Nine guys who have raised puttering in the garage to an art form.
- By Matthew Stibbe
- Air & Space magazine, July 2003
(Page 3 of 4)
In 1998, Ford bought a 737-100 flight deck from a tear-down facility in Oklahoma, but for several years, it languished in pieces in his parents’ Dallas garage. Once he got started, he put nearly $25,000 into the sim before he made his first flight, in February 2002.
Like others in the hobby, the Los Angeles lighting designer (who’s earned two Emmys for work on the 1998 and 1999 Oscars) strives for authenticity. “I’m really committed to having every component be either a real part or an exact replica,” he says. “I want a 737-NG [next generation] pilot to come in and see no discernible difference between my sim and the real thing.” He’s even acquired authentic “Boeing Gray” paint. “I love having friends come over and fly the thing,” he says. “For them, it’s like a ride at an amusement park.” www.737sim.com
Because digital displays easily interface with Microsoft’s Flight Simulator series, most sim builders use computer screens for primary flight displays. Their absence makes Matt Wietlispach’s sim unique; he refuses to use anything but analog gauges and dials.
For the avionics systems engineer, work and play are nearly identical. “I pretty much do the same thing at home as I do at work, but on a smaller scale and for much less money,” he laughs. Working for an aerospace firm does have its rewards—Wietlispach uses discarded sheet metal scraps, instrument components, bolts, and lights for raw materials. Without them, he couldn’t have built his simulator. “This stuff is beyond expensive,” he says.
The sim in his Cedar Rapids, Iowa basement is a military hybrid. “There’s probably at least 10 different aircraft in there,” he explains. “If I tried to build a single aircraft type, I’d have to get parts only from that type,” he adds, revealing the telltale compulsiveness of sim builders. “I have to have a drink before I fly it; otherwise I get obsessive about every defect.”
Though the simulator can be rigged to fly combat missions, Wietlispach prefers the realism and terrain displays of the civilian-minded Flight Simulator 2002 program. “Flying in Chicago between buildings on Michigan Avenue at the speed of sound is quite a bit of fun,” he says. Still, Wietlispach admits that building the sim is much more fun than flying it. He’s recently added a pressurized G-suit and installed instruments to measure windshield temperature, engine nozzle position, and oil pressure. “It’s an obsession. Sometimes I’ll work on it all day without eating. Basically, I’m going to keep doing this until my hands break.” members.aol.com/wietlpachm/howto/
Flight Simulator Technology
Hardcore hobbyists’ simulators rely on elaborate combinations of hardware and software, but three elements—Microsoft’s Flight Simulator, the extended/programmable input controller, or EPIC, card, and add-on software designed by Enrico Schiratti—are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to imagine the hobby without them.
Flight Simulator is the glue that binds most simulators together; it generates through-the-windscreen views and the flight-dynamics data used to run instruments, replicate an aircraft’s flight envelope, and create an external environment. The program is also popular because Microsoft makes a software developers kit available to enthusiasts who want to design airports, cockpit displays, or entirely new aircraft.