Third time lucky?

I’ve been having a good think about the project, in light of my resolve to start again. As you may be aware if you’ve read this blog for a while (or just browsed the archives), I am in the second major version of the project; the first having been centred around an effort to develop a free-standing MIP and pedestal arrangement without a shell. I decided to stop work on this in order to build a shell a couple of years back, and since then things have moved on at a snail’s pace, but I have built quite a lot of a shell which I fully intended to finish.

The truth, though, is that this shell isn’t really very good. It’s a huge compromise, built ad-hoc by someone who didn’t really know what he was doing, and the further I got into building it, the more obvious its failings were. I tried to do something simple rather than the complex timber-framed efforts of some 737 or LearJet builders, which are fantastic – do a quick search for Ron Rollo LearJet Shell on Google if you want to be very impressed – but require the cutting of complex curved members in MDF, something for which I have neither the room nor the enthusiasm. Or indeed the MDF. So I settled on a ‘interior-only’ design based on a pair of A-frames holding up the roof, as it were. But this has given me a sub-optimal shell with less width than I need to fit in my seats – which are Ford Galaxy castoffs – and have a decent sized pedestal. The wisdom of orienting the shell right – left, necessitating an entrance in the side, was questionable, given my room dimensions.

As I mentioned in my last post, I considered ditching the shell entirely and building Ron Rollo’s LearJet design, suitably modified, but the Lear cockpit is just a tad too small for my purposes. I decided instead on a programme of redevelopment of the bits that bother me. The problem is, having thought about it at length, it all bothers me – except for the footwells, MIP and yoke system, which I must admit turned out pretty well.

So I reached a decision, finally, to dismantle the current shell entirely, bar the footwells and MIP, and to build something new, based at least in part on the design of the FDS aluminium panel 737 shell. I don’t have room for a full 737 sized cockpit, but I am going to re-orient the shell to run from rear to front, so that I’ll have about 2.2m width, and 1.8m depth. I’ll enter from the rear, avoiding the need for a vestibule area or side door. Having a template to build towards will help things greatly, and the FDS shell is actually very simple structurally. I believe I can do something similar using only relatively thin pine baton framing and 6mm plywood sheet. The footwells will need to be pulled further apart, which will mean cutting the MIP in half and extending it a little – but this is a relatively simple operation and preferable to a complete rebuild.

This will also make my display system simpler in the long run, if harder in the short-term. Originally, I’d intended to simply project onto the side wall which is in front of the shell as it stands now, until such time as I could fabricate a curved screen and work out the complex mirror folding apparatus I’d need to make it all work. This I can no longer do, since the shell will directly face the room’s rather large window. So instead I will need to build a screen frame and place this in front of the shell, while blacking out the window with blackout cloth. To make it possible to get around to do that, I will have to push the entire shell platform back several inches. That’s not a job I’m relishing, because it weighs about 80kg. I may end up having to take it apart and move it in pieces.

By this point, dear reader, you may think I’ve gone a little mad. I’m basically undoing two years (very slow and bitty) work for the promise of a brighter tomorrow. What can I say? I’m a hopeless optimist. And to be honest, a new direction is exactly what is needed to get the creative juices flowing.

I hope to have some photos – of the disassembly, at least – by Monday. I’ll publish them when I do.