I train lots of people in my simulator, mainly box management (yes, the G1000). I find that simulators offer a great opportunity to learn how glass cockpits work. Properly done, even if your simulator is not Civil Aviation certified, it can be still a very valuable tool to learn how some avionics work, in an environment that closely resembles that of an airplane. With that in mind, I built my simulator, which I called SimCube (because of its shape) following these criteria:
As small as a real aircraft cockpit and an actual cabin. As many have, I built my first sim on my desk. On many desks in fact. Then I figured that I wanted the full enclosure to work my way toward a realistic flying environment. And yes, cockpits are rather small, or at least if they are built with the same dimensions of the original. Exceptions are cockpits in larger aircrafts, but, again, I built mine for primary training so I replicated the dimensions of a single/twin engine airplane, they are not very different. 46″ wide by 50″ high is what I came up with. Two 19″ seats with little space in between, enough for a few charts, the shoulder to shoulder feel of a real trainer.
As a sequitur: Dual controls. I want to reproduce an environment in which the left seat flier can reasonably take advantage of some show and tell from the right side. It makes a difference at a number of levels, even when the other flier is not an expert. As I found out sometime people who are apprehensive about flying, ease into the simulator and are then more ready to step into a real small airplane.
Sound and shake(r)s. The closer to the sensory input of real flying the simulator is, the more realistic it becomes. I channel sound into headsets, through speakers and vibration shakers. That makes a difference!
Visuals, that’s what it’s all about! Spend time to figure out how you want to look at the outside world. For IFR training it’s more important (in my opinion, many disagree) to have 180 degrees of visuals around you than to have that visuals very detailed. The wider the field of view, the higher the pixel count, the higher the processors (CPU and GPU, but that’s a different story) load, the more the cost in getting sufficient frame count and graphic details. For my sim, I project views for 110 degrees through two projectors, and I use a monitor for the remainder of the right side visuals. But other use all monitors, or all projectors. The reality is do the best you can afford.
Controls. Like many, I went through the commercial controls offerings. Some great stuff there. But then I decided to build my own, starting from real aircraft parts. Cessna 310 rudder pedals, Mooney controls and Seneca Throttle quadrant. Then I rebuilt most of them by modifying some components to better fit my sim. Now I 3D print lots of this parts, use Solidworks to design and have learned a lot of engineering in the process. That’s the beauty of simming, it teaches you a lot.
But in closing, the real thrill is when you fly it. I take it seriously in which I don’t cut corners. I start the engine/s with the same checklist as the real thing. I check the weather. If I am on one of the ATC service, I talk to them. And always prepare for the occasional failure, which is good to program into your software. That way, it stops being a video game and it becomes real, very real. A minute into it and you forget to be sitting in your basement, garage, or wherever you are and start feeling you are up there. That’s the beauty.