Project lead: @chungl
Contributors: Could be you!
Get involved: #project-flight-sim
This project aims to build a functional simulator modeled after a steam panel Cessna 172 Skyhawk, which is a common general aviation plane that you might use in flight training. I was inspired to start this project after seeing a few reference projects, notably Allan Glen’s C172, The Warthog Project, and Vlad & Roman’s Baron 58. Being equally interested in aviation and building things, I decided to take on a build of my own. My goal was to build a reasonably faithful replica of a GA trainer plane that would allow you to practice systems, workflows, and some flying skills. I’m not currently pursuing a pilot’s license, but my hope would be that the project is realistic enough to be helpful if I were. Real aviation is expensive and time-consuming, and I’d like to make realistic flight simulation more accessible to people who might be interested in aviation but otherwise not have exposure or know where to start.
This project uses X-Plane 11 for the simulator software. Although it’s a video game, it’s widely regarded as a reasonably accurate simulation, and it’s possible to get X-Plane-based simulators licensed with the FAA for use as official training devices.
Hardware and visualizations utilize the RealSimControl project, which has a plugin for X-Plane that communicates with an Arduino Mega over USB for IO. Almost all of the components are homemade through some combination of 3D printing, laser cutting, and old-fashioned woodworking. I’ve used a lot of community designs from thingiverse, but I’ve also contributed some designs of my own. My modeling is mostly done in OpenSCAD and is available on github and I’m working on posting relevant models to thingiverse.
The sim has enough working components to do basic VFR flying, though it currently suffers from some reliability issues and may be down from day-to-day. It will continue to get more functional with the completion of additional projects. Help is welcomed if you’re interested. Join the conversation on slack: #project-flight-sim. I could use help with part design, printing/lasering/assembling modules, doing wiring, software setup, documentation, coding, and more. Please reach out if you’re interested in collaborating on this project.
* Main instrument cluster
* Flight controls
* Ignition & throttle controls
* Basic panoramic visualizations
* GPS1 w/ Nav/Com (needs to be mounted)
* Wiring upgrade (almost done!)
* Flaps switch
* Elevator trim
* Auto pilot
* Nav/Com 2
* Audio panel
* Panel lighting
* Scenery upgrades
* X-Plane 12 and/or MSFS?
* Cabin hood
* Swappable modules for other GA planes and variants, including G1000 glass cockpit panels, multi-engine, and complex aircraft.
* lots of stuff
* Monitor alignment & configuration
* Startup reliability
* Status monitor & controls
* I’m seriously considering writing an open-source replacement for the IO project I’m currently using. It suffers from many usability, testability and quality control issues. This will be a big project, but I think it could really help the flight sim community. I’d love to collaborate if anyone else is interested in contributing to this.
How to Start the Sim
Warning: The project is in “beta” right now and has more than a few rough edges. Be patient and ask questions in #project-flight-sim. Please contribute!
To use the sim (in theory):
- Start the PC and log in to the “Flight Sim” account using the standard denhac password
- Start X-Plane
- Start the VirtualBox machine that runs the main panel display
- Configure your flight in X-Plane
- Go flying!
How to fly
I’m not a CFI and there’s a lot that goes into flying a plane properly, but feel free to mess around; it’s less difficult to get off the ground than you might expect. Please do be gentle with the controls – they are plastic, after all.
If you want to get started quickly, check out the in-game flight school from the sim’s main menu. If you need help, look up tutorials on how to get started in X-Plane 11. If needed, just ignore the hardware and use the on-screen cockpit (shift + 9).
If you want to learn more about flying “the right way”, do some google sleuthing (or check out a local flight school 😉). The plane is a Cessna 172 S. It’s a very common plane and there is a ton of information on the interwebs.
Finicky Bits & Troubleshooting
Computer/Displays not working
- Make sure both power strips are on. The one on the desk under the TV often gets turned off when not in use
- Make sure the TV is on. It doesn’t turn on automatically when the computer wakes up. The remote lives in the keyboard tray
- The computer doesn’t always like to wake up from naps. You may have to hold the power button to shut it off and reboot it.
When logged in, all five displays should be active and showing a windows desktop (or part of the sim). Sometimes the displays turn on in different orders and the layout gets all messed up. Ask for help if you suspect something is wrong.
Panel VM asks for password or shows an error
The virtual machine that runs the instrument panel has a saved machine state that’s already logged in, but sometimes it doesn’t use it. Recycle the machine by clicking the X and accepting the default options “shutdown now” with “reset to stored state”. Reopen the VM and the panel should be visible.
Controls aren’t working
Sometimes the Arduino doesn’t connect to the sim software.
If you don’t see the SimVim Status popup when the sim is loaded, click “Plugins” within the sim menu bar, “SimVimX”, “Status”. If it shows board status of “Connecting”, wait up to 30 seconds to see if it connects. If not, proceed with the following:
If the board is not connecting, try any/all of the following:
- Press the reset button on the main arduino
- Unplug and replug the arduino’s USB connection
- Open “Plugins” => “SimVimX” => “Reset Plugin”
- Wiggle the wiring harness
- Restart the PC ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
If some but not all of the controls are working, ask for help on #project-flight-sim. A connection may need to be fixed.