Matt Bailey, AFSBI member 001279, is definitely a flight simulator enthusiast, expert and all around genius. With wife Ruth, and while taking care of their two children, they acquired a Rockwell Sabreliner twin jet cabin and nose cone, still equipped with most of the original instruments. Not any Sabreliner, mind you, but nothing less than the one owned by famed golfer Jack Nicklaus. Born as the North American Sabreliner Model 60, powered by two Pratt & Whitney PT 12-A engines, only 130 of them were built in the 70’s. This was a fast aircraft for its time. Cruising at 470 mph at an altitude of 51,000 ft it carried 12 passengers in comfort. When Matt and Ruth acquired it, the cabin was in poor condition, the fuselage being cut just behind the cockpit access door. When Matt, a computer expert, received it, some of the original wires were visible and reachable. The story goes that Matt looked up the specs, figured out the aircraft was powered by a 28V system, put two 12 volts battery in series to get 24 volts (“close enough” he says), connected them to what he thought was the main power bus and, lo and behold the cockpit instruments came back to life. Moreover he found that the nose cone still had two of the three power inverters and got those going as well. Since the panel was still wired up, many of the instruments lit up and some annunciator lights even worked as intended. From this point on Matt was unstoppable. When we met at FlighSimCon in Dallas, he showed me around the cockpit and explained what he was up to. He designed some Arduino code for the yoke, which he wired through hall-effect sensors. He also got the stick shakers working again. Unhappy with many of the solutions found on the market and true to the DIY philosophy, he designed his own PCBs to connect some of the (many) indicators in the panel. I don’t have an exact count but there must have been hundreds of switches, knobs and systems, all needing wiring, and all analogue, old school systems. Matt’s wisdom: “If you are looking for a real cockpit for your sim, save money and buy the whole airplane, then cut it off.”
We climbed into the cockpit, our attention was mainly directed to the panel, since the outside visuals were washed out by the very intense conference ceiling lights. We went through the engines start checklist and got the two turbines going. The sound was excellent and the startup sequence, including the throttle quadrant mechanical response to the startup was truly remarkable. In an age of digital simplicity it was quite amazing to see how every possible condition was shown so precisely by one or more instruments in the original aircraft. Hydraulics, pressurization, electrical busses, flight instruments, radios, speed brakes. Matt got many of these restored but, as he said, he has a long way to go to make it all work. X-plane 11 is at the foundation of the simulator, thanks to its exhaustive dataref capabilities. Arduino is used to provide PWM outputs to the many, if not all, electric instruments. “EGTs are difficult to operate, as they are based on micro voltage from bi-laminar temperature sensors” he explains, “but I’ll get them to work.” I made a less than pleasant takeoff, as it often happens in simulators, and flew around a bit.
Matt did a great short approach, after we momentarily lost sight of the runway, and performed a survivable landing – “the controls are still too sluggish” he says. Matt is a commercial pilot working toward his CFI and his proficiency shows in the depth of his understanding of the Sabreliner systems. With Ruth, they have no immediate plans to show the simulator more often, but they are “thinking about it”. I hope we will catch up with them soon again, they are an inspiration to all enthusiasts embarking in the reconstruction of such a complex aircraft. See more info at Matt and Ruth’s Facebook page.