Building your own simulation flight deck (a.k.a. 'cockpit' 'simpit' or just 'pit') is one way to extend the realism of flying Orbiter. Such cockpits have already been built for both personal and educational use. There are several levels of complexity that can be achieved through adding additional controls.
- Programming game controllers - using multiple joysticks and joystick buttons
- Generating key presses through switches
- Communicating directly through an Orbiter Add-on
- Visuals - Using multiple monitors and projectors
- Building Display and Control Panels (DCP)
These pages are dedicated to the challenges specific to spacecraft and Orbiter, but also contain links and information of a more general nature that can be used for Orbiter flight decks - including links to those lucky few who have built one. Please note that mention of hardware and software devices does not represent an endorsement of those devices.
What makes Orbiter different?
A couple of things make Orbiter different from other flight simulators that people normally build flight decks for. The biggest is focus. In aircraft flight simulators, you normally fly a single aircraft through the entire scenario. In Orbiter, you can 'focus' your flight between different vehicles, MMUs, and space stations, and you should take this into account. Another difference, alluded to previously, is the large variation in the types of vessels you may wish to control. Engines? Your vessel may not have any; or it may have multiple sets of engines. Landing gear? Maybe not.
Another difference is autopilots. Aircraft autopilots and their Mode Control Panel (MCP) center around holding course and speed, following routes, etc. In orbiter, trajectories are king. One controlled engine burn, and coast the way to your destination. Then do it again. If you have a vessel controllable in reentry, maintaining an energy profile is the target, and creating switches, knobs, and displays to do that would be significantly different from that of a typical aircraft MCP.
- What are you going to model? Will you focus on a single spacecraft type or make it generic?
- Spend some time in design. Build mockups to try things out before expending money to do them for real.
- Consider switch types. Toggle and rocker switches may be more 'correct' by matching the look of virtual panels (or actual panels for existing spacecraft), but can lose synchronization with the Orbiter panels, especially if continuing a saved scenario. Pushbutton switches alleviate that problem and can be paired with annunciators. Consider how much effort you wish to embrace with switch configuration prior to starting your flight.
Steps to your very own spacecraft
Links to Orbiter Flight Decks
General Flight Sim references
Cockpit tutorials from mycockpit.org - Primarily aviation-based, but lots of good information.
For non-historical spacecraft, modern commercial airliners can provide real-world design ideas for controls of highly computerized vehicles. This can also help where the panels of an Orbiter addon vessel can't be replicated using actual hardware.
Airliners.net - Photos