14th JUNE 2016 

The framework for the cockpit is the bit that will hold everything together, mostly it wont be seen, but getting the dimensions right is fairly important so that everything fits together and has the correct shape overall.

Originally I was going to build the frame out of wood. The front panel of the cockpit was wood, and wood is relatively cheap as well as easy to work. I didn't have much experience with metal so hadn't considered it at all.

I used to work for a motion capture company in Brighton, and they used to build all kinds of crazy contraptions, some of which were built out of aluminium extrusion profile. It all bolts together without too much work so seemed fairly easy to work with. A few years later the company was clearing out some of the older structures and not being one who likes to see waste, I ended up inheriting a large amount out this aluminium.

Aluminium Profile

At about the same time I also got given a spare office chair from a friend, and I decided that It would do as at least a temporary seat for the simulator. So I bodged together a base out of the aluminium and managed to bolt the seat to it. As often is the way with these things, a rough bodge together seems to work quite well, and ends up remaining in the final construction.

This base was perfect for mounting the flight pedals and joystick that I discussed in my last post. The groves in the profile allow me to easily re-position the pedals depending on the height of the pilot.
Pedals which can be adjusted backwards and forwards


I made a few attempts to plan the rest of the cockpit dimensions, but realised fairly early on that it would be impossible to get the ergonomics of the controls as well as visibility correct on paper, so experimented with the positioning of the front console by building some rough stands. Its a good job that I did this, as it really is amazing how many things can be a problem that you don't foresee. Things such as the joystick blocking the visibility of the computer screens and getting enough visibility over the top of the control panel but without your legs bashing the bottom of it when using the rudder pedals. In the end I decided on the correct position having played a few flight sims using all the controls.

At this point I got very busy, as well as moving house, and so the whole simulator ended up dismantled in pieces buried in my junk room, under lots of other junk. There was so much work to be done on it that I seriously questioned if the project would continue.

Luckily a chance find restored my enthusiasm for the project again. About 3 years ago I found a post on the RPF forum where someone, had worked out exactly what seat had been used for the original X-Wing cockpits. Turns out it was a custom rally car bucket seat made in the 70s by an British company called Terry Hunter. No one had found an actual seat, but there was a photo of one as well as an old magazine advert for Terry Hunter seats.

Terry Hunter bucket seats were used in the original x-wing cockpits


The original RPF post where the discovery was made can be found here:

Although I wasn't too bothered about having the right seat (after all, you don't see it when you're sitting in the thing), I did think it would be pretty cool if I could get the right one. I checked ebay every month for over a year and didn't find anything apart from similar looking but very expensive Porche seats, so stopped checking regularly. Then, just before last Christmas, I decided to check on the off chance (the usual "classic bucket seats") and bang... first item on there.... Not only that, only £40 "buy it now". So I went up to Norfolk to check it out and was in fairly good condition apart from a few small marks. Perfect.... Turns out that it had been in a fairly famous car that had won the world rally at some point. The car had ended up in a museum for years and then recently some guy had bought it, with the intension of racing it again. Due to modern safety regulation, the whole of inside of the car needed tearing out and modern seats fitting (what!! you mean Luke Skywalker was flying in a seat that wasn't fireproof.... ).

My bucket seat from Norfolk

Having got my new seat, I couldn't wait to figure out how to mount it to my base so got everything out of storage.... Goodbye living room....

With minor modification, the seat bolted to the base surprisingly easily as everything uses M8 bolts.

That was easy

Having started building the base out of aluminium profile, It seemed easiest to build up the sides also with the same profile as it can all be adjusted easily. It also meant that the control panel and sides would be pretty strong, especially in the long term, if I ever decide to mount to a motion rig in the future. Having worked out the right positioning for the control panel, I was able to order the aluminium cut to size.

And here are some stills of my friend Wilx attempting to shoot some tie fighters in the simulator.

Now all I need to do is make the whole thing look good....





24th MAY 2016 

It's been a very long time since my last blog entry about my attempt to build a full size x-wing cockpit, and I've received a few messages asking me if the project has died.... In fact, no, it has come on quite a long way, its just been that my time has been incredibly tight over the last 2 years working on various films as well as other projects. Much of my spare time has been put towards building and programming for the x-wing, rather than blogging about it. However, all of the positive messages and interest I have received has encouraged me to get back on it...

Incidentally, as a side note, one of the jobs I did in 2014, was working on VFX for Disney's live action Cinderella for 6 months at Pinewood studios, the first "big film" I had worked on, which was exciting. Whilst I was there, security was insanely tight because of a certain film that was also being filmed at the studios, I'm sure most of you can guess what film. I didn't get to see that much, as the studio doors were usually shut, but the highlight was seeing the full size new style x-wing cockpit on a motion rig that was being filmed outdoors on the back lot. I noticed straight away that the dimensions were off, which gave a clue to the redesign. I won't get into what I thought about episode 7, but I don't mind the new x-wing design, although I think the original looks better overall.. Other cool things I saw at Pinewood was the top gun section of the Millennium Falcon, some moisture vaperators, a half covered up crashed tie fighter, and Harrison Fords air ambulance when he broke his leg....

Targeting Computer

Anyway, back to my cockpit...... A lot has happened since my last blog, so I need to think back over 2 years. Not long after my last post, I got the targeting computer working.


Original Targeting Computer
My Targeting Computer

I put quite a bit off effort into matching the original, even down to the slight trail on the image. For my first version, the image was being generated by a separate program that I wrote and sent to the screen using a Blackmagic video output card. The targeting data could be sent from the main game using a local network connection.

I've actually been working on the game (I mean simulator) for a few years now and its coming together. I'll do a separate blog post about it, as there's lots to show and talk about, but here's a cheeky preview:

My X Wing Game
The blackmagic card can be a bit temperamental, and also having a separate program added some unnecessary complication as well as having some performance issues. I had already re-implemented the targeting computer in my xwing game (see screenshot), and in the end, I decided that I would run the targeting computer through a standard HDMI output from my main graphics card and reprogram the main game to use a second monitor. This improved performance and meant that I can also easily program other features such as a radar, damage monitor, hyperspace computer without having to worry about complicated protocols to get the data across to a separate program.


Pedal Controls

I knew early on that I wanted full controls including a joystick, throttle and foot pedals. I already had a joystick with built in throttle and a twist for pedals, but always wanted the full experience using foot pedals. I looked into commercially available foot pedal game controllers, but wasn't too impressed with the options. Without going high end and spending a fortune, they all seem to be quite plasticy and not very solid. At the same time I noticed my sister had an exercise stepper machine lying around and It caught my eye. It was pretty solid and I realised that upside down, it could maybe work quite well as flight pedals. So my sister wasn't best please when she found out I had taken it all apart, but when I asked her if she had used it at any time in the last 5 years she said nothing, ha.

Stepper Machine...Or Flight Pedals?

In order to make it work, I needed to fit a potentiometer (or pot) to measure the movement. To read the pot and make a USB game device I used a Teensy 3.0 like I mentioned in my previous blog post. Originally I had quite a neat solution using a rotation pot fitted inside the stepper to read the motion of the bar that takes the weight of both pedals. In the end I decided that the accuracy of the data was too limited and jittery as there was only a few degrees of rotation being used to read the full range of movement. So I decided in the end to use a linear pot mounted externally to read the data, more ugly, but when correctly positioned, can read the full range of motion giving accurate clean data...Nice.

Pedals (Obviously still need painting)
Pedals + Feet

Linear potentiometer to read the position of the pedals.
Ugly but it works.

Joystick and Throttle
Now the main joystick for the simulator was at one point going to be a blog post all on its own. What with the time and effort put in, and the amount different things I tried. In the end, it was a mostly wasted effort as I took a different solution in the end.

I had decided that I was going to try and make my own joystick from scratch, as mounting a PC joystick into the simulator was going to look awful, what with the big bulky base they all have. There was a big bit of metal with curves in it that came off the stepper machine, and at the right angle, kind of looked like it could be the base of a joystick. So I drew up some plans and got to work.

Rough joystick design

It was going to be mounted to the base of the cockpit, which would be fine for forwards and backwards (pitch) motion, but would hit your legs for left and right (roll )motion. So in the end I went for a Spitfire style design, where by the whole stick goes forwards and backwards, but only the top part goes left and right.

Spitfire Control Stick
My Design

The base was fairly easy, I made a block out of delrin and used 2 pots as the bearings with which to mount the stick to the block. The block could then be bolted down. The center springs could be external so was fairly simple to mount, although still needed some experimenting to get the right tension.

Base section of joystick

The tricky bit that drove me mad was the top section with the left right (roll). I needed to measure the rotation with a sensor, plus also have a spring or several springs to center the stick. I got very close several times by making my own springs by bending rods of metal, but getting the right tension in the spring and solidly fixing it proved too problematic. In the end, I went for a more advanced solution, involving a geared down motor with a built in rotation encoder. This solved the problem in one as the sensor picked up the rotation and the motor itself could provide a centering force depending on the position of the stick. Again I used a teensy 3.0 to read the data as well as control the motor using an H-Bridge chip and external 12V power supply. The other neat thing is that the motor would have enabled force feedback on the stick. I got as far as experimenting with a slight jolt every time the guns were fired.

Original custom spring approach

Motor with encoder solution

The working joystick

I mounted the trigger at the back of the stick, also inspired by the Spitfire stick. There was also going to be some other controls on top.

The design of the stick was meant to represent the stick seen in A New Hope (hence the boxy block on top of the stick), but I wasn't trying to do a perfect replica. In the behind the scenes photos the stick looks quite impractical, and for me ergonomics and practicality are taking precedence over screen accuracy, especially as the stick is seen for under a second in the film, and I think not at all in the Empire and Jedi.
You can just about see the shape of the original joystick in this behind the scenes still from ANH.

Stick in use. Notice the control box bottom right where all the wires end up.

My stick actually worked ok, and I had many hours of flying time in flight simulators such as Cliffs of Dover, and Rise of Flight without the motor ever burning out (it got quite hot after extended use).  However, in the end I made the tough decision to scrap the stick, and use a commercially available option after all.

I was looking into building a throttle, and was realising that the chances of making it look great were rather slim, as well as getting the right tension and smoothness. So I looked at the best options that I could buy and came across the Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog, a replica of the A10 Warthog joystick and throttle. At £300 for joystick and throttle it's one of the most expensive consumer setups you can buy. In the end I couldn't resist due to the solid construction and sheer number of switches. I mainly bought it for the throttle unit, but I was also toying with the idea of swapping out my joystick also. The base of the stick unlike any other I have seen was fairly compact and is bolted to a heavy metal plate which can be removed. The stick is made of metal and the smoothness and accuracy made my mind up in the end.

Thrustmaster HOTAS Warthog

Throttle and Joystick
The stick is temporarily fixed with a lot of black electrical tape.

I roughly mounted the Thrustmaster stick to the original metal base of my joystick, and realised that I could use the original forward/backward motion as a way of moving the joystick out of the way when getting in and out of the cockpit. I was originally going to have a spring and locking mechanism to keep it in place, but I now think I'm actually going to try and automate the movement with a linear actuator which would be far cooler...

Side Control Buttons

One other input I have, in addition to the Pedals, Joystick, Throttle and Front Panel, is two button panels for the right hand side opposite the Throttle. I found these in a skip outside a film lab in London where I was doing some work. They would have been used for video switching between different inputs and would have been rack mounted. With a fair amount of trial and error I was able to work out the wiring of the buttons in order to make them individually light up as well as work as inputs. With a Teensy device in each box they both act as a separate game controller.

2 video switchers for side panel buttons. I think they look suitably 70s. 

Anyway, hope you've enjoyed this update. This project is most certainly not dead!

More to come very soon....

First Post - What am I doing

 29th SEPTEMBER 2013 

Why am I writing a blog?
Hi all, this is my first post in my blog about the full size X-Wing simulator that I am currently building. In fact this is the first blog I have ever done....

Luke Skywalker getting into an X-Wing cockpit

My name is Dan Rickard, I'm 28 and live in Brighton, UK. I've done a few creative projects in my life. I'm a film maker, this year I completed my first feature film 'Darkest Day', that took nearly 8 years to finish (but thats another story). I do visual effects mainly and a few years ago I did visual and special effects on a zombie film called 'The Dead' that was shot in West Africa. This year we did the follow up 'The Dead 2: India' which we just finnished, which believe it or not, we did in India. I'm also a programmer and worked at a motion capture company called Animazoo for 5 years.

Anyway, the point is, why am I doing my first blog now? I could have blogged about many things, such as the films ive worked on, but loads of other people are doing that, and are probably making it far more interesting than I ever could. I hate writting, I'm trying to write several scripts for my next feature film project at the moment and its going pretty badly, In fact I'm probably doing this as a way of not doing that right now. Ha, good start!

So the reason I am doing this is after much research on-line, I believe that I am the only person in the world who is doing this kind of project. There have been a few xwing cockpits made for various Starwars fan films, ranging in quality and accuracy, but as far as i'm aware, no-one has ever made a accurate functioning cockpit in the way that I am attempting to. The closest I have found is an interactive cockpit in a 3:4 scale (nearly full size) x-wing in a musium Germany where the guy was doing it up a bit and putting some electronics in. It looks quite cool actualy, but still not quite what I am aiming to do. Of course, there are many people out there building home aircraft simulators, Ive seen some incredible stuff, way beyond the complexity of what I want to do. What inspired me the most is a Spitfire cockpit that a guy has built, the detail was incredible. Link at the bottom, its deffinatly worth a look.

Spitfire Cockpit (some guy built one of
 these from scratch with every detail)

At the very least if someone has done a project like this before then there seems to be no mention of it on-line. If this project really is that unique then I feel like I should make a record of what I'm doing. For several reasons, but most of all maybe it will inspire someone else out there to do a simiar thing (or put someone off if this all goes horribly wrong!). Also, the huge amount of interest I have already had about this project has pushed me to write this blog.

If any one out there knows of any similar projects then please let me know, I would be most interested.

View from the inside of an X-Wing Cockpit

What am I trying to do exactly?

Right, let me stop right here... Before I continue let me explain some basics. I would assume most people interested in reading this will understand everything I'm talking about but for the benefit of those who dont...

An X-Wing is a space fighter ship from the film Starwars (do I need to mention that i'm quite a big Starwars fan? Hmmm probably not). A cockpit is the area in an aircraft where the pilot sits. An aircraft simulator artificialy simulates the flying an aircraft (or spacecraft) using a computer. They range in accuracy and complexity, from a basic flight simulator game that you can play at home all the way up to a full size replica of a Boing 747 cockpit that are used to train real pilots.

T65 X-Wing Starfighter
What I am attempting to do Is construct a replica of the area surrounding the pilot of an X-Wing fighter and have all of the flight controls, switchs and lights working. I also am going to simulate a basic computer system which among other things will have a targetting computer. Some high end flight sims, actualy are built on top of a motion base that moves around in relation to the virtual aircraft, giving a more realistic sence of movement. Most people Ive spoken to about this project have asked if I'm going to do that. I would bloody love to, and thats a possibility in the future if I ever have enough money (as it aint cheap), but for now I want to keep things simple...ish.

High-End Flight Simulator

Why the hell am I doing this?

I got my first PC in 1997 when I was 12. It was one of the most exciting days of my life, I was obviosly always going to be a computer guy, I dived straight in, and started playing around with settings and programming and before long I phyicaly had the thing in pieces. My dad was terrified, as he had never spent so much money on somthing so small. I didn't care, my theory has always been that you have to break somthing to know how to fix it, but thats just kids.. I do feel sorry for all the kids who grow up with all this technology, as they will never apprieciate any of it. Its like my grandparents generation who thought a telephone was the most amazing thing. But anyway, Ive gone off on one.... Back to 1997, I got a game called X-Wing, it was already an old game back then as it was released in 93. I didn't care though as it was an amazing game, you got to fly an x-wing fighter, or a y-wing or a-wing or a b-wing, against the Galactic Empire. The graphics were basic to say the least, but the gameplay was incredible. I can't think of any other game ive played with so much tension, shields shot out with 2 Tie Fighters behind, 30 mins in, on my 10th attempt at the mission, the rest of the fleet had got to safety for the first time and all I had to do was survive! Of course you couldnt save during a mission, this was a 'propper' game. I think I broke 3 joysticks playing it, as if pulling that little bit harder in the Y-axis would get that tie fighter off my tail. After that there were other X-Wing games, culminating in X-Wing Alliance in 1999, another incredible game. And then there was, nothing.......

"X-Wing" 1993 I dont care what anyone says
about the graphics, its looks amazing!

So, i'm talking alot about the xwing games, as i'm thinking that many of the people who are still reading this far are fans of those games. Why Lucasarts stopped making them I dont know, maybe its somthing to do with a cirtain film called "Episode 1". The consencus is that the Starwars games just went down hill around that time. Still, the anouncment this year that Lucasarts will be closing its doors still brought a slight tear to my eye. Ok, get to the bloody point Dan, the reason the xwing games are important are because they are what inpired my to do this project. Ever since I was I kid, I thought how cool would it be to fly an X-Wing fighter, just like Luke did. Those games brought that dream alive, for me and everyone else who played them, but I always wanted to go that extra step.....


So it should be obvious by now that I intend to play the xwing series of games with my Simulator. Thats always been a goal, however I want my cockpit to have extra functionality beond what those games had as well as better graphics. I want to be able to target a Tie-Fighter using a targeting computer, just like in the film. I want warning lights to come on when "I'm hitttt!". I want to have at least 3 buttons just to turn the power on. For all that, I need to program my own game, infact I won't call it a game, I'll call it a flight sim as accuracy is key, although hopfully it will be fun to. Of course its crazy to talk about accuracy when we are talking about a fictional film, but the universe George Lucas created is so real, so practicle, that there is level of accuracy that can by achieved by looking closely at the films.

Weather or not I play the original xwing games or my custom simulator, I will need to have some kind of display. I'm hoping to get a short-throw HD projector exentualy to get the image as large as possible (a wide field of view).

Beginings of the c++ code for the simulator

So effectively there are 2 parts to what I want to achieve:

The design and construction of a phyical cockpit, with working electronics.

The 'simulator' program with 3D graphics that will need to be made to interface with the phyical cockpit.

My first drawing of the cockpit

Ok thats enough blogging for now.  Hopfully ive explained what I'm trying to achive overall. I will go into more detail and show you how its all going in further posts.


Spitfire Cockpit Project

German X-Wing Cockpit

Cockpit Design

 8th OCTOBER 2013 

So first thing to do is to start working out the design of the cockpit. The crazy thing is that there is actually very little reference out there for the cockpit of an x-wing. Despite the popularity of Starwars and all the hundreds of books and websites that go into so much detail about the ships in the Starwars universe, there isn't much in the way of photos and plans of an X-wing cockpit.

I thought I would have some luck with the scale modelling guys, they go into crazy amounts of detail and go to great lengths to make sure that they capture everything in a model. Only one problem...The actual models used in the filming of Starwars have completely different cockpits to the live set that were built. Most of the models match the filming models rather than the sets.

I knew early on that my cockpit was going to match the live ones. You never really see the inside in the model shots and I really want to match the famous shots from the first film.

"Look at the size of that thing... Cut the chatter Red 2!"
I assumed that plans would exist, either the originals ones or fan made ones, unfortunately I haven't been able to find any. I found a rather interesting forum where someone had actually contacted the person who owned the company who made the live action full scale x-wing props for the first film. Unfortunately the plans no longer exist, although the original contract does, that describes some of the specifications of what was to be built and the budget. The scale models were built first by ILM in the US and then one was sent over to the UK for reference for the full scale prop. They did a pretty good job of it, although for some reason the cockpit is a different design.
Rare photo of the cockpit scenes being filmed.
Unfortunately I have never scene a photo of the front section of the cockpit which would be more useful for me. I have seen a pair of photos for the front and back sections of the Y-Wing cockpit. I initially considered building a Y-Wing instead as I though it would be easier, however I changed my mind when I realized that the curve in the canopy would be a nightmare to reproduce. The glass (or perspex) in the XWing canopy is all nice and straight. 
So really, the only reference I have is from the films themselves. The actual screen-time between all 3 films is extremely minimal. It wasn't long before I realized that there are big differences between the films.
Comparison between the 3 films
Actually, I'm probably not going to worry about building the section behind the pilot that's in these pictures as its something you will never see looking forwards. However the picture does shows the differences in design nicely.
Here's some screenshots I took from the films...
This is the cockpit of the full size x-wing, look closely and you will see even on
this the details don't exactly match the point of view close-up small
section of cockpit was built separately just for those shots. 

Empire cockpit. The area to the sides has changed quite a bit from ep4 

I was lucky to find this, a continuity polaroid from Return of the Jedi
that was being sold on an auction website.
So that gave me another decision to make, which cockpit to build.... The original one of course! The one from Episode 4. This is the cockpit that gets the most screen time of any of the films, during the attack on the DeathStar. It was watching that amazing scene as a child that's caused me to do this whole bloody thing in the first place. (I had to stop myself there from going on a CG vs practical models rant)
Although the lack of reference seemed like a big problem at first, I've realized that in the end its a blessing in disguise. It gives me room to add to the design myself. And also, if I make the whole thing completely inaccurate then no one can ever prove it wrong, even the scale modellers.
Although reference is minimal, there is some interesting stuff from various books. Whether or not the artists of the books have access to better resources than me I don't know. But I do suspect there is an large amount of artistic licence involved.
This is from the book "Starwars Blueprints: Rebel Edition"
Very nice, they attempt to list what the functions are,
although my layout will probably be slightly different.
This is from one of the DK Cross Sections books. Doesn't
 help me a huge amount but its a bloody great picture.
First Drawing of the control panel
The way to tackle any large project is to split it into a smaller task rather than to worry about everything at once. My starting point is the main control panel. Even if I only ever build this and never finish the rest, its a nice piece to have and can sit on the desk in front of me whilst playing X-Wing Alliance. My plan is to make it into a PC controller. If I can make it emulate keyboard controls then the switches and buttons can control the functions in the game such as shields/lasers/sfoils.
This is the stage where I have to roughly work out what buttons will go where. Like I said in my last post, there are 2 aims, one to play the x-wing series of games, and one to make a new simulator from scratch. This can have far more controls and functions then the very basic controls in the original games. I have been looking at the original cockpit and trying work out what the buttons and lights all mean...
Ok when you start looking at something that closely, the flaws in the design start to show up. So I will have to modify the design a bit to make this work. Its quite funny really,  I do wonder what the person who designed the original control panel would make of all this. For them it was just another job, no one expected Starwars to have  any success, in fact most people working on it thought it was a load of old rubbish. There they were just putting a few flashing lights here and there, just trying to make it look cool. 36 years later, here I am trying to work out what button does what. Bet they didn't think that would happen...
Next I built a small 1/6th scale cardboard model of the control panel. The triangular shapes are quite complicated to work out the dimensions for,  so a small model was the best way to work that out.

I decided to build the control panel out of 6mm MDF. I cut out the pieces with a jigsaw. I totally cocked up on the main piece and cut the top edge at a wonky angle which you can see in the right image below. I'm leaving it for now and will sort it later, with filler or something.
These are the holes where a small screen with go
behind for the targeting computer and display.
The angles of the triangle pieces was a bugger to get right. I haven't got it perfect but close enough that it all fits together. I filed the edges at an angle so that it all fits without wide gaps. For now it is all screwed together as it important that I can take it apart at this stage. You can see the screws on the outside but the plan is to eventually glue it all together and fill the holes and all the edges.
This is where its currently at.
Lots of holes drilled for LEDs and switches.
So its definitely getting there, and its starting to look a bit like a cockpit. Next step will be to start playing with some electronics. Thanks for reading...