Home Flight Simulator Setup – 5. Hardware Instruments

This post is the fifth of a short series on how to develop your own home flight simulator. It’s for the complete beginner, keeping things simple, not meant to be a comprehensive guide.

If you have done what I discussed in the previous posts in this series, then I assume you have your simulator up and running, and you might have some hardware flight controls (yoke or stick, throttle quadrant, rudder pedals). You know how to take off, fly around, and land. But you are still using the keyboard and mouse for some things, certainly if you want to tweak any of the cockpit panel instruments on your computer screen, and you’ve discovered how cumbersome that is. So, you are ready to explore the world of hardware instruments, which have physical switches to flip, buttons to push, and knobs to turn, and which make your flying more realistic and fun. These physical products connect to your computer, usually by USB, and control the flight simulator software, so that what you do on the hardware instrument alters what you see on the screen and changes what the plane is doing.

As an example, I’ll show you what I decided for my own setup, which I fashioned to closely match the experience of flying my dream airplane: the Diamond DA40 NG.

This is an image of a real-life Diamond DA40 NG cockpit.
This is the cockpit panel of a simulated Diamond DA40 NG that you can buy for your simulator.

As you can see, the simulated panel on your computer screen is very realistic, almost identical to the real thing. But you’d have to be very precise with your mouse to hit the tiny switches, buttons, and knobs, and it’s even more difficult to do it quickly as you are flying. It’s much easier and much more realistic to have physical hardware. Fortunately, there are companies that can match some or all of the panel components with fantastic precision.

I chose to purchase part of the panel, the main part, which emulates the Garmin G1000 suite and its associated audio panel. This is the exact product I own:

G1000 hardware instruments for flight simulators.

And here’s what it looks like in my actual home setup:

The current version of my flight simulator.

You can see that the physical hardware G1000 suite is at easy reach right in front of my face, in front of the computer monitor. Using it reproduces the flying experience very accurately. The G1000 hardware product gives me two navigation radios, two communication radios, digital flight instruments (airspeed indicator, attitude indicator with artificial horizon, a barometrically sensitive altimeter, vertical speed indicator, horizontal situation indicator, and turn coordinator). I also have knobs to set barometric pressure, heading, course, and altitude, a GPS with moving map and ability to load flight plans, charts to go along with the moving map (airport, departure, arrival, and approach charts), autopilot, an audio panel, and those are just the basics. This simulator hardware has a myriad of other functions that closely mimic a real life G1000 system.

There are other parts of the real-life cockpit panel that I chose NOT to reproduce in physical hardware. For example, I didn’t need to have buttons for lights, fuel pump, pitot heat, the backlup instruments, the electric circuit breaker panel, the starter, the fuel exhange button, and others. Though I do have buttons on the throttle quadrant that I use to program things like flaps, landing gear, brakes, etc. This way, once I set up the flight and start the simulation, I never have to touch the mouse or keyboard commands to fly the airplane. It makes my simulated flight experience MUCH more realistic.

This was just one example of physical hardware instruments. There are many others available, from many companies, for a multitude of other airplanes, each reproducing the real thing. You pick and choose what fits your wants/needs and budget.

And this is a good time to mention that there are complete systems that reproduce every part of a particualr airplane cockpit. These are available from several companies, including RealSimGear and Flight Velocity to name just two. And I’m talking about systems that are within a “reasonable” price range for the regular person, not the commercial systems for flight school simulators. Though, of course, these complete home systems are indeed quite pricey, in the $7,000 to $20,000 range. To a rank beginner, these prices sound astronomical. But if you have paid $200 to $300 per hour for flight instruction, you can see how quickly it would “pay” for itself. I have about 250 hours on my simulator. If I had paid $200/hr on a real plane, that would total to $50,000. See? And some of these complete systems qualify as an official, FAA-approved BATD (Basic Aviation Training Device) which can be used to log time and experience that goes toward certificate and currency requirements.

Here is an example of a complete system from RealSimGear:

A complete “turnkey” system that qualifies as an offical, FAA-approved BATD.

Whether you buy the few instruments that make sense for your situation or are able to invest in a complete system, hardware instruments make simulator flying much more realistic and enjoyable.

Your next assignment: Explore the vast world of hardware instruments and see what you might like—> Want—> NEED!!! LOL 

Next post: Enhancements and Add-ons

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