Home-Grown Simulators

Nine guys who have raised puttering in the garage to an art form.

Air & Space Magazine | Subscribe


JOYSTICK AND KEYBOARD HAVE NEVER BEEN ENOUGH. Your fantasies include a yoke, rudder pedals, a G-suit, and lots of cool knobs and buttons. You want to strap into an ejection seat (not your desk chair), tap the artificial horizon (just to see that it’s not stuck), and bank into cloud-studded turns (rather than the wall calendar). You’re a closet sim geek. here are your heroes.

Garage-kept F/A-18
Brian McKenzie remembers the day 13 years ago when he decided to build his own simulator. “I took a trip on a real F-18 sim when I was in the Royal Australian Air Force and it inspired me. Why should pilots have all the fun?” With the help of library books and the Internet—he wasn’t allowed to take photographs when in the service—McKenzie was able to build one of his own. It runs on a network of four computers and uses Microsoft’s Flight Simulator 2002 and a host of specialized add-on programs.

The faux Hornet’s sheet metal-on-wood fuselage is topped with a fiberglass canopy. His ejection seat—an exact replica of a Martin-Baker SJU-9—was fabricated from plywood, and though McKenzie’s work is spectacular to look at, it’s equally capable of impressing other senses. Two monster subwoofers under the seat generate noise and vibration, and a flightsuit donated by a visiting U.S. Air Force officer completes the illusion; an air bladder under the seat cushion inflates to push the pilot against the straps if he pulls negative Gs.

McKenzie purchased the sim’s instruments on eBay—a move that raised suspicion among Australian authorities; his Mullumbimby, New South Wales home was raided by customs officials and police who feared he was importing weapons. After hours of searching and a round of interviews, an inspector called to say, “Great simulator.” members.optusnet.com.au/~brianmac18

Widebody on Wheels
Adelaide’s John Dunkley has transformed an Aussie-model Ford Falcon XF chassis into a three-quarter-scale replica of a 747 cockpit. After four years of construction, he’s ready to take the next step—mounting it on a hydraulic platform that will simulate pitch, yaw, and roll.

Dunkley has long been fascinated with Boeing jumbo jets—the license plate on his family’s car reads “747-400.” “Prior to 9/11, I got a ride in the cockpit on every flight I took,” he recalls. “I produced a booklet about what I was doing and I’d hand it to the chief purser. My sim was my ticket to the flight deck.”

Dunkley admits that his mock 747 isn’t quite on par with the real thing, but that doesn’t stop him from feeling as if he’s really in the jetliner’s left seat, flying to real destinations. “Hong Kong Kai Tak Airport is really my favorite,” he says. “I like to do a full [Instrument Flight Rules] departure and an instrument approach at night. It’s a thrill every time, even though I’ve done it hundreds of times.”

He hopes to have the sim fully operational in a few years, but he knows that projects like this never feel totally completed. “I’ve got a very understanding wife,” he says. “I think she’d rather I was in the sim than down at the pub.” www.senet.com.au/~dunkleyj

Buckle’s Beagle
If Gene Buckle’s simulator looks like an actual F-15C, that’s because it is. Buckle spent the last two years adding authentic and replica components to a nose section purchased from an aviation museum. The simulator—he’s nicknamed it the Beagle, a derivative of the F-15’s official name, Eagle—and the computers that run it fill his Tacoma, Washington garage.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus