Sunday, February 1st, 2009

How much did you spend building that simulator?

This is probably the most common question I’m asked about the simulator I built, with many of these questions originating from my related YouTube video.

Most people seem to assume that I spent some silly sum putting this thing together, but that’s simply not true. The truth is that this project was mostly about recycling a lot of older electronics and materials that were just lying around. It’s true that I did spend a decent sum building a high-end gaming computer for FSX. However, outside this computer and the flight controls (purchased from Saitek) the simulator itself only cost about $150.

The following components were recycled and hence free:
– A 9 year old Dell PC (used to power one of the cockpit display panels)
– A 5 year old Dell Laptop (used to power and display one of the cockpit display panels)
– An LCD monitor (used for some of the cockpit display panels)
– My existing router (used to run the local network for data transfers between the FS computer and panel computers)
– Wood (mostly scraps just lying around in the garage)
– Use of various power tools
– Various connectors and cables

Most of these items could also be acquired secondhand for a nominal charge.

The following components were purchased:
– Electronics components (LEDs, capacitors, resistors and relays)
– Paint (A sampler pot for about $3 was plenty to paint the whole thing)
– Software to power the panels and local network (
– Various odds and ends (wood glue, solder, …)

There are some amazing home-built simulators out there (some costing $10k, 20k, 50k or more!), but I wasn’t aiming to build an exact replica of the 737. There are also a lot of ‘kits’ and pre-constructed cockpit panels and controls available for purchase. Most of these look great, but they’re not cheap.

However, costs aside I generally prefer to, as much as possible, do things ‘from scratch.’ I don’t just want to know how to use something, I want to know how it works and I find the best way to accomplish that is to do/build it myself. There’s no question that this is probably one of the most time consuming and frustrating ways of building a simulator (or most anything else for that matter), but in the end it’s definitely worth it. Not only is there that great sense of ‘hey I built this,’ but you pick up a lot of new knowledge and experience in the process.

I of course know that most people are not interested in building their own flight simulators, but there are plenty of other great projects which can put those old computers and electronics back to good use.

Have you brought an old computer back to life through an interesting project (FS related or not)? If so, please post a comment below to let me and others know about it.

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4 Comments on “How much did you spend building that simulator?”

  1. Chris

    Nice inexpensive hacks – I’m impressed. I’m definitely interested in more detail on your toggle->momentary relay setup – that’s pretty slick.

  2. Tim

    wow…your pit is awsome its exactly what i was looking to do myself but i got stumped with all of the EXTREME pits out there i got a little overwhelmed..but your pit is exactly what i was looking to do is there any way you could show me some photos of the full pit and maybe some behing the scenes shots…as this will help me greatly in building my pit..if you do not want to that is ok i understand….your pit still rocks…keep up the good work i will keep an eye out on the site.thanks tim

  3. Cool i am looking forward to owning those!

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  4. If you are looking for cheap parts for building a flight simulator then there are several sites that you can visit that may be of help to you. Take a look at the following:

    FSX Tutorial,
    Flight Simulator Tutorial,
    Flight Simulator X, and finally,
    FSX Virtual Airlines

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