There are very few things in existence as worthy of obsession as flying. Piloting a machine thousands of feet above the assurances of solid ground, bouncing and bobbing along like a boat sailing the sky itself, is the purest pleasure that technology is capable of offering this side of actual orbit.
Just ask Aidan Fay, a 17 year old inventor from La Jolla, California. Fay’s had the flying obsession since receiving a copy of Microsoft Flight Simulator as an 8 year old, his mother told Make Zine. He takes lessons and trains in quite real aircraft, but, due to a medical condition, Fay has been barred from solo flight by the FAA, at least for the time being. So, he built his very own Cessna cockpit, a detailed simulator powered by an Oculus Rift, Arduino microcontroller board, and a load of physical actuators.
Carefully designing and assembling the parts, Aidan wired the controls and switches into circuit boards. He used MDF and acrylic from the local hardware store, along with high tech components such as Arduino microcontrollers and used, disassembled joysticks he found for sale online. He even found actual airplane rudder pedals on eBay, as well as a real yoke, the airplane’s steering mechanism. To make the steering feel more realistic, the teen engineer used gears and motors to create a “force feedback” mechanism that tightens and loosens the steering according to the simulated flying conditions.
Fay’s been at this a while. The Cessna cockpit alone has consumed at least 200 hours, while a previous iteration of the project attempted to model a WWII fighter aircraft. As he explains on the cockpit simulator’s project page, the realism of the earlier “simpit” wasn’t satisfactory. So, Fay went back to the drawing board, modeling the Cessna cockpit down to the color of the interior paneling.
A crucial feature of the Cessna simulator is its force feedback yoke, designed to “simulate control loading (stiffer controls at high speeds) and realistic elevator trim.” Pulling out of a steep, fast dive should then require extra force, just as it does in a real aircraft.
Fay is still taking lessons, albeit with an instructor in tow. The bedroom cockpit is merely a stopgap until the FAA is able to clear the young pilot to finally take complete control.