Flying Low – What is a Flight Simulator Cockpit actually?

(Originally Published in Dec 2010
 - Updated 4 Dec 2016)

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to fly. On Sundays, my Dad took me off to the airport to watch planes landing and taking off. I was entranced. I’ll happily admit that I also loved the rest of the family being dragged along much to their annoyance, because it made me feel special. I fell in love with Comets – not the Halley’s Comet kind but the De-Havilland Comet kind. That bellowing roar of a Comet taking off as we sat next to the wire fence and munched sandwiches will be with me for the rest of my life. I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I had to be a pilot.

Small problem – I wore spectacles – Dad said I couldn’t fly and therefore would never be able to be a real pilot. Foolishly believing my father, you can imagine the disappointment in my little boy’s heart.

In my early twenties, piloting was less important than girls and fortunately my glasses didn’t get in the way of me photographing them professionally! But ultimately it all came back to flying. The urge was never going to go away and it was time to go and get that private pilot’s licence. A little while later, with a somewhat humbled bank balance, I decided to shelve the idea until finances were a little better.

Picture of Microsof Flight Simulator-2 Box Top
The Box Top of MSFS-2. The year – 1985

In the meantime, a friend of mine showed me a flying game called Microsoft Flight Simulator. We are talking somewhere around 1986! The program came on a single 360K floppy disk! What a challenge it was to fly an aircraft with this somewhat primitive game; and to land it successfully was no mean feat.

Picture of the screen of Flight Simulator-2
The Primitive Screen Display of Microsoft Flight Simulator – Version 2

But Microsoft improved the game (it was still only a game then), while more and more people began creating add-ons, and in the early 2000’s flight simulation became a more serious tool where you could actually seriously learn about flying.

Was it realistic? Not really – using a mouse and keyboard as yoke and pedals would hardly rate as realistic. Soon I added pedals and a joystick and of course the computer needed more and more power. I began a serious study of how to fly. Sure enough, you guessed it, the quest for even more realism raised its head, and I decided to once again take a crack at that private pilot’s licence.

Disaster. I failed the sight test and was diagnosed with glaucoma. No pilot’s licence. Ever! (insert your favourite swear words here)!

I still want to fly a plane in real life, but that’s never going to happen. So now I spend my life actually having a lot more fun designing cockpits for flight simulators.

Eh? What? A Flight Simulator Cockpit?
What does that really mean, you might ask ?

Well… Have a look at your regular flight simulator – it’s actually just a desk with a PC and a joystick on it. The cockpit flight simulator on the other hand is so much more…
It really is the next best thing to real flight because a cockpit gives you a much deeper feeling of flying for real compared to flying a desktop. They can be made using many computers and screens, all housed in a built-up cockpit shell with monitors or projectors surrounding the pilot. These monitors provide the outside view of the scenery. Actual instruments or click-able images of instruments on even more monitors positioned in the right place inside the shell provide a real feeling of serious flying. And of course, the big plus: it’s much, much cheaper than real flying – never mind the cost of hiring and maintaining a real aircraft, or even owning one.

What I’m describing is a Flight Simulation Cockpit, and this ongoing story is my story…