Flight Sim Build #3: 3D Printed Instrument Panels

Weeks of work went into this upgrade. I redesigned the main panels in Adobe Illustrator and cut them on the CNC (only 6 tries to get it right this time).Each panel was designed meticulously using Autodesk Fusion 360, which has become my new go-to for anything that needs to be 3D printed or CNC cut/engraved. It’s powerful toolset and non-destructive editing makes it the perfect choice for this. I hope to use it with the Glowforge laser cutter soon enough. After painting the front with gloss paint, to minimize smudges, I began inserting all of the electronic panels one by one. View of the backside, work in progress, below.


Programming for these to work was done on an Arduino using ArdsimX. More on that in another post. This is a powerful tool for X-Plane 11 and it’s opened up a new world for me! I have spent many hours wiring and writing simple code to talk to the proper X-Plane Datarefs, which was challenging, time consuming. I think I’ve become an expert at X-Plane Datarefs from doing this.

I had alot of fun with this DA20 Cockpit build, to go for more realism. I really needed a trim control, similar to the Diamond DA-20 trainer I’m flying in my training. So, I built one with a similar LED bar graph display and a few lit up buttons from Ebay. I laser printed the labels and inserted into the buttons. Wiring up the LED bar was a nightmare, next time I’ll build a custom circuit board….one more thing to learn.


I kept the main instrument panel running on a Windows Pro tablet, running Air Manager, which still works great. But I removed the other two tablets that I was using for the Garmin and engine instruments, as I really want the system ore self-contained and running off of one PC with Arduinos. Per the ArdsimX website, I purchased some small stepper motors that are used in automobiles to use as my engine gauges. These are awesome and give a very realistic feeling to the simulator.  Although I could have used another monitor running Air Manager, this was more fun, seeing the dials physically move is pretty cool and more realistic. All of the gauges move as they would in the real plane! My version and the real version below. No need for actual circuit breakers, but I may fake some for added realism in the next prototype version.


I added a couple cheap Chinese monitors to act as my Garmin 430 simulation screens for more realism. They’re actually touch-screens, but I couldn’t get them to work with Windows properly.


I also added a Garmin 430 button panel I found on Ebay. The guy who made it was pretty helpful and this works really well. The button panel has no monitor, but at least it gives me tactile response with physical dual encoders. I mounted this below the 2 Garmins on the cockpit panel so it’s reasonably close-by.


Permanent link to this article: https://m1sims.com/2017/07/14/flight-simulator-build-3-3d-printed-instruments-and-custom-electronics/

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