Things to consider when laying out a cockpit:
Hierarchy of importance - NASA studies have a list. Must find it.
- D&C that need to be accessed during high G-loads (i.e. ascent) should be within easy reach and visible without the pilot turning his (her) head.
- Hand controllers
- Primary Flight and Navigation displays
- Engine instruments and controls
- Abort controls
- Landing gear
- D&C accessed during critical flight regimes or involve safety of flight should be placed next.
- HUD controls
- RCS/airfoil controls
- D&C for common operations should be placed next
- APU controls
- Electrical system
- Cryo controls
- Environmental controls
- D&C of infrequent or maintenance nature should be placed now.
- Waste Dump
- Radiator deploy/stow
- Antennae deploy/stow
- Docking port
Draw it up
The first thing you will want to do is draw up what you want to build. If you have reduced line drawings, commonly found in books on historical spacecraft or on the web, you are one step ahead even though you may not be building that exact spacecraft. Otherwise start sketching or open up a drawing program and begin your layout. If you work from paper, you can scan those drawings into an imaging program for use during the mockup phase.
If you want to build a replica of an Orbiter spacecraft, a screenshot of a 2D panel is a good start. Expanding a screenshot to full size could get a little fuzzy. A couple solutions to that is convert it to lines from a photo program, or even trace the image and scan that in.
Here are some dimensional drawings from toddwess of his Shuttle flight deck.
Inexpensive CAD tools:
- MS Paint
Mock it up
Once you have drawings, its time to build a mockup.
If you've drawn the cockpit from scratch, you probably already have your dimensions set. If you don't, by printing out sections of your drawing at expanded scales you can get a ratio for pulling additional dimensions from your drawings. To do this, expand the printout until a known (or desired) dimension matches a scaled printout of the drawing. As an example, let us say you want to build a Space Shuttle. Flight Deck dimensions are hard to find, but you can find that the original CRT displays were 5"x7". Given that you have a line drawing of the main instrument panel (MIP) of the Space Shuttle, you can expand your drawing until a printout is that dimension. you then have the ratio to convert any dimension on the drawing to full-scale (or less if space is an issue.) Normally you would want a full-scale cockpit(i.e. 100% of the true size), but if space is an issue, anything down to 85% scaling is an adequate substitute and is used by some aircraft flight simulators. Note that using this technique there is a margin of error that increases the smaller the known dimension, so try to find the largest known dimension possible.
Having the life-size dimensions, either your own or scaled from drawings, you can then cut replicas out of cardboard or foam board to get a feel for what you're building and let you adjust positions of things until its the way you want. At this point you can begin adding your controls to portions of your mockup. Normally you would work with individual panels printed to letter-size paper. If you have access to a copy shop or someone with wide format printing capability, it is possible to print, for example, an entire full-scale forward panel at one time. It is generally more cost-effective to print the sections individually.
By printing individual sets of controls, you can customize your cockpit quite effectively. As an example, You could build a cockpit for one of the Orbiter spacecraft (DG, Dragonfly or Shuttles) and position a Space Shuttle Electrical or Life Support panel in a likely position.
Important note: Consider building your seat early on, even while you're in this stage. If you use a temporary seat, like a desk chair, the height of the panels may need to be changed or you may have to adjust the final height of the seat for it to feel comfortable. You would be surprised at the difference an inch makes.