The front panel is 70 cm wide and 25 cm high. It contains the displays and control elements most frequently used by the pilot:
The MCP / Enhanced Autopilot, the EFIS panel, the Primary Flight Display and the Navigation Display, each on a 10,3 ” TFT LCD display running PM Glass Cockpit software. Between the two displays is the Nav Radio Panel with NAV Radios 1 + 2 and the ADF radios
This is by far the most complex panel in my cockpit. No other component took longer to make. There were many “firsts”: The use of TFT-LCD displays, rotary decoders, hand-wired 7-segment digit displays and modified push buttons with an LED inside.
As always, things started with a Corel Draw design study, made after I knew the physical dimensions of the monitors.
The Autopilot covers the lower 5 cm of the central monitor. That means the “over the hood” outside view is a bit obstructed, but this is the only right place for the AP.
The front panel frame, made from plywood. Originally, this panel was completely flat. As a result, the viewing angle for the TFT monitors was wrong. The images they produced appeared dull and without contrast. To fix that, I had to raise the lower, outer corners of the displays. This improved the viewing angle (optimum would be 90 deg., i.e. view line perpendicular to the display surface).
Tthe MCP and EFIS panels prodtrude 9cm toward the pilot, making AP knobs and switches easier to reach. That gives depth to the panel and (imho) makes it look more realistic.
The plywood frame, seen from the back. To keep the construction light, I mainly used 4mm plywood. Only the front plate is made from 12mm plywood for added strength.
The 3 green knobs that look like pencil erazor tips are just that. They align with the three OSD buttons on the frame of the central monitor. The panel covers the lower part of the monitor, so the only access to them is via these spring loaded rods. The erazor tip gives better contact with the monitor buttons.
The finished product. Click the thumb for a really detailed look!
The TFT monitors were installed upside down in order to achieve a perfect viewing angle. The latest versions of the Nvidia drivers allow to rotate the output 180 deg., so the the image (once Windows loaded) looks normal. The monitors have a resolution of 1024 x 768, resulting in very detailed and crisp images.
The image is fed to the TFT displays via d/a converter cards (blue PCB’s). They are mounted very close to the displays to avoid signal degradation. The converter cards accept a VGA signal from any standard graphics card with a VGA output. The oblong green PCB is a voltage converter card. It produces the high current required by the TFT displays.
Because it contains so many buttons, knobs and displays, the front panel has more wires then any other panel. Luckily, all that mess is hidden from view once the cockpit is fully assembled.
This photo – still with front panel V.1 – shows the cable harnes, runing from the front panel over the rudder pedals towards the front of the cockpit, where all the EPIC cards are mounted and most of the electrical distribution happens.
The two loudspeakers in the center are used for the cockpit anunciator (altitude readout, etc.). This function is provided by the Project Magenta “PM Sounds” program. The speakers are connected to the EICAS PCs, which also runs PM Sounds.
Side view of the front panel. It shows how the panel is tilted towards the pilots line of view and how the MCP sections protrudes some centimeters. In V.1 and V.2 of the cockpit, the rear of the front panel case actually touched the frame of the central monitor – thus it’s slim silhouette.
In the lower part, note the landing gear switch and behind it the flaps lever – both part of the Mechanics Panel.
… a closer view…
The V.2 cockpit in action – or at least part of it! In this shot, MCP and Nav Radios are not yet powered up. Still missing: frames around the stand-by instruments.
V.3 of the cockpit saw the switch from monitors to beamers. As a consequence, I could build a proper front panel case. It is now almost 30 cm deep. That looks better than the former, slim front panel, and it is also much sturdier. Also, I finally have a decent place to store approach plates needed for a flight!
But progress comes at a price: now there is no decent place in the cockpit anymore to put a coffee mug (or the occasional bottle of beer…)
In order to maintain modularity – in case the cockpit needs to be moved again – the front panel case consists of three different parts and can be disassembled within minutes.