. I will definitely be back.

    Feel free to surf to my web page; cryptocurrency copy trading

  28. Gcfyba says:

    generic lipitor 20mg lipitor 20mg over the counter buy atorvastatin 40mg generic

  29. Auto car insurance dalton policy could be a lifesaver in complicated times.
    Guarantee your plan is actually complete good enough for
    your needs.

  30. Senior citizens can easily profit significantly from cheap car insurance.

    Several companies use lots for more mature motorists.

  31. Dfvadb says:

    brand finasteride 1mg propecia 5mg pills fluconazole us

  32. For moms and dads along with young motorists
    in Cicero, Illinois, look at incorporating all of them to
    your existing auto Car insurance cicero.
    This can easily usually be actually a lot more cost-effective than acquiring
    a separate policy for a teen driver. Nonetheless, be gotten ready for your fees to increase
    as a result of the included threat of covering a
    youthful, much less professional driver.

  33. Dnnntt says:

    cipro online order – buy baycip for sale cost augmentin 625mg

  34. Tsbfio says:

    buy generic ciprofloxacin 1000mg – purchase bactrim pill augmentin 625mg oral

  35. Zihoqx says:

    metronidazole 200mg generic – how to get flagyl without a prescription buy zithromax medication

  36. Zljchl says:

    ciprofloxacin order online – trimox pills
    erythromycin cost

  37. Mgdiwh says:

    valacyclovir 1000mg cheap – order diltiazem generic purchase zovirax

  38. Dbjopc says:

    buy stromectol 12mg – buy cefixime without prescription order generic sumycin

  39. Mwrxvo says:

    flagyl 200mg cheap – terramycin 250mg cheap azithromycin 250mg pills

  40. Taqbdk says:

    ampicillin order online order ampicillin online order amoxil sale

  41. Zaqwce says:

    buy furosemide cheap – how to buy tacrolimus captopril online

  42. Sckjzs says:

    buy retrovir 300mg without prescription – buy zyloprim for sale order zyloprim online

  43. Ndkemm says:

    buy metformin 500mg generic – buy ciprofloxacin without a prescription order lincomycin 500mg without prescription

  44. Rhtpgc says:

    clozapine 50mg without prescription – clozaril without prescription oral famotidine 20mg

  45. Bdwpdb says:

    quetiapine 100mg uk – eskalith cost generic eskalith

  46. Thanks , I have recently been searching for
    information about this subject for a while and yours is the best I’ve found out till now.

    But, what in regards to the conclusion? Are you sure about
    the supply?

    My web page – cryptocurrency

  47. Rgcnjp says:

    hydroxyzine 10mg ca – lexapro 10mg uk buy amitriptyline 25mg sale

  48. Dmfuob says:

    anafranil order online – buy generic clomipramine over the counter order doxepin 25mg generic

  49. Zymmja says:

    buy amoxicillin pills for sale – order amoxicillin 250mg sale order baycip generic

  50. Rplomw says:

    purchase amoxiclav without prescription – buy linezolid 600mg for sale purchase baycip without prescription

  51. Bjlhfx says:

    buy cleocin no prescription – buy cleocin pill purchase chloromycetin generic

  52. boostaro says:

    What is Boostaro? Boostaro revolutionizes romantic performance enhancement through its reliance on the wisdom of natural ingredients

  53. Vwohlz says:

    azithromycin drug – tetracycline 500mg canada ciprofloxacin us

  54. Skzljp says:

    buy albuterol generic – purchase allegra for sale cost theophylline 400 mg

  55. Xswdcx says:

    ivermectin 6mg without prescription – ivermectin 12 mg without a doctor prescription where can i buy cefaclor

  56. more info says:

    This blog is definitely rather handy since I’m at the moment creating an internet floral website – although I am only starting out therefore it’s really fairly small, nothing like this site. Can link to a few of the posts here as they are quite. Thanks much. Zoey Olsen

  57. Good info. Lucky me I reach on your website by accident, I bookmarked it.

  58. I have been browsing on-line more than 3 hours nowadays, yet I by no means found any fascinating article like yours. It’s lovely value sufficient for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made good content material as you did, the internet can be a lot more useful than ever before. “No one has the right to destroy another person’s belief by demanding empirical evidence.” by Ann Landers.

  59. I really appreciate this post. I have been looking all over for this! Thank goodness I found it on Bing. You’ve made my day! Thx again!

  60. Bjhbdm says:

    clarinex without prescription – best allergy medicine for adults order ventolin online

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.