An example of a flight simulator setup utilizing Air Manager.

Customize Your Flight Sim Panel using Air Manager

David Chambers
David Chambers

UK FI/IR, Commercial | FAA Private Pilot & Instrument

Train with Me

Almost every individual aircraft has a slightly different avionics panel layout. Some have older, traditional six-pack dials while others have modern glass G1000 or similar. Often there is a mix, with Garmin G5 or Aspen replacing vacuum-driven instruments. Switches, indicators and gauges differ widely.

When using your simulator to practice real-world flights in your training, rental or own aircraft, it really helps if the dials and gauges you see are as close to real as possible.

Aircraft model vendors sometimes offer a configuration option that swaps between old and new panels, but no further. This means that pilots who rent or own real-world aircraft don’t get a 100% match with their simulator cockpit layout. The value of simulator training including currency refreshers is reduced because you can’t walk through the same checklist items, pressing the same buttons that should be in familiar places and getting the same results.

A simple solution

A solution to this is a touchscreen, a single knob controller, and Air Manager software.

This is compatible with all the leading flight simulators and comes with a library of popular panel layouts, instruments, gauges and switches. It is fairly easy to configure, and possible to modify or create new instruments where required. Graphic displays from Garmin G1000, GNS and GTN series can also be displayed and interacted with using the touchscreen exactly as found in an aircraft.

I’d recommend this combination instead of buying additional hardware boxes for radios and other dedicated instruments, although some do prefer the tactile aspect of multiple knobs and switches. It’s much more flexible, yet automatically switches between different aircraft selected for each flight. What’s most important is that it can be made to match your specific aircraft panels very closely.

My touchscreen is a Dell 24-inch (1080p). While 4K touchscreens may have advantages for higher resolution avionics like the GI-275, the standard HD provided by this Dell monitor proves sufficient for running a G1000 with space for other common panel components.

Some Examples

One of my European students has been learning in a Diamond DA40. This plane is manufactured with an AVGAS engine in Canada for the North American market and with a Diesel engine in Austria for the European market. We found an AVGAS simulator model had more realistic flight characteristics. I was able to develop a panel layout on Air Manager that closely resembled the diesel panel layout with all the normal switches operating from the touchscreen.

Real DA40 Diesel Cockpit
The same DA40 cockpit modeled via AirManager

Another student had upgraded to a Cessna 182 Turbo. One very important gauge required is the TIT (Turbo Inlet Temperature) where overheating can become very expensive. This isn’t available in the standard library, so I developed this to work alongside others in the panel.

Custom C182 Turo TIT (Turbo Inlet Temperature) Gauge

My own real-world instructing is most commonly flown in the PA28, for which a standard panel layout is included. I’ve found that almost every PA28 has a slightly different array of rocker switches – sometimes they are split (e.g. battery/alternator, wing/fin strobes), sometimes the rotary dials on each side are swapped, sometimes they are just in a different order. So I designed a fully configurable array which adapts to almost every situation and have submitted this to the library for all to share.

PA-28 switches, before custom modification
PA-28 switches, after custom modification

Sometimes a solution involves minor enhancements to existing instruments. For example, the Garmin GMA 340 audio panel is quite realistic, but doesn’t correctly mimic operation when switching between COM1 and COM2 if both are already monitored. I’ve often found real-world students pecking at the buttons as they try to figure out how to switch off or on each channel after listening to the ATIS.

Conclusion

While you can spend an enormous amount of time tailoring your simulator to be close to perfection, I find it best to focus on the most relevant and frequently used elements first.

Mastering the details of your avionics and practicing the standard procedures and checklists while sitting at home really helps achieve better learning, and ensures you are further ‘ahead of the plane’ when airborne.

If you would like some assistance in setting up, configuring or adapting an instrument panel then do get in touch.

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