Flight Simulator

A few years ago I set out on a project to build a flight simulator so I wouldn't have to rely on virtual instruments and keyboard controls. The idea was simple: plenty of old airplane instruments and controls are available on Ebay for not much money, and filling them with servos or other motors and potentiometers and interfacing them with a computer shouldn't be too hard. All that's left after that is to calibrate the readings and interface all that to a flight simulator software. Shouldn't be too hard, right? Alas, I think the greatest reason it's still not working is my lack of effort. That's starting to change though, as I recently started a CAD drawing for my instrument panel and will be designing the rest of the hardware in the coming weeks.

My current parts inventory:

With that, here are a few pictures of its current state:

Most of my assortment of parts; it takes up two drawers in my workbench, and some more!

The ad for this radio claims it came from an MD-80. I like it because it's small and won't take up much panel space.

A Sperry F-3 attitude gyro (not an artificial horizon!). Note that it is currently indicating a climb, though it looks like a descent.

I want to be able to simulate lots of different types, so an airspeed indicator that reads from 40-400 is very helpful! This is also the only instrument that has already been gutted and stuffed with electronics so far.

I believe this VSI came out of a more recent airliner. The glass has a funky purple hue when the light hits it just right.

Another instrument with near unlimited capabilities!

NARCO VOA-9. I haven't disassembled this at all and am hoping I can run it unmodified, as in this Sabreliner Sim.

An "Automatic Pilot Heading Selector" that will be my directional gyro

One of my favorite instruments, a combination landing gear and flaps position indicator

Another Vertical Speed Indicator, this one from a De Havilland Vampire

The service tag that leads me to believe in the above claim

My transponder head. Like the radio, I like this because it's no bigger than it needs to be.

And here are some updates from long ago, when I started buying parts for it:

Update 3: 29 October 2014

Last night I took the three instruments I so far have and my radio to the Badger Aviators ground school last night. Disassembling the altimeter with the various students there was fun, but I remained unable to get the VSI or RoTI apart. After putting the altimeter back together I took them to the auto shop in ECB with a friend of mine (Ethan) and we drilled out the screws I was unable to unscrew. The VSI took a long time to get apart (I suspect something got distorted while I/Ethan was trying to dismantle it) and I accidentally broke the diaphragm while messing with the guts. We got the face off the RoTI, but stopped there. I've been promising pictures, but they're still not here. They'll be here eventually. They're all date-stamped, so the right ones will still go to the right places.

Update 2: 24 October 2014

I spent some time with the altimeter earlier this week. I am able to get everything off until the hands (which prevent the face of it from coming off so I can get at the guts). I have no idea how they're held on; the closest thing I have to a manual states I need some sort of 'Pointer replacement tool,' but I have no idea what that might be, and the Internet it seems knows no better. It's also definitely completely broken; I reset the hands to 900' at a reasonable pressure setting (again, I didn't look up what it actually was) and it's read the same all week.

I haven't spent any more time with the radio; I plan to take it to my dad's this weekend where hopefully I'll be able to get the setscrews off the knobs and the DME switch, which should allow me to take the face off and get better access to the rotation shafts that drive it.

The VSI and Inclinometer I ordered finally showed up yesterday, despite the tracking information saying I should expect them Monday. The inclinometer is a bit gross, with a few bug (well, Entomology 201 has taught me they're not true bugs [which belong to the order Hemiptera, of the insects]) carcasses in it, but the VSI is clean aside from what looks like dust. Those should be fun to tear apart, and rather easy to make work. Not sure how I'll deal with the ball; I'm thinking of mounting the instrument such that it can rotate slightly. I also ordered a VOR/ILS indicator. It was listed on eBay for Buy it Now $49.95 from Flying Fish, but I offered $30 and they accepted! That should be lots of fun when it gets here. I might not even need to put any servos in it!

Update 1: 20 October 2014

A while back I bought an old radio (claims to be from an MD80) on eBay for around $30. The Com and Nav sides are backwards (Com is on the right), but it's in good shape and the frequencies don't overlap so I don't care. Last weekend I took the case apart and started tearing wires out--I was hoping to end up with a functional radio being my sim radio, but the wires get in the way way too much. Given that all the shafts are concentric all the way back, it looks like putting pots in this thing will be more complicated than I had thought, but I'll still be able to do it. Last Wednesday I managed to buy a Vertical Speed indicator and a Rate of Turn Indicator/Turn Coordinator on eBay (which I expect to show up today!) for a combined $39, including shipping. Sadly, the seller didn't offer to combine shipping. Yesterday on a flyout to a pig roast in HXF, I scored an almost completely broken altimeter from a friend of mine for $10. The 1000' and 10000' hands spin freely, but the 100' hand still responds to the pressure setting knob (and, I think, pressure changes), though in my apartment this morning set to 29.92 (the correct setting was 29.85) it read 405'.