In the summer of 2018, I built a VR-based flight simulator. The first version was just to just play with a computer with the yoke mounted to the desk, but I soon realized virtual reality would certainly add a whole layer of realism that would help train hand-eye coordination of flying a plane.
As a result I continued the project and added even more realism!
The Flight Sim Setup Explained
Flight Sim Desk
I designed the wooden stand based off real measurements off the plane cockpit. First of all, I set up all the controls in CAD and then built the frame to mount all controls.
Thanks to Sketchup’s “3D warehouse“, I did not have to model the Logitech’s controllers, I could re-use something that was already made.
Special thanks for modeling the parts go to:
- Benk Kimball – Saitek switch panel 3D model
- MiRi – Saitek rudder pedals
- Josh M. – Saitek throttle quadrant
Parts of the VR Flight Simulator
Flight Controllers and Input Devices
- Saitek Pro Flight Switch Panel
- Saitek Pro Flight Rudder Pedals
- Saitek Pro Flight Yoke and modified throttle quadrant
I opened the Yoke unit and gave it a half-a tube of engine grease, stock lubricants did not feel right. Fixed the problem, feels much more premium and moves smoothly.
X-Plane Virtual Reality
- X-Plane 11 Flight Simulator
- Xsaitekpanels plugin to connect the X-Plane to switch panel
By default, the switches on the physical control panel do not match the 3D model in the game. Remapping them fixes the problem, but then the texts next to the physical buttons will be off. Therefore have to decide whether to use the TV or VR, either go by text or feel.
Other Flight Sim Hardware
- HTC Vive Virtual Reality headset
- Bose QC15 noise canceling headphones
- DIY frame made from pine wood and a push-rod assembly
- Fan to cool user down and add a physical direction indicator
- Beefy computer to run high frame-rate VR in real time
- Miscellaneous fasteners and a lot of tape.
As an optional part, I modeled the Pilot In Command (PIC) side of the Cessna’s instrument panel to be laser-cut from plywood.
This would enable a screen to be used behind it, putting the instruments and their adjustment knobs on the right physical places.
Cessna Skylane C172 Throttle and Mixture Knobs
I 3D-printed the engine control knobs that are glued to the ends of the pushrods.
3D-Print your own knobs
You can find the knobs from Thingiverse under my nickname: Nerdaxic
VR Flight Simulator and HTC Vive
Flight Simulation Quality and Immersion
Even with the pixel-fog of HTC Vive the simulation is quite immersive.
Its the best when there is something that you panic upon – you get a realistic reaction from the user.
If you need to read texts on the instrument panel, for example, the
switches, you have to lean in quite a lot because of the poor resolution.
Best VR Headset for flight sim
Here I feel like HTC Vive Pro would be the best option for X-Plane and worth the extra money if building this setup from scratch.
I would not see a reason to update existing Vive though.
VR Headset and Motion Sickness
Against all expectations, to this day I
I have tried playing some other games, like Fallout 4 VR with the setup while standing and I can’t really play more than 10 minutes at the time without getting hot and motion sick.
One of my friends who tried the system reported feeling a bit dizzy after flying for 20 min.
Virtual Reality Flight Simulation
X-Plane 11 is detailed enough that you can actually use all the instruments on the plane and on the ground, like aerodrome lights etc.
The only downside of running this on VR is the intense GPU load. My new computer (Mark IX) is running fast 8-core processor with 16 threads, 32 GB of RAM and GTX 1080 was barely managing 45 FPS with high detail.
The frame rate is very important for Virtual Reality and if you set the detail too high, it might drop below usable when you fly on top of crowded places like London which has a lot of buildings, cars etc to render.
Extra Simulator Immersion for Cheap
I noticed that adding a fan next to you, blowing the air so it seems like its coming from the virtual air vent in the game for some reason makes the simulation way more immersive. Like so much another level it feels stupid.
Simulator’s Cessna model has leather seats – thus I selected my couch as a prime location to set up the simulator. Even the surface you sit on feels like what your eyes are telling you. Small things add up to create
Build Your Own Flight Simulator
You can build your own simulator desk based on my design, drawings and materials are in the bottom, downloads section.
Note 1) I goofed up and made the desk one-knob too short, meaning mixture knob is placed where throttle should be placed and the throttle is in the place of propeller pitch should be. Quite often I end up pulling the mixture knob when I was supposed to give it more gas. You can see this in the video on the top of the article
I solved this at some point with 3D-printed knobs so you can feel if you grabbed the wrong one.
Note 2) As a further improvement, I recommend to add a mouse and a beer-can-compatible cup-holder. Elevator trim wheel would also be nice.
- All the hardware and images (DropBox)
- 3D Design of the wood frame (SketchUp)
- Engine control knobs (Thingiverse)
- Xsaitekpanels plugin to enable the Logitech panels on X-Plane
- Demo version of X-Plane 11 Flight Simulator
Also check out my photo album: Aviation and YouTube channel
Thanks for posting this info.
I was using a similar setup on my garage workbench for XPlane 11 and VR. Lots of fun!
I may use your specs to build a desk just for the VR.
No problem Glen, glad to be of help 😀
My name is Henry too. I appreciate your post and was wondering if you have a template for mounting the yoke.
Unfortunately I do not have a drill-template for the yoke. I created mine by putting a piece of paper in the bottom of the yoke unit and giving it a bit of a rub to impression the screw-holes into the paper. Add pencil marks, tape the template down on the table and drill through the paper.
No measuring required!
Great, however, is there a way so that you can use the VR setup with a camera, and then use a green screen to add the virtual parts while viewing a cutout of the real cockpit in front of you? Is that doable? that would be awesome.
The AR-setup you suggest sounds awesome, but so far I don’t know any consumer-compatible software being able to do that. I feel like if you want that level of immersion and are willing to spend the money, might as well pay for actual flight training simulator time. Benefit is that you get the credits when switching careers 😁
That is what I plan to do, so I haven’t continued this project further.
Hi there I’m trying to build the same thing but I am not really good with technology lol and also I’m on a budget I graduated from high school this year and I’m saving money to go to a pilot school and I wanted to build this same set up so I can get a upper hand. I have some question about the vr and the Logitech g pro flight yolk and throttle, I look up and they say I can hook it up into my MacBook Air and I have a question ab the vr how do I connect it ? Is it Bluetooth ? If it is if you connect it and launch the xplane 11 will it automatically work or do you have to do some programming to it.
Hi Donte! Thanks for the comment.
My advice: Save your money to flight lessons. Building this thing did not help me at all to fly the real thing, I found it more harmful as I had to un-learn some stuff I had picked up on my own in the simulator. I think it would be the best to go through PPL training and then get into VR sims. Then you know what to do and not to enforce bad habits that can be deadly in the air.
Everything is wired, connected with DisplayPort or USB. On Windows the configuration was almost plug-and-play.
If you are interested of starting pilot school, check out my video about the experience and issues applying!