My good friend Greg cut all the panels for me a couple of years ago but due to the huge task involved in building and mounting the overhead, not to mention the 61 engraved dual LED backlit pushbuttons and 8 annunciators, I haven’t gotten to it preferring instead to use the software overhead panel. Now I see great merit in having a hardware overhead so I’m underway with the frame and organising the engraved buttons through an international manufacturer. I had researched and tested making the buttons myself, which is entirely doable, however the pro manufactured version is by far better and longer lasting, so out with the credit card and away I go.
The frame is made from timber (45×20 Tasmanian Oak) with 20x3mm aluminium bar screwed on top for panel mounting. I’ve installed the middle supports about 16mm lower then the left and right edges to simulate the slightly curved installation of the real 777 panels. You can see the result in image #6. Image #9 is the final layout engraving.
A few hours of drilling and tapping 72 holes and the panels are all screwed in place. It’s starting to feel a bit weighty and there’s still the switch hardware to be installed. I purchased a few cans of RAL7011 colour spray paint and you can see the end result. The smaller square frame you can see is the new centre pedestal mounting rails.
Panels in the process of engraving on Gwyn’s (Aerosim Solutions) CNC, and the final result:
The 777 overhead looks fantastic however there is one drawback for the home builder and that is the style of button used extensively throughout. The black square dual-illuminated pushbutton switches are called Korry switches and the real deal will cost hundreds of dollars each. FDS sell replica units for a lesser cost, around $60CAD each but when you’re looking at 61 buttons and 8 annunciators for the 777-200 overhead you’ll spend $3720CAD on these switches alone. So that brings us to a homemade alternative. I found a couple of sites on the internet detailing methods for self made units, go HERE for a very good option for homemade Korry’s but here is my method:
I’ve decided to go with a mixture of methods, using a simple latching pushbutton switch sourced from local electronics retailer Altronics and a professionally manufactured button head milled with holes for LED’s and CNC engraved face lettering from New Zealand flightsim parts manufacturer Ruscool .
John at Ruscool is well experienced at making these buttons and was very helpful in customizing 62 for my project and better still for $5 USD each! That’s still around $500AUD for dual-illuminated buttons however I’m willing to spend on this for the overall reality and longevity of the panels and I’ve already saved heaps on this project having Greg CNC the panels for me. HERE you’ll find the full overhead legends for the button engraving.
First look at my buttons from samples sent to me by John at Ruscool. Button throw is about 3.5mm and so sits nice and flush with the panel when depressed, feels very definite when pressed too. The small flange at the back of the button stops it from falling through the panel and helps it sit firmly. 10mm spacers are used to mount the rear switch plate. You can also see the full set of engraved panels situated in the frame.
Of course the purpose of the overhead isn’t just to look pretty 😀 It has to function in the sim, and that means….WIRING! Each button has dual top and bottom LED’s and the center slot needs to be blanked so light bleed doesn’t occur between top and bottom legends when lit. With 61 button that’s a lot of LED wiring. In order to achieve this I decided to wire the LED’s onto some strip veroboard with a hole cut in the middle to cater for the pushbutton shaft and a piece of black heavy duty art paper in the slot to provide light blockage. I also painted the whole rear black to avoid backlight bleed into the buttons.
The dual LED’s are connected in parallel with the Sys1x board from FDS illuminating both as one. The Sys1x uses common cathode connections for the LED lighting so each short lead (cathode) is connected together and the anode for each top and bottom row extends out for connection to the board. The first picture above shows the completed and installed lighting and the kit of LED’s, circuit board and paper strip which is cut into 15mm squares then folded in half and inserted into the blanking slot. The second picture shows the board placed onto the the LED legs ready for soldering.
Landing Light Switches
One of the most difficult items to source at a reasonable price are the Boeing style landing light switches. Fortunately Gwyn at Aerosim Solutions has starting producing them along with solid toggle switch hardware, and at a price that won’t break the bank!
Panel assembly begins. You can see the rear of the buttons, and from the photos above, there is a flange at the base that stops the buttons falling all the way through the holes as well as the LED annunciator holes pre-drilled.. Full switch assembly can also be seen and the first row of panels assembled and resting in their overhead home. I also purchased a couple of solenoid start switches from Ruscool and you can see them mounted in the panel and finally a short video of them in operation.
After much consternation and deliberation (and trying some simple options) I decided to build my mounting structure loosely based on THIS one. I went ahead and bought a DC Inverter welder and some square steel tube. One important aspect I wanted was for the overhead mounting to be free standing i.e. not attached to the roof or walls of the room, I felt this was important for any future transportation of the sim however it does make it more difficult to provide adequate stability.
Here is the progress so far:
These DC Inverter welders are great for the handyman, cheap, light weight and pretty easy to use. I’d never stick welded before and I went straight into welding the mount without practice. Probably a bit silly however you can see the results from my first 10min of welding, not bad I reckon. I’m using 50mm square tube with 2mm wall thickness for the main center windscreen post. I did manage to blow a hole in one seam as I had the amps up too high, however I managed to repair it pretty well. A quick grind can tidy up even the crappiest weld.
Here is the finished center post. This will mount on the MIP frame behind the glareshield once I weld a base plate with mounting holes. The 45° bend will rise over the glareshield then bend to horizontal at the height of the base of the overhead frame. I’ve cut a 25° angle at this point as the overhead panel is angled from this point. I did extensive measurements of my sim frame to get these heights and tube lengths to achieve the correct location of the overhead itself.
Now for the surrounding framework. Using 30mm square tube I measured the angles and cut accordingly using the actual overhead as a template.
Once cut the frame was clamped down, tack welded then welds completed:
Rear framing completed and test mounted.
All coming together, and after all sections are complete you can see how it breaks down.
The front mount has large angle brackets welded to ensure there is no lateral or longitudinal movement. The welding isn’t pretty but this will never be seen once bolted behind the MIP. I also cut an opening in the bottom of the 50mm tube so I can run cables from the overhead. You can also see my workshop in full swing. This is actually my garage which usually houses 2 cars but everything is portable and therefore temporary, it all packs away and cleans up so my wife has no idea I’ve been here And finally painting completed.
The structure mounted in place and ready for panels. You can see some initial panel installation along with the wet compass mounted.
But much wiring still to be done!
Aluminium rails installed so that two rails illuminate each row of panels. As I am using yellow LED strip lighting of a fairly low intensity the rails need to be located as close as possible to the panels without interfering with cabling etc. Being located in the overhead cover mount they can easily be lifted off for maintenance leaving the rear of the panels and wiring free to work on. As you can see the result of this backlighting is very effective.
The enclosure completed along with the rear overhead. The enclosure of course houses the backlighting and the rear overhead houses the controller cards that handle the 62 switches and 124 LED’s (2 per pushbutton). The card on the right is the FDS Sys 1X which can handle up to 128 inputs and 256 outputs, and the card on the left is the Opencockpits Outputs card which handle the 12v switching supply to the solonoid start switches.
Now to the wiring! I’m not usually very neat with my wiring however I wanted to make a concerted effort with the overhead due to the shear volume of wiring required. I began by making up a series of cables made up of 9 wires (8 signal and 1 ground) with a 10pin inline female connector that suits the male connectors on the FDS Syscard (these connectors usually come with a new Syscard however I got mine second hand so had to make up my own). I purchased these connectors already cabled off ebay then extended them using wire stripped out of Cat5 Ethernet cable. It was a very long a tedious task to extend these cables as I had to solder each one then protect with heat shrink. The end results justify the work however.
As for the operation of these buttons plus their annunciators, Sim-Avionics has a software application called “Sysboard Controller” where you can assign all switch inputs and annunciator outputs for the Boeing 777, this application also needs to run in order for the overhead to be active during sim operation. Prosim has the FDS controller built into its software so you can assign them directly in the Prosim737 System application, and yes I have successfully assigned relevant overhead switches to the 737.