In the summer of 2018, I built a VR-based flight simulator. The first version was just to just play with a computer with the yoke mounted to the desk, but I soon realized virtual reality would certainly add a whole layer of realism that would help train hand-eye coordination of flying a plane.
As a result I continued the project and added even more realism!
The Flight Sim Setup Explained
Flight Sim Desk
I designed the wooden stand based off real measurements off the plane cockpit. First of all, I set up all the controls in CAD and then built the frame to mount all controls.
Thanks to Sketchup’s “3D warehouse“, I did not have to model the Logitech’s controllers, I could re-use something that was already made.
Special thanks for modeling the parts go to:
- Benk Kimball – Saitek switch panel 3D model
- MiRi – Saitek rudder pedals
- Josh M. – Saitek throttle quadrant
Parts of the VR Flight Simulator
Flight Controllers and Input Devices
- Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel
- Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
- Saitek Pro Flight Yoke and modified throttle quadrant
I opened the Yoke unit and gave it a half-a tube of engine grease, stock lubricants did not feel right. Fixed the problem, feels much more premium and moves smoothly.
X-Plane Virtual Reality
By default, the switches on the physical control panel do not match the 3D model in the game. Remapping them fixes the problem, but then the texts next to the physical buttons will be off. Therefore have to decide whether to use the TV or VR, either go by text or feel.
Other Flight Sim Hardware
- HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset
- Bose QC15 noise canceling headphones
- DIY frame made from pine wood and a push-rod assembly
- Fan to cool user down and add a physical direction indicator
- Beefy computer to run high frame-rate VR in real time
- Miscellaneous fasteners and a lot of tape.
As an optional part, I modeled the Pilot In Command (PIC) side of the Cessna’s instrument panel to be laser-cut from plywood.
This would enable a screen to be used behind it, putting the instruments and their adjustment knobs on the right physical places.
Cessna Skylane C172 Throttle and Mixture Knobs
I 3D-printed the engine control knobs that are glued to the ends of the pushrods.
3D-Print your own knobs
You can find the knobs from Thingiverse under my nickname: Nerdaxic
VR Flight Simulator and HTC Vive
Flight Simulation Quality and Immersion
Even with the pixel-fog of HTC Vive the simulation is quite immersive.
Its the best when there is something that you panic upon – you get a realistic reaction from the user.
If you need to read texts on the instrument panel, for example, the
switches, you have to lean in quite a lot because of the poor resolution.
Best VR Headset for flight sim
Here I feel like HTC Vive Pro would be the best option for X-Plane and worth the extra money if building this setup from scratch.
I would not see a reason to update existing Vive though.
VR Headset and Motion Sickness
Against all expectations, to this day I
I have tried playing some other games, like Fallout 4 VR with the setup while standing and I can’t really play more than 10 minutes at the time without getting hot and motion sick.
One of my friends who tried the system reported feeling a bit dizzy after flying for 20 min.
Virtual Reality Flight Simulation
X-Plane 11 is detailed enough that you can actually use all the instruments on the plane and on the ground, like aerodrome lights etc.
The only downside of running this on VR is the intense GPU load. My new computer (Mark IX) is running fast 8-core processor with 16 threads, 32 GB of RAM and GTX 1080 was barely managing 45 FPS with high detail.
The frame rate is very important for Virtual Reality and if you set the detail too high, it might drop below usable when you fly on top of crowded places like London which has a lot of buildings, cars etc to render.
Extra Simulator Immersion for Cheap
I noticed that adding a fan next to you, blowing the air so it seems like its coming from the virtual air vent in the game for some reason makes the simulation way more immersive. Like so much another level it feels stupid.
Simulator’s Cessna model has leather seats – thus I selected my couch as a prime location to set up the simulator. Even the surface you sit on feels like what your eyes are telling you. Small things add up to create
Build Your Own Flight Simulator
You can build your own simulator desk based on my design, drawings and materials are in the bottom, downloads section.
Note 1) I goofed up and made the desk one-knob too short, meaning mixture knob is placed where throttle should be placed and the throttle is in the place of propeller pitch should be. Quite often I end up pulling the mixture knob when I was supposed to give it more gas. You can see this in the video on the top of the article
I solved this at some point with 3D-printed knobs so you can feel if you grabbed the wrong one.
Note 2) As a further improvement, I recommend to add a mouse and a beer-can-compatible cup-holder. Elevator trim wheel would also be nice.
- All the hardware and images (DropBox)
- 3D Design of the wood frame (SketchUp)
- Engine control knobs (Thingiverse)
- Xsaitekpanels plugin to enable the Logitech panels on X-Plane
- Demo version of X-Plane 11 Flight Simulator